Choosing the next Rashtrapati

The term of President Pranab Mukherjee ends in July but there is a perceptible reluctance on the part of both the BJP and the Opposition to name their nominees. The Opposition has made it known that they will support Mukherjee if he runs for a second term. But the incumbent President is firm that the question of his seeking re-election is contingent on the BJP proposing his name. But the BJP is in no mood to see Mukherjee for another five years in the Rashtrapati Bhavan. Different names are being informally talked about in BJP circles. They include the current UP Governor Ram Nayak, Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan and the Jharkhand Governor Draupadi Murmu. But one name which is not being mentioned even in whispers is that of Lal Krishna Advani, the former mentor of the present Prime Minister who has long become an expendable commodity. The Prime Minister would, of course, like to have as President someone whom he trusts fully and will do his bidding.
There is thinking aloud even in Opposition circles. One name which is being mentioned is that of Gopal Krishna Gandhi, the former West Bengal Governor – a highly respectable and non-controversial figure. But the Opposition is also holding its cards close to its chest and waiting for the BJP to announce the name of its nominee. This puts the Opposition at an obvious disadvantage. The BJP may name its nominee only at the last moment to throw the Opposition into confusion and giving them little time to come to an understanding to reach unanimity of choice.
Preliminary calculations done by the pollsters give a slight but certain edge to the BJP over the Opposition in the number of votes that the ruling party has. One faction of the AIADMK has already let it be known that it will support the BJP. What stand the JD(U) leader Nitish Kumar will take is anybody’s guess. Unless the Opposition can add to its strength significantly by roping in other parties which have so far remained non-committal, they seem to have already lost the contest.
The President is the titular head of State. But he plays a crucial role when there is political instability at the Centre. When a ruling party has lost its majority in the Lok Sabha and no party commands a clear majority, it is for the President to decide whom he should invite for forming a government. His choice may determine the entire course of future political developments. India is at a critical juncture now. Preserving not only the form but also the content of democracy has now become a challenge as never before. It is because of this that the election of the new President has become so important.

Saturday, 27 May, 2017