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.; Follow me on Twitter @PrabhuChawla

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