Monday, May 15, 2017

As scandals undermine opposition ..... Power & Politics /The Sunday Standard/ May 14, 2017


As scandals undermine opposition power, unity mirage can’t block saffron surge in 2019



                                                                        Opposition leaders
Something is rotten in the state of the Opposition. The stench of failure pervades its decaying leadership, which is powerless to resist the Surge of Saffron at a time when India needs credible and saleable alternatives. Desperation leads to deliberation; conflicts of ideologies or alternatives among anti-Modi forces have been packed away with the hope that a joint presidential candidate will emerge from the parleys precluding partisanship. As their satraps crisscross the country searching for the elusive grail of unity, skeletons of graft and nepotism are tumbling out of their cupboards with unending regularity. There is hardly a non-BJP leader not plagued by scams and revolts.

Opposition parties are unable to keep their flock together, their rank and file falling prey to the allurements of the ruling establishment. They are unsuccessful in halting the Modi juggernaut in their states. Moreover, India is yet to become a nursery of newbies, where emergent leaders like Emmanuel Macron, Marine Le Pen and Theresa May are incubated to replace the existing leadership and shake up the system. Like the lotus eaters, the Opposition’s deluded dream of becoming roadblocks in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s pursuit of a second term in 2019 is in limbo.

● Arvind Kejriwal was considered Mr Clean and Able until former ministers accused him of financial irregularities and nepotism in government contracts. Over half a dozen AAP legislators are facing corruption charges and criminal cases; others are being investigated by agencies. A colleague accused the chief minister himself of accepting cash for favours (denied later). The party itself is being probed for fudging accounts.
Kejriwal is facing large-scale desertions—even leaders once considered his close allies are bidding adieu in a hurry, holding him responsible for the drift. Kejriwal is no more seen as a leader with an alternative agenda for governance based on transparency and democratic functioning. The leader, who created history in Delhi by winning 67 of 70 seats, acquired opposition party status in Parliament by trouncing the SAD-BJP power alliance in Punjab and came second in municipal elections, has been reduced to a political pariah. Until recently Kejriwal was being romanced by most non-BJP CMs; West Bengal’s Mamata Banerjee and Bihar’s Nitish Kumar wouldn’t miss an opportunity to visit him when they were in Delhi. The demagogue, who once drew massive crowds wherever he went, is losing the ‘g’ in his gloss.

● Mamata Banerjee, the ‘Tigress’ of West Bengal, is being eroded within. Over a dozen TMC ministers and MPs are either in jail or under investigation. Hardly a day passes without the CBI, Enforcement Directorate or Income Tax come knocking on the door of party leaders or office-bearers. BJP boss Amit Shah’s next target is West Bengal; he has vowed the saffron flag will flutter atop Writers’ Building. Though dissent is not visible in the TMC yet, Mamata’s cadres doubt her ability for a hat-trick. The Bengali middle class, which catalyses her victory and acceptability, is disenchanted over her administrative skills or leadership quality. Mamata’s grip over the minorities and weaker sections in the state is intact but she has been forced into assuming a strident pro-minority stance, which works in the BJP’s favour. Her major concern appears to be her failure to attract disenchanted leaders from other parties or add new cadres to her stagnant stock. 

● Lalu Yadav sprang a surprise in 2015 by not only winning the largest number of seats in the Bihar Assembly polls but also by inflicting the first electoral bruise on the invincible Modi-Shah duo. Since he was legally banned from joining the government, he got two of his sons important positions in the Nitish Kumar government. Now, the media expose about his family’s questionable land dealings in Bihar and Delhi have dented his manoeuvrability in influencing the political agenda both at the state and central level. So far, he has contained any revolt in his  Rashtriya Janata Dal but the BJP is exploiting the negative fallout of the scandal, hell bent on breaking the JD(U)-RJD alliance and repeating its 2019 Lok Sabha sweep.  

● Mayawati and Akhilesh Yadav, who ruled Uttar Pradesh for over a decade, face massive revolts both from party leaders and family members. Theoretically, by combining with the Congress, they can prevent the BJP from winning half the 73 Lok Sabha seats it bagged in 2014. In the May Assembly elections, their combined vote share was much higher than the BJP, which won a record 326 seats. Mayawati, reeling under corruption charges, is helpless to prevent many leaders who helped her win in 2007 from leaving. Meanwhile, Akhilesh is under constant threat from father Mulayam Singh and uncle Shiv Pal.

