The run-up to the presidential poll just got more confounding. The situation is too bizarre to even cook up conspiracy theories, simply because none of the conjectures follow the logical path to an agreeable conclusion. Whatever the case, the Mamata-Mulayam jugalbandi has certainly added a lot of suspense to the otherwise drab presidential elections.
Mamata Banerjee's madness has a method—ostensibly she wants to bargain hard for her state and she has to play hardball since after the presidential polls she might turn redundant in the UPA’s scheme of things—but it is difficult at the moment to fathom what Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh is up to. He has no specific reason to go against the Congress at this point -- there are no major issues between the parties where a conflict is possible.
And why would he make common cause with Mamata? If the design is to humiliate the Congress and its president Sonia Gandhi, it makes little political sense. Moreover, the Trinamool Congress-Samajwadi Party combine doesn't have enough numbers to select a candidate of its own. If it decides to back the BJP-led NDA’s candidate the numbers won’t suffice. It would be politically damaging for both too. Mulayam siding with the BJP won’t be viewed kindly by his party’s sturdy Muslim vote bank.
Is there a plan conceived at the top UPA leadership level to muddle the picture and throw up a surprise candidate just before the end of the deadline for the filing of nominations? Such a move won’t allow the NDA, and specifically the BJP, to work out a game plan to counter the Congress’s move. But given how both the political formations are placed, the UPA has no need to play surprise games if the Trinamool and the SP are behind it.
Is there a move to keep Pranab Mukherjee out of contention? Quite possible, if one were to manufacture an instant conspiracy theory. This is not because he is too useful for the party to be spared, but because he is looked with distrust by Sonia’s coterie. He has not been made prime minister for this specific reason despite his proven abilities and brilliant political acumen.
But would a party with 206 MPs allow its all-powerful president to be humiliated by an ally with just 19 Lok Sabha members at her command? The Congress cannot simply afford to denigrate the dignity it ascribes to the Gandhi family in the party’s hierarchy. Moreover, it can just ask Pranab to focus on his job and forget about being President. It does not need Mamata and Mulayam to do the job, simply because it shows the party’s leadership in a poor light.
The case of Manmohan Singh being propped up is curious indeed. Never before in Indian history has a sitting prime minister been proposed for presidentship. It means the party has lost trust in the prime minister and it wants to kick him upstairs so that it can find a replacement for him before the 2014 general elections.
It is true that ministers and senior party members have little faith in Manmohan Singh’s leadership abilities and they consider him a big liability but to remove him this way would mean acceptance of guilt. Moreover, unlike Pranab Manmohan does not enjoy cross-party support. It would be difficult for the party to summon support for him even from other allies and non-UPA, non-NDA parties.
The UPA government needs a change in leadership alright. If rumours are to be believed party general secretary Rahul Gandhi is a possible replacement for Singh. But is it the right time to put him in the prime minister’s chair? The country is passing through a terrible phase at this point. The country needs an astute leader with great skills at governance and managing troublesome allies. Rahul has proved short on the first one and on the second, he has not been tested yet. The party would not like to put him in a lose-lose situation before the elections.
All these considerations make one conclude that there’s little possibility of a definite design in the Mamata-Mulayam show of strength. Today’s developments are just posturing with little consequence.