Millennium Post

Making of the 13th President

Sangma had proved to be a poor loser moving apex court against the result.

Making of the 13th President
Scholarly research is all about citations. But do citations tell the correct story? Not always, especially when it pertains to the political history of the country. Like the official records of the 14 elections held for the post of the President of India, in their bare form would seldom reveal the politics which went behind the choice of a particular candidate. Same would be true for the election of the 15th president.

In the case of the election of the 13th President, then Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar had preferred Congress candidate Pranab Mukherjee over Opposition's choice PA Sangma. What was the real story of several who practiced politics of anti-Congressism deciding to go with the candidature of Pranab Mukherjee, including West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee?

Sangma was not the first "beef-eating" Christian from Meghalaya whom the BJP has taken a liking for. In 1991, GG Swell had contested as the Opposition candidate against the Congress nominee Shankar Dayal Sharma in the presidential race. However, unlike in the case of Swell, Sangma's name was not directly floated by the BJP.

In the early summer of 2012, then Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalitha and Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik had surprised everyone by signing a friendship treaty in the national capital. The two also soon got together to announce the name of Sangma as their candidate for the Rashtrapati Bhawan. Those who closely follow Tamil Nadu politics saw Sangh ideologue S Gurumurthy's signature in the pact.

Before the Jayalalitha-Naveen pact, in March that year, Sangma was invited to deliver a talk on governance by the Vivekananda Foundation in the national Capital, where the former speaker chose to criticise the Manmohan Singh government, despite his daughter being its part. The session was chaired by Ajit Doval, the director of the foundation. Now Ajit Doval doesn't need an introduction.

The discussion was conspicuously attended, among others, by Subhash C Kashyap, a former secretary-general of the Lok Sabha, AK Verma, a former chief of the Research and Analysis Wing, Ved Prakash Marwah, a former Governor of Manipur, Mizoram and Jharkhand and Vijai Kapoor, a former Lieutenant Governor of Delhi. All of them are known for their proximity to the BJP. And not to forget S Gurumurthy was on the foundation's advisory board.

Mamata and Nitish had forwarded the name of former President APJ Abdul Kalam, for a second tenure at the Rashtrapati Bhawan. Kalam declined the offer as he knew that his erstwhile benefactors in the BJP were not really keen on his candidature. A 'political' Sangma was preferred over an 'apolitical' Kalam by the BJP this time, keeping in mind the pro-active role the Rashtrapati Bhawan could have played in case of a fractured mandate after the 2014 General Election.

It was not only the choice of the losing candidate which had followed the circuitous route. The selection of Pranab Mukherjee in fact had followed a more tortuous course. To begin with there were several in the race: Vice-President Hamid Ansari, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, Defence Minister AK Antony, Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar, former West Bengal governor Gopal Krishna Gandhi, senior Congress leader Karan Singh, former President APJ Abdul Kalam and former speaker Somnath Chatterjee.

Given his long innings in politics, often playing trouble-shooter for the ruling establishment, Pranab in normal course should have managed an easy candidature but he was distrusted most by his own party's leadership. In 2007, Congress president Sonia Gandhi had foisted a lusterless Pratibha Devi Patil saying that she could not let the most efficient of her party government's minister go.

However, in 2012 Pranab played his cards carefully and worked out a situation wherein the party was forced to announce his name. Though it can never be verified but it's said that he encouraged Mamata Banerjee to give a call for reaching consensus on the name of APJ Abdul Kalam. Now, that was like showing red rag to Gandhi, who had been denied office of Prime Minister by Kalam in 2004.

The Left parties would not have agreed on the names of Somnath Chatterjee and Manmohan Singh as the two had got together to see the historical treaty with the United States through in Parliament leading to the exit of the Left from UPA I. The Congress would not agree on the name of Gopal Krishna Gandhi. Moreover, 2012 was very different from 2007 as the Manmohan Singh government stood embittered following the array of corruption cases against it and likes of Anna Hazare and Baba Ramdev holding fort at Ramlila Maidan.

Here, master strategist Nitish Kumar made the decisive move breaking ranks from the NDA and pledging support to "a seasoned political leader" Pranab Mukherjee, which virtually forced Sonia Gandhi's hand in announcing his candidature. Mukherjee, unlike Patil, carried out his campaign with some aplomb which saw even the Shiv Sena break ranks with the NDA and vote for him.

Mukherjee also insured that several parties opposed to Congress in their respective state politics like the Telugu Desam Party and the Telangana Rashtra Sangha abstained from polling rather than oppose the Congress candidate. He also managed to fish in troubled waters in Karnataka and got over a dozen BJP MLAs to vote for him.

Sangma proved to be a poor loser and moved the Supreme Court against the poll result. It generated some controversy before the petition was rejected by a three-two majority. Nevertheless, it made a lively political story.

(Sidharth Mishra is President, Centre for Reforms, Development & Justice and Consulting Editor, Millennium Post. Views expressed are strictly personal.)
Sidharth Mishra

Sidharth Mishra

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