The nomination of Pranab Mukherjee as a presidential candidate by the UPA is a welcome move. For over four decades Pranab Mukherjee has been a part of Indian politics and has vast experiences of working with four Prime Ministers. Working in different ministries, he has always maintained a cordial relation with the Opposition parties. In the long political career, the image of Pranab Mukherjee has remained spotless. Not a single allegation has been leveled against him that can dent the image of a matured politician. Pranab Mukherjee has been troubleshooter for the UPA holding power at the Centre for eight years. His importance can be gauged from the fact that other than handling the Finance Ministry he was heading about four dozen GoMs. Looking from the political point of view nomination of Pranab for the Presidential election is no less than a puzzle. Everyone is aware of the deteriorating economic condition and pinning blame on Pranab Mukherjee as a Finance Minister. Possibly this is why the UPA especially the Congress’ policy makers may have felt the need to make him the President so that fingers are not raised towards such a senior minister, in a move to avoid changing his portfolio. Perhaps this may be the reason that the name of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was also doing rounds as a Presidential candidate. Whatever the reason may be, but after Pranab Mukherjee becomes the President, the Congress leadership will have to choose a Finance Minister whose work would be in consonance with the viewpoints of the the Prime Minister.

It is quite obvious that on several issues the Prime Minister, Finance Minister and Home Minister P Chidambaram have taken different stand. Probably due to the differences, several issues became more complicated which had wide repercussion on the functioning of the government. When Pranab Mukherjee’s name surfaced as a Presidential candidate for the first time, top brass ministers said that the UPA government without Mukherjee could not be thought, but today he is not only the Presidential candidate but his victory is almost certain. His chances of victory have become even stronger as he enjoys the support of some NDA and Left Front allies. The manner in which both the Shiv Sena and the JD(U) allies of the NDA declared their supports for Pranab Mukherjee has not only left the BJP isolated but also indicated a new political equation. Politically, the NDA being the main opposition should have nominated a consensus candidate for the Presidential post.

Political analysts are of the view that being the highest constitutional post, there should be a consensus over the election of the President, which has happened in the past also but it cannot be ignored this thing could take place only if stature and dignity of a candidate are so high that the Opposition parties do not bother to stand against his candidature. In present scenario only apolitical person could be such sort of candidate. APJ Abdul Kalam could have become one such candidate but he chose not to contest the election. If the Presidential candidate is tagged with a certain political ideology, Opposition parties should not hesitate in putting up their own candidate. Going by this thought the BJP has declared support to PA Sangma. Only time will tell whether Sangma will pose any challenge to Pranab Mukherjee, but if the BJP backs up Sangma keeping its obligation of being the main opposition party then there is nothing wrong in it.

Failing to keep its allies intact over the consensus candidate for Presidential election is not the only concern for the BJP, rather the projection of Narendra Modi as a possible prime ministerial candidate by the JD(U) has indicated its divergence with the NDA. It is surprising that JD(U) raised the issue of a secular prime ministerial candidate at a time when the process of Presidential elections is in full swing and general election is still two years away. It is rather more intriguing as the BJP has not announced any candidature for the prime ministerial post. Narendra Modi’s name came to the fore just because his rival Sanjay Joshi was first removed from BJP’s National Executive Meet and then was thrown out of the party. The incident not only strengthened Modi’s position in the party but speculations began that the BJP would project Modi as the party’s prime ministerial candidate in the coming general elections. By supporting Pranab Mukherjee’s candidature the JD(U) in a way not only challenged the BJP but also put the NDA in a difficult position by raking up the issue of secularism. Going by the inference of Nitish Kumar, Narendra Modi is responsible for Gujarat riots. Why did he form this opinion is difficult to understand but it is clear that Nitish Kumar by doing so is eyeing the Muslim vote bank in Bihar. The Nitish-Modi incident has once again fueled the debate over secularism. Is favouring a certain section or a particular community called secularism? Is secularism about treating all religions alike or just appeasing a particular community? 

It is difficult to understand as to why Nitish Kumar abruptly raised this issue and created a situation of a rift with the BJP? Presidential elections should have been the topic of discussion at this moment. Raking up the issue of BJP’S prime ministerial candidate Nitish Kumar has given rise to new kind of politics which was uncalled for. Bihar is certainly emerging from its backwardness but it still has a long way to go. As the opposition party, NDA should focus on UPA’s shortcomings instead of involving in petty quarrels and thereby projecting itself as a party that is on the verge of collapse.

(An original copy of the article published in Hindi on June 24, 2012 translated by the English Editorial. The author is Group Editor of Dainik Jagran)