● Naveen Patnaik, the unstoppable Odisha Chief Minister, is under tremendous pressure from within after the BJD’s unsatisfactory performance in local body elections. Many former followers have been speaking against him. Some of his MPs and MLAs are under investigation for economic offences. Naveen had created a state record in 2014 by capturing 20 of 21 Lok Sabha seats despite Modi’s nationwide popularity.  

● Jayalalithaa’s death has weakened AIADMK so much that its survival depends more on the magnanimity of Modi Sarkar and less on its current leadership. Many of its leaders are involved in criminal cases.
The Communists who rule Kerala and Tripura are not positioned to lead the Opposition either; ideological contradictions make them unacceptable to regional rulers.

The BJP cannot take the entire credit for the combined anti-Modi conglomeration being leaderless and directionless. Modi baiters have to own up to the responsibility for their failure to serve as constructive checks on the Centre.

The ruling party will use every trick in the trade to dismantle and discredit its opponents. But it is the responsibility of the Opposition to anticipate and tackle turbulent air pockets well in advance. The BJP has broken their opponents with both carrots and sticks. In response, its foes have failed to keep their flag flying with credible criticism of the government. While Modi coins and creates seductive slogans and scenarios on a daily basis, his opponents cannot generate equally compelling narratives. Rushing around like headless chickens, Opposition leaders expect Modi to slip, toppled by the excessive weight of promises. In democracy, power flows from ballot boxes. But Modi baiters are hardly prepared for the battle of ballots.

prabhuchawla@ newindianexpress.com; Follow me on Twitter @PrabhuChawla

Monday, May 8, 2017

Dravidian Patriarch woos history with dreams .....Power & Politics / The Sunday Standard/ May 07, 2017

Dravidian patriarch woos history with dreams of opposition unity in birthday spirit


Divided they have fallen too often. United they expect to rise again. Battered by three years of the relentless fury of Modicane, demoralised and disconsolate opposition parties are anxious to regain the power—mental and physical—to contain the prime minister’s power drive. Subsequently, marginalised leaders of minimised political parties have settled on the upcoming presidential election as a common ground to pitch their tent, ready for jousts against the saffron knighthood and its captain.

 

What better day for sunny dreams than at a birthday party, which promises to be a new D-Day for Opposition unity, however weary the dreamers may be? Last week, Kanimozhi, daughter of DMK founder M Karunanidhi, flew to Patna—perhaps for the first time on an important political mission—to invite Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and master puppeteer Lalu Prasad to her father’s 94th birth anniversary celebrations in Chennai on June 3.

With less than 24 months left for the Lok Sabha elections, non-saffron parties are desperately seeking a credible leader and a slogan to take their anaemic ambitions off the ventilator. In the past, it took a combined Opposition to dethrone leaders with power and charisma such as Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi. In 1977, Indira was trounced when a united political voice warned voters of her dictatorial style threatening democracy. But Modi is not she.

He is a leader above reproach so far, resolute yet reverential about democracy, having committed no political sin unlike Indira & Sons. The Opposition is left to digging deep and deeper in the political dung heap for filth to be flung at Swachh Modi, but have only succeeded in dirtying its own hands so far. 

Opposition draftsmen are betting on a war machine ‘Made in North, South and East’ to take on Modi’s mojo. Kanimozhi is in the turret right now. Satraps of JD(U), CPI(M), NCP and Congress have been holding consultations to forge an anti-Modi front, prompted by former JD(U) chief Sharad Yadav and Nitish Kumar after meeting Congress president Sonia Gandhi over choosing a common candidate for the Rashtrapati Bhawan. Yadav felt that such successful interactions could go a long way in stalling the BJP’s nationwide surge.

He admitted disunity in non-BJP ranks as the key reason behind the saffron party’s wins in the Uttar Pradesh polls and the Delhi civic elections. Following which, the CPI(M) moved into the Operation-Oppose-Modi-Mode swiftly; its amiable, high-profile general secretary Sitaram Yechury met Sonia in Delhi and Naveen Patnaik in Bhubaneswar to mull a strategy to avoid a breakup of the non-BJP vote in the prez poll. But geography makes history. The Opposition’s choice of Chennai as the ground zero for rebirth rings a bell.
Almost two decades ago, Karunanidhi had created political history by bringing ideologically opposed parties together at a rally he organised on March 17, 1988, at Marina Beach. The political velocity it generated led to the formation of a national front led by V P Singh, supported by veterans like N T Rama Rao, Devi Lal, Biju Patnaik, Prafulla Mahanta et al which eventually toppled Rajiv Gandhi a year later. 

