THE victory of veteran Congressman and former Indian finance minister Pranab Mukherjee, with a comfortable margin, in presidential polls – the results for which were announced on Sunday — will act as a major boost for the morale of the beleaguered United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government. Mukherjee, 76,was elected as the 13th president of the republic, crowning a four-decade-long career in politics.
The president-elect had served as a minister in the cabinets of several prime ministers beginning with Indira Gandhi in 1973. His enormous knowledge of the working of Indian democracy — both from the perspectives of the legislature and the executive — his phenomenal memory, his ability to simplify complicated jargon and rules and his thorough understanding of the political process paved the way for his elevation to the highest constitutional office in India.
Mukherjee also had the ability to reach across to rivals, listen to their arguments and then put across his government’s and party’s points of view in a bid to convince them. Importantly, he was a great negotiator, who could hammer out practical solutions relating to intractable problems. These great skills of his endeared him to the Congress party for decades and he emerged as its chief trouble-shooter. For Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh — a bureaucrat-turned-reluctant-politician — and Congress president Sonia Gandhi, Mukherjee’s elevation to the presidential office will be a huge blow. During the last eight years of the UPA regime, the political leadership of the alliance had to depend on Mukherjee for virtually every major decision. Though number two in Singh’s cabinet, he was appointed the head of innumerable high-powered panels of ministers, set up to tackle a range of issues.
Though the Indian president is a nominal constitutional head, the position assumes significance in times of political crisis. With less than two years to go for the next general elections, Mukherjee will emerge as a key player at the time of government formation in 2014. The two leading political parties — the Congress and the BJP — are unlikely to attain majorities in the next elections, and both would have to depend on smaller allies for support.
Indian politics is already in a flux, with both the major alliances — the UPA, headed by the Congress, and the National Democratic Alliance led by the BJP — facing enormous problems. The Congress, for instance,is finding it difficult to iron out differences with key allies including theTrinamool Congress, the DMK and the Nationalist Congress Party. The BJP is having problems with partners including the Janata Dal (U) and the Shiv Sena.
Though Mukherjee will be able to enjoy about two years of relative comfort at the Rashtrapati Bhavan, the majestic presidential palace in Delhi, he will undoubtedly be dragged into the heat of politics in 2014, when a hung parliament could well emerge.