Monday, June 18, 2007

The Presidential election gets murkier

This presidential election has just got murkier. In India, presidential elections (like the elections to the speaker's post), are seen as political contests between the ruling combination and the opposition. And so it was in this particular election, where there was a massive tug-of-war, not between the Congress and the BJP, but between the ruling party (Congress) and its supporters, the left combine. It is known thoroughly that the left views itself as the conscience of the ruling combine, and it never hesitates in wielding this power.
So, the run-up to the Presidential election has been much more tortured this time, starting with reports about how the Uttar Pradesh elections were seen as important due to the number of votes wielded by UP in the presidential election. In addition, the post of President is seen as having immense prestige for most politicians in the Congress. They know very well that with the Gandhi dynasty controlling the levers of power, there is no way that they can become powerful. Any politician who threatens to become powerful in any way is typically cut to size (in that way, Sonia Gandhi has all the instincts of Indira Gandhi).
So, the Congress has floated the names of a number of politicians, but with the left having a veto (how that must distress ordinary Congressites!), a number of names have floated and shot down due to rejection. Shivraj Patil (a disaster as Home Minister, but loyal) was tried out, and he would have fancied his chances, but the left did not like the way he conducted himself as Speaker (apparently was close to the BJP, or more likely, did not rule against the BJP often enough) and so was rejected. Next, Karan Singh (a true blood, but the left did not like him either, and you know what would happen). In between, Mayawati apparently rejected a few other names, for one not willing to have another Dalit be the President.
One wonders as to why this much drama for the name of the President. The President in India has much glamour associated in terms of perks, state visits and the like, but no real power. Discretionary power of the President is being carefully cut down, with the Supreme Court giving adverse comments when it sees some discretionary power being utilized in the wrong way.
So, eventually the Congress announced that it will recommend the name of Pratibha Patil, as a loyal party member (anyone who believes that it will go to somebody not seen as loyal has spent too much time in the North Indian sun). This was seen as a killer, given that she is a women, and also of the same caste and community (by marriage) as the vice-President. On cue, she gives statements about how she will act independently, hah !
And after much celebration, she does the very thing geared to provoke left opposition. In a public speech, she claims that Purdah was meant as a protection against Muslim invaders. My, in one stroke, she ha turned the left against her. How could she make comments about the Muslim invaders threatening local Hindus. If this issue catches fire, it is possible that she may have to withdraw her nomination, with the left wielding a veto. And what will the Congress do then ? Refer this article:

Even before the photo-ops are over, the ruling coalition's presidential candidate Pratibha Patil has run into a messy controversy over the origin of the purdah in India by claiming that it was introduced to protect women from Mughal invaders and, in the process, annoying many among her backers and giving her opponents gratuitous ammo for attack.
Patil's interpretation of history, say historians, is not accurate. But more than that, her statement at a function to commemorate the 467th birth anniversary of Maharana Pratap, was politically incorrect. And this has triggered a massive controversy with Muslim outfits, the Left intelligentsia and women's groups protesting against it.

The next few days are bound to be interesting. The BJP will be watching to see whether this will make a difference to the chances of its Presidential candidate.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 8:14 PM