A blow to Indian opposition’s image
The strategy of the Congress and others in the Opposition was faulty. They wanted a second term for K R Narayanan. However, they either misread his mind or deliberately chose to ignore the caveat implied in his response. When requested to agree to a second term, he replied that it was for the political parties to decide
By K K Katyal
The bungling was total and complete. All the political formations — the National Democratic Alliance, the Congress, the Third Front as also its individual constituents — the Left parties and the Mulayam Singh Yadav group — conducted themselves clumsily on matters relating to the forthcoming Presidential election. Within the ruling combine, the BJP revealed severe inner pressures and lack of cohesion. The Congress failed to chalk out a coherent strategy, while the third force, the People’s Front, could not withstand internal contradictions and collapsed. In the end, however, it was advantage NDA, its unseemly conduct notwithstanding. It will have the satisfaction of seeing the candidate named by it — A P J Abdul Kalam — in Rashtrapati Bhavan for the next five years.
The problems and pressures within the BJP were palpable, what with the hawks going to the extent of questioning the authority of the Prime Minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee, and seeking to commit the party to the nomination of the Maharashtra Governor, P C Alexander. Mr. Vajpayee’s first preference was Dr. Kalam but the hardliners were not enthusiastic.
His second preference was the Vice-President, Krishan Kant — it was conveyed to the Opposition and the chances of consensus on him brightened. This proposal was scuttled too. Insistence on Dr. Alexander was given up because of the realisation that the united Opposition would force a contest against him, the outcome of which could be risky.
The strategy of the Congress and others in the Opposition was faulty on various counts. They wanted a second term for the incumbent President, K R Narayanan. However, they either misread his mind or deliberately chose to ignore the caveat implied in his response. When requested to agree to a second term, he replied that it was for the political parties to decide.
This was his meaning of the “open mind’’ — which was how the Congress and others described his reaction. There was nothing to suggest that he had consented to enter a contest (in the absence of consensus). The Opposition parties chose to gloss over this point. It was all right for them to take that position for the consumption of the public — or perhaps of the NDA in order to scare it into abandoning Dr. Alexander. But in their private calculations they ought to have taken into account the real position of Mr. Narayanan. They failed to do that.
This turned out to be a costly blunder. They could have thought of an alternative person who could have come handy in their fall-back position. With Mr. Narayanan saying “no’’, the Opposition found itself without a viable option. The result: confusion and uncertainty, and a big blow to the image of the Opposition parties as a whole. Worse, they drifted in different directions. The Congress found itself in an acute dilemma and, finally, opted to support the NDA nominee. It must have been a great wrench for the party leadership to be seen forced to follow on, as it were. The Congress had the biggest chunk of votes in the electoral college — 2.70 lakhs against 2.60 lakhs of the BJP — but it was pathetic to see the former groping for options and, finally, failing to take an independent line.
That the Central leadership had veered to this view before the formal announcement was evident from yesterday’s statement of the Kerala Chief Minister, A K Antony, favouring Dr. Kalam’s candidature. A highly cautious person, he would not have taken that stand without a nod from New Delhi.
The biggest casualty of the nomination episode is the People’s Front. It split following Mr. Yadav’s decision to break ranks with the Front to back Dr. Kalam, and then dissolved itself. Now, the Left parties are the only ones to go in for a contest which will be merely symbolic.
The long-term implications are drastic. It means a major setback to the process of unity of the non-BJP parties which had begun to take a recognisable shape. An unearned gain for the BJP.
The nomination episode led to a realignment of sorts in the non-BJP formation. Till now, the Left parties were close to the Congress, while Mr. Mulayam Singh Yadav’s party had a problem with it. This was evident in 1999 when, after the defeat of the first Vajpayee Government, Mr. Yadav’s stand came in the way of a Congress-led Government. In the last six months or so, the Left mediated and appeared to succeed in reducing the area of divergence between them. Overall Opposition unity seemed on the cards — it worked in the matter of floor coordination in Parliament and promised to be extended to the political level outside. Suddenly, an ironic twist now finds Mr. Yadav and the Congress together in support of Dr. Kalam — while he and the Left are pitted against each other. But the Congress and Mr. Yadav being on the same side of the fence on Presidential nomination is an accident — not a precursor of proximity in the future. The Left-Mulayam cleavage is deep and difficult to be undone soon. All in all, increased divisiveness in the non-BJP camp. —The Hindu