Following the Chennai Summit, other conclaves organised by non-Congress chief ministers had added to the momentum. On January 9, 1989, the NT Rama Rao-led TDP government held a public rally in Hyderabad to celebrate its seventh anniversary—attended by S S Barnala from SAD, V C Shukla from Jan Morcha, Vijaya Raje Scindia from BJP and Devi Lal from Lok Dal (B). The constellation of non-Congress planets were coming into alignment.

Next, to celebrate five successful years of the Janata government in Karnataka, then chief minister Ramakrishna Hegde organised a public meeting in Bangalore attended by V P Singh, Bahuguna, Jyoti Basu, Mahanta and E K Nayanar. The Comrade’s inclusion was significant, since it was the first time the Left was corralled into participating in an anti-Congress front. Interestingly, all three initiatives were taken by three chief ministers of three states. History took an ideological U-turn again in 1996 when various regional leaders, the Left and the Congress conjoined to topple India’s first BJP government of Atal Bihari Vajpayee.
Now in 2017, little-known woman politician Kanimozhi, who is better known for her social than political networking, has been chosen to woo the North where Modi magic reigns unchallenged.

Her Patna trip was the tip of a national Opposition iceberg formed to sink the BJP’s Titanic by building a consensus for the next president. She connected brother M K Stalin with Lalu and Nitish. The conversation was more about politics than pineapple pastries; and the massive rally after the Kalaignar’s birthday bash. 

Though DMK insiders claim Karunanidhi’s state of mind is too feeble to think up such a strategy, Kanimozhi’s sojourn carries his typical stamp of forging impossible alliances, forcing a movement to rise when the moment arose. When Indira was isolated by top Congress leaders in 1969 during the Syndicate split, Karunanidhi asked his 25 MPs to stand by her. In 1971, he followed her cue by dissolving the Assembly when she dissolved the Lok Sabha for simultaneous elections. His strategy paid rich dividends and his party won an unprecedented 184 seats; a state record.

Now, with the ruling AIADMK in disarray, Karunanidhi wants to capitalise on the waning clout of his opponents. With uncanny foresight, the constant centrist in this family party has decided to introduce his political heirs—Stalin and Kanimozhi—to national leaders before he is rendered physically inactive.
He has played a major role in choosing prime ministers in the past. He has always aligned with one national party or the other in New Delhi. The DMK has been part of many ruling coalitions at the Centre.
The fact that for the first time it is out of power in both the state and Delhi after many years has vastly eroded its clout. 


Birthdays, weddings and anniversaries have acquired new meaning in Modi era politics. Karunanidhi has the rare ability of converting challenges into opportunities.
 
Now he has found one. Modi bashers and baiters seem confident that the waves of Marina beach will break out in applause lauding their efforts once again. They are looking forward to landing in Chennai to celebrate Karunanidhi’s birthday, expecting to have the cake and eat it too. But do they have the reach to swat the flies on the walls, wandered in from Modi’s kitchen where ideas are cooking faster than you can say 2019? 

prabhuchawla@ newindianexpress.com; Follow me on Twitter @PrabhuChawla

Sunday, April 30, 2017

To Tackle Terror and Desperation in the Valley ..... Power & Politics / The Sunday Standard/ April 30, 2017

To tackle terror and desperation in the Valley, Modi needs to think about bullet for stone





In democracy, the ballot and not the bullet is the wonder weapon best suited to resolve conflicts and replace governments. When those rejected by ballots resort to murder and mayhem to destabilise an elected establishment, the bullet becomes the most preferred means to erase the threat. The Narendra Modi government has to stand firm on a-bullet-for-a-stone policy to save Kashmir from dangerous demons disrupting democracy. Last week, the Supreme Court decided to step in where successive governments at the Centre and the state have failed in 27 years. It directed all stakeholders to visualise the roadmap for a meaningfully inclusive dialogue. It also asked the government to refrain from the pellet policy if the agitators stopped hurling stones at the security forces.  

Numerous dialogues, both formal and informal, have happened in the past to restore normalcy in Kashmir. Many free-and-fair elections have been held with record turnouts. European Parliament,  a symbol of pluralism and liberalism, sang paeans to Indian elections. Soon after the last J&K election, it issued a statement: “The high voter turnout figure proves that democracy is firmly rooted in India. The EU would like to congratulate India and its democratic system for conduct of fair elections, unmarred by violence, in the state of Jammu and Kashmir. The European Parliament also takes cognisance of the fact that a large number of Kashmiri voters turned out despite calls for the boycott of elections by certain separatist forces”.

