Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Let there be elections (for the President)!

When the government does not consult the opposition, it is accused of being authoritarian. When it does consult, its offer is spurned by a wily BJP. We’re seeing that today in the matter of the Presidential elections, where the BJP has declared that its only guiding principle would be to oppose the Congress’s nomination, no matter who the nominated candidate is. It wouldn’t mind supporting a third front candidate, but there was no possibility of supporting a Congress candidate…..so the party won’t allow a consensus candidate.

Now that the Presidential election has been politicized, let there be a proper fight. After all, the President does play a crucial political role in our set-up. Why should there even be an attempt to find a consensus candidate? Why do we set such lofty goals when we live in a political set-up where even more ordinary goals are difficult to meet? In a set-up like this, life is all about politics and politics is part of all life.

The Congress for long has behaved in a pusillanimous manner fearing both the known and the unknown. For years, it has been on the back foot, put there by both the opposition and its own allies. Now it can choose to either complain or fight back. The problem that the Congress faces is that it hardly has any full-blooded politicians in its political think-tank. Neither Sonia, nor the PM, nor Pranab, nor Kapil Sibal, Ambika Soni, Jairam Ramesh…..none of these guys are politicians, with the make up that politicians are supposed to have. Most of these people are technocrats, bureaucrats or professionals. Its surprising how many lawyers have managed to find their way into the administration. These people may be able to run the government, but they need to be ringfenced by clever politicians. The Congress doesn’t seem to be having enough of those.

The Anna movement has made the political class look like lepers. A politician is considered to be a corrupt, evil and even dangerous. That is why (at least at the Center), the classic politician has yielded way to the more suave, sophisticated and glib English speaking person. Even today, a Narayansamy, Sharad Pawar and Beni Prasad Verma are considered misfits in a modern political system, though in reality it is politicians like them who bring a government to life. If it were left to the Jairam Rameshs of the world, the party would be reduced to rubble.

The larger message from the Presidential election consensus-building exercise is that the Congress must re-invent itself as a political machine. It needs strong politicians to be part of its government. It needs mass leaders who can take on challenges like the Anna one. It needs glib Hindi speakers, not English sophisticates who can operate only out of comfy airconditioned chambers. Someone who can roll up his or her sleeves, and engage in a dog fight. In this context, names like Digvijay Singh stand out. This man may be much reviled in certain circles, but if there is someone who can play politics the old fashioned way, it is him.

The Congress must remember that it has the largest vote share in the electoral college. A full 30% odd against the BJP’s 21% odd. The UPA together has a 41% share. All it needs is the additional 10% to get a UPA candidate through. It’s silly to have even attempted to get a consensus candidate, given the BJP’s headstrong instinct to base its political philosophy on merely opposing the Congress. The Congress should make sure a consensus candidate emerges within the UPA. It cannot be a Congress candidate; it must be a UPA candidate. Once that emerges, the UPA will be able to cobble together a majority.

The BJP’s only strategy appears to be to put up a Muslim candidate. It won’t allow Muslims in the prime positions of power in the Executive; so it cleanses its soul by proposing Muslim names to the Presidential post. By propping a Muslim candidate, the BJP hopes to rope in the SP. I doubt if the SP would like to go anywhere close to the BJP at all. If the politics in our country is polarized, it is polarized first on religious lines. Which is why anti-BJP is a stronger plank than anti-Congress in this country. Without the SP’s support, the BJP’s candidate will lose even before filing his or her nomination.

What about a 3rd party candidate? Frankly, there is no concept called third front. Is the BSP going to support an SP candidate, all under the noble excuse of setting up a 3rd front? In any case, the biggest proponents of the third front – the Left parties – are sad losers electorally and totally out of flavor. The 3rd party is a non-starter from the word go.

If the unattached political parties have to choose between supporting a Congress candidate and a BJP one, I think they will choose the Congress candidate. For one, the BJP’s exclusivist and isolationist agenda upsets many parties. This alone should be able to see the Congress candidate through.

The Congress must seize this opportunity to teach the BJP a lesson. Out of the President’s election, it must get the courage to fight another fight. It must be willing to give up its own choice, in order to support a consensual UPA candidate. To that extent the recent moves made by the party – of meeting its allies – are in the right direction. Given the preferences of the various allies, maybe Hamid Ansari is the best choice. I don’t think the Congress should field Pranab Mukherjee. The party needs him for its political survival.

The real truth is that we middle class urban people have this habit of dreaming of this utopian world of sensible political discussions; of a consensus. However, in reality, it’s a dirty and bad world out there. Political parties fight with narrow self interests, not caring about national interests. To expect them to bury such narrow agendas is impossible. The BJP in particular has shown this repeatedly. It was silly media chatter that built expectations of a consensus candidate. That’s not going to happen. Now let there be a fight!

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