Right choice

The election of the country’s next President is now just a matter of formality. On Friday, after 48 hours of chaotic political manoeuvres, Union finance minister Pranab Mukherjee emerged as the ruling United Progressive Alliance’s candidate for the presidency. It is highly doubtful if the UPA’s rivals can come up with a candidate to match Mukherjee’s popularity and credibility to challenge him in the July 19 election. Former president APJ Abdul Kalam, in all probability, will not offer himself to take on Mukherjee. So, Trinamool Congress leader Mamata Banerjee, who insisted on Thursday that Kalam would be her candidate, will have to either accept Mukherjee’s candidature or look for a candidate other than the former president. The other declared aspirant, former Lok Sabha Speaker, PA Sangma, may now see reason why he should opt out. Indeed, the opposition NDA, particularly the BJP, would be very comfortable with Mukherjee’s choice, though it might grumble about not being consulted. With other important players like the Left parties, the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party already endorsing Mukherjee’s name in one way or the other, the finance minister stands a very good chance of being a near-unanimous choice for the presidency.  

Mamata’s whimsical and unilateral ways over the last two days might actually have helped Mukherjee. Her proposal on Wednesday to field prime minister Manmohan Singh as the UPA’s presidential candidate and the Thursday’s announcement of a popular Kalam as her nominee must have prompted the ruling Congress leadership to settle for a widely regarded Mukherjee as the UPA’s nominee without dithering any further. Much as the Congress’ UPA allies had made known their preference for Mukherjee, the party leadership until as late as yesterday was unwilling to confirm if he was its favoured candidate. Mukherjee had missed the opportunity of becoming the President in 2007. Though he had made known his preference for the high post five years ago, the party leadership instead opted for Pratibha Patil.

The UPA government will be poorer without Mukherjee’s services. He has been the government’s one-man think tank, trusted troubleshooter and most active minister. Yet, his elevation to the top post will enhance the credibility of the institution of the President. With his vast experience in political, policy and constitutional matters, and the trust he enjoys among political parties of all hues, he has the right qualifications to be the country’s conscience-keeper. His choice may auger well for the Republic.           

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