Perhaps, stung by this endorsement and the rise of a first-time government with nationalist participation in J&K, saboteurs of the democratic process with lucrative side benefits are running amok in the state. Stone pelting is their bloody, money-spinning sport, where the prize is defeating the collective will of the people. In 2016, there were 2,690 incidents of stone pelting as against 1,157 in 2015—a rise of almost 250 per cent. Almost half of these occurred in North Kashmir, followed by 875 in South Kashmir and 567 in Central Kashmir. The year 2016 was also the bloodiest for the security forces since 2008—87 uniformed personnel martyred until last December compared to 51 in 2014. More than 20 have been killed since January. Last year, 165 terrorist scalps were taken—also the highest count in the past eight years.  

Local factors have less to do with the ominous surge in violence than the liberal financial and ideological support to separatists and their agent provocateurs from across the border. Ironically, New Delhi has given J&K the status of a most preferred state. According to official sources, between 2006 and 2016 it received per capita Central assistance of Rs 91,300 as against Rs 43,000 for Uttar Pradesh. This mega munificence has forced the percentage of people living below the poverty line in J&K to drop to a minimum of 3.48 per cent as against 25 per cent in 1980. Over 26 per cent live above the poverty line in the rest of India. Kashmir’s per capita income has been growing at about 12 per cent. Recently, the Centre allotted Rs 19,000 crore of the Rs 80,000 crore development packages announced by PM Narendra Modi to J&K. But Kashmir is also the valley of illusion. The unrestricted river of rupees flowing from Delhi to Srinagar has only helped fatten the assets of the double dealers who have made terrorism and extortion Kashmir’s cottage industry.

Their scruples are shallower than the Dal Lake in a summer of discontent. Since containing terror and protecting unarmed civilians pose a threat to economics, politics and crossborder detente, the sharks of separatism spread fear by attacking peacekeeping forces by using women as human shields and stones as weapons. For the past three years, Modi has kept his mantra for Kashmir close to his chest. He has maintained a significant silence on the Valley’s precarious state of affairs. With his predilection for springing surprises, he is expected to make a move, which will make or mar his image of leader with a mission and vision. Some of the proposals on his table are:

• Act on a second surgical strike to destroy all training camps. Modi is unlikely to face international hostility as most of the Western world is fighting terror.

• Appoint a strong governor to keep a check on the state government. The sell-by-date of current incumbent N N Vohra (81) is past. This member of the pro-dialogue cabal is instrumental in adopting a soft line. Modi is under pressure to send a younger person with an Army background to the Raj Bhavan.
 
• Treat unrest in the Valley as treason and a law and order issue. Use force to contain it at any cost by deploying the BSF in large numbers. Security experts are peeved with the state government for removing Army bunkers from strategic points. Militants and terrorists are scared of the power of India’s military, if it is given operational freedom and modern weapons.

• Create fully-trained armed women battalions to deal with misguided female stone pelters.
• Break the nexus of local cops, separatists and terrorists responsible for the spurt in attacks on uniformed forces by insulating the state police from ISI infiltration.


• Move all the terrorists and stone pelters in Kashmir’s jails to faraway states such as Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Gujarat etc. This prevents them from establishing contact with their local masters. Terrorists and their supporters in local prisons have access to modern communication equipment. 
• Withdraw or downsize the security cover of Hurriyat leaders who attend prayers with youngsters waving IS flags and raising pro-Pakistan slogans.

• Create special jobs for Kashmiri youth in BJP-ruled states to stop them from joining the burgeoning brigade of stone pelters.

To be the Samson of Srinagar, Modi has to flex his muscles against the devious doves who have infiltrated his system and are pushing for dialogue with Pakistan in private and in public. Even those retired officials, rewarded with insignificant sinecures, are writing articles pleading for engagement with Pakistan—the fount of terror. Modi can win the Kashmir war only if he takes the less-trodden path ignored by his predecessors. He has junked the old style politics and politicians. The time has come for him to also dump professional peaceniks, free junketers and Pak-friendly chatteratti and adopt disruptive diplomacy and a determined defence strategy to bring Kashmir back on track.

prabhuchawla@ newindianexpress.com; Follow me on Twitter @PrabhuChawla

Monday, April 24, 2017

Despite Green Light to turn off Red lights ...... Power & Politics/The Sunday Standard /April 23, 2017


Despite green light to turn off red lights, threat to survival of sanity in governance lingers

For a while now, High Visibility with Low Acceptability sums up the incipient image of the Very Important Person (VIP) in India. Till a few decades ago, leaders and personalities with low visibility and high credibility were accepted as VIPs by society. But as the number of beacons (lal battis) on cars and pilot vehicles—signature symbols of today’s VIP—multiplied, the pompous personages invited the wrath and disdain of the common man from whom they demand respect and submission. As ever intuitive to the pulse of the people, Prime Minister Narendra Modi banned beacons from official vehicles of all ministers, civil servants and leaders last week.
In the past, a few leaders, including a couple of chief ministers, had made half-hearted attempts to downgrade VIPs to VOPs (Very Ordinary Persons). However, Hurricane Modi has swept away red light culture from the corridors of power. Within minutes of his diktat, Union ministers were observed rushing home or to work sans the customary red lights flashing on their swanky cars.

The colour red was not the only sign of a VIP. The paraphernalia, part of the retinue of a self-proclaimed sultan on steroids was the old normal—a lethal combination of a beacon-crowned car protected by either gun-toting commandoes or officious cops insulating VIPs from VOPs.  He hopes a leaner security detail will be the new normal.

The PM’s resolve to curtail or contain the VIP syndrome stems from an aversion to the rising craze among leaders of all persuasions—political, social, spiritual, Bollywood and business—for government branded security as opposed to the highly discreet private protection services available elsewhere in the world. Black Cat commandos, Greyhounds, security personnel from the CRPF, CISF and other special forces bestow a false sense of power and importance on the sub-ordinary and undeserving barnacles clinging to the keel of power. Normally, a protectee’s level of security is decided on the basis of the threat perception from unlawful elements or terrorists. But there are examples galore of individuals getting high security shield against threats emanating from their own rivals instead of genuine danger. Sometimes an uncivilised culture lies behind the sense of entitlement. Subsequently, VIPs are ridiculed as Very Insecure Persons.

According to unofficial estimates, India has one cop per 325 citizens. But over 20 security personnel guard one VIP. The number of VIPs basking under the high security umbrella has been zooming vertical at subsonic speed. As many as 500 people are listed as VIPs by the Central government and over 5,000 by the state governments. This laborious list includes lawmakers, bureaucrats, judges and important leaders of the civil society and corporate world. Even some media persons sport lal battis as a perk from obliging politicians who expect quid pro quo.

This ostentatious security culture began when some chief ministers, babus and senior police officials raised their own security level claiming “perceived” threat perception. For example, in states in the north and the east, over 1,000 lawmen are deputed to protect a chief minister. But the newly-elected Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh’s order to curtail the use of beacons and downgrade the security of numerous politicians came to naught. His predecessor Parkash Singh Badal had a security cover of 1,500, including NSG commandos.

prabhuchawla@newindianexpress.com; Follow me on Twitter @PrabhuChawla

Monday, April 17, 2017

Modi Proves a Right Mix of Religion .... Power & Politics / The Sunday Standard/ April 16, 2017

Modi proves a right mix of religion and economics is the new recipe for growth


Money multipliers survive by promoting the belief that good economics is bad politics. Now Lobbyists for Cuckoo Liberalism are hawking the slogan that good religion is bad economics and worse politics. They conveniently shy away from mentioning the negative aspects of those religions, which are pushing numerous countries back to the Stone Age and into the maw of terror. Stunned by the mass acceptability of nationalism and welfarism, status quoist illiberals are projecting the rise of Hindutva as a major threat to development. During the past three years, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has proved beyond doubt that the symbols, songs and syntax of faith make real Vikas Mantras. Saffron is no longer the colour of communalism.

                                  UP CM Yogi Adityanath with PM Narendra Modi

Ever since Modi anointed Yogi Adityanath as the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, the Cassandras of communal connivance are on hyperdrive to eviscerate social and ideological concepts and configurations that remotely resemble Hindutva. They have chosen to be selectively vocal against religion. They prefer not to acknowledge that Yogi, during his three weeks in office, has taken many decisions empowering the minorities and women, enforced law and order, tamed corruption, improved infrastructure and ensured continuity rather than embarking on actions to embolden hard core communal outfits.
The distortion of the ban on illegal abattoirs and brutal attacks on meat shops by fringe elements did spread fear among the minorities. However, course correction by the unflappable Yogi has made it clear that inclusive administration and not political Hindutva is his raj dharma. It shows the sanguine sanyasi hasn’t deviated an inch from the Modi Model of governance and development. All the 13 BJP Chief Ministers, too, have tried to keep their distance from fringe elements.
Taking a dvaitik cue from Modi methodology, they wear religion on their sleeves while ensuring good governance. Most BJP-run states perform better on numerous economic parameters than their adversaries.

Despite the stressed international economic environment, India’s economic performance in many sectors has been better than the world’s best. Motivated by Moditva, many neo-believers are inspired by the epiphany that a nationalist makes a better ruler than a leader who follows radical religion or La-La Liberalism. Today, three heads of states—Xi Jinping, President of China, Shinzo Abe, Prime Minister of Japan, and Modi—have placed their flag and country above all. Donald Trump won the presidency seeking a mandate for America.

In Europe, nationalism is the new liberalism. Many mass leaders have come to the conclusion that nationalism subtly tempered with religion ensures peace and prosperity, empowered by self-belief. This is a slap in the ugly face of Islamic fundamentalism in West Asia, which is infecting the civilized world through senseless lone wolf attacks and bombings.
Modi’s successful nationalism appears to be a heady mix of religion and economics. He feels Ram rajya represents the best model of economic growth where accountability, transparency and equality decide the contours and culture of governance. Modi has rescued many castaway icons of nationalism, social reforms and the Independence movement from abandoned islands of political partiality.

prabhuchawla@newindianexpress.com; Follow me on Twitter @PrabhuChawla

Monday, April 10, 2017

Opposition parties seek grand unity ..... Power & Politics / The Sunday Standard/ April 09, 2017

Opposition parties seek grand unity to be relevant in presidential election


They should have paid more attention to the proverb right at the beginning. But they refused to stand united and, so, divided they fell and got bruised, if not battered. Now, after the last Assembly elections, with political extinction staring them in the face, some Opposition leaders are trying to regroup and put together at least a symbolic challenge to a seemingly unstoppable-Modi machine. 
Indira Gandhi with V V Giri
Truth be told, there is no leader who can even pretend to be an alternative to Prime Minister Narendra Modi in popularity and power at the moment. The geographical and ideological boundaries of the Modi-baiters don’t extend beyond the walls of the offices they occupy. But politics is an unpredictable game of impossibilities and dreams. And they say there’s victory where there’s unity. Which is probably why Rahul Gandhi, Congress President-in-waiting, has suddenly become accessible to those with whom he has rarely exchanged pleasantries in his 13 years of parliamentary politics. Last week, he invited Communist leaders to his office for coffee and discussed the possibility of forging an alliance against the NDA government in Parliament.
It’s time, you see, to choose the new President. 
Both the machinery and mathematics of elections are stacked in favour of the ruling dispensation. And Modi is keeping his choice of candidate close to his chest. He can afford to: he enjoys a legitimate monopoly over every administrative and political decision, and his political power exceeds that of even Indira Gandhi, who could make even a lamp-post win, they said. However, if the entire non-BJP political spectrum puts its resources together, it can perhaps bruise the Himalayan halo of the Prime Minister and set the tone for the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. For, remember, despite enjoying a brute majority at the Centre and states, even India Gandhi couldn’t ensure an unopposed win for her candidate. In 1969, her candidate VV Giri defeated the official Congress candidate N Sanjiva Reddy. But in 1977, Gandhi (now in the opposition) couldn’t find a credible candidate to fight Reddy who was eventually elected unopposed. 
While Modi maintains a royal silence, the entire opposition has begun hunting for a credible Presidential candidate. Before the assembly elections, Modi was expected to go in for a consensus and force a hardcore Hindutva personality as his choice. But Modi hasn’t started consultations even within his own party so far, leave alone with any known or unknown foes. A few weeks ago, Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar was considered to be the consensus choice as he was also honoured with India’s second-highest civilian award, the Padma Vibhushan. Pawar has strong credentials as a member of the Rajya Sabha and as former president of the Janata Dal (U). But after his unprecedented electoral gains in UP and elsewhere, Modi is unlikely to accept anyone from the opposition ranks as the next president. 
Nevertheless, structured and informal parleys on the matter have already begun in Lutyens’ Delhi. The idea among the Opposition leaders is to bring together some 35 political parties which have more than a 50 per cent share of the Electoral College. Since none of them enjoys a pan-India image or visibility, premium has been put on integrity, seniority and social background of a potential contestant.  While Pawar appears to still be in the forefront, the Opposition is also toying with the idea of asking President Pranab Mukherjee to run for a second term. By all indications, he is unlikely to agree, unless requested to do so by both sides. 
prabhuchawla@newindianexpress.com; Follow me on Twitter @PrabhuChawla