Manmohan's own party has not rallied behind him, and if Sonia’s conspiracy theory is true, he then does not even enjoy her confidence.
On Wednesday, Mamata Banerjee, West Bengal’s Chief Minister and leader of the Trinamool Congress, a key ally of the ruling federal coalition in New Delhi led by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s Congress, bowled a googly.
She and Mulayam Manmohan Yadav, chief of the Samajwadi Party and another coalition ally, overruled Congress supremo, Sonia Gandhi’s, list of names for the presidential post.
Banerjee and Yadav rejected the candidatures of India’s Finance Minister, Pranab Mukherjee, and the country’s Vice-President, Hamid Ansari.
The Banerjee-Yadav combine added insult to injury by proposing three names. And one of them was that of Prime Minister Manmohan himself! The other two were former president Abdul Kalam and Communist leader Somnath Chatterjee.
Known for her extreme views, Banerjee has once again embarrassed and humiliated three Congress leaders – Gandhi, Manmohan and Mukherjee.
Banerjee and Yadav have not only thrown the Congress list into the wastepaper basket, but have also shouted out their lack of confidence in Manmohan.
By announcing their own candidates for India’s top but merely ornamental post of president, they have virtually implied that they want Manmohan to be placed on the mantle-piece.
And this is the state of one of India’s most brilliant minds. Manmohan is a renowned economist, credited with having pulled the country out of a deep financial mess in the early 1990s.
The Congress Party is yet to react to the Mamata-Mulayam coup of sorts.
There is one theory which says that Sonia is using Banerjee and Yadav to try and remove Manmohan from the prime ministerial chair. This would in all probability pave the way for her son, Rahul Gandhi, to become the prime minister.
Also, the Mamata-Mulayam plan could help keep Pranab Mukherjee out of the president’s office; the finance minister is not exactly Sonia’s favourite.
If we set this theory aside, it is then entirely possible that the Congress camp has been taken aback by the Banerjee-Yadav move. There has been absolute silence there.
The real powers
Earlier, there had been indications of Sonia trying to play Mulayam against Mamata.
At the recent third anniversary of the coalition government in New Delhi, Yadav had been pampered at a dinner which Sonia hosted. He sat next to her at the table.
What is more, Pranab’s candidacy was meant to ruffle Mamata, who does not much care for the finance minister. And, Ansari, the second candidate that the Congress has named, is not exactly the favourite of Mulayam.
Obviously, the divide-and-rule policy of Sonia has backfired, that is if we are to discount her conspiracy theory.
It is clear from all that has happened in the past 24 hours that regional parties – like Trinamool and Samajwadi – are the real powers behind the federal coalition, not quite a national party like the Congress.
The regional allies have the gumption to call the shots, even embarrass Sonia, Manmohan and Pranab.
With his son, Akhilesh Kumar, as the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh (one of India’s most powerful and populous States), Yadav is trying hard to get corruption cases against him dismissed.
His show of strength at the presidential ballot may well be his last card to get what he wants from the Congress.
If this game has revealed that Sonia is far from possessing the shrewdness of some of the country’s political leaders, it has left Manmohan sadder and shrunken.
His own party has not rallied behind him, and if Sonia’s conspiracy theory is true, he then does not even enjoy her confidence.
Maybe, this is the right time for him to bid goodbye to his chair and walk away.
Gautaman Bhaskaran is a Chennai-India based author, columnist and film critic, and can be contacted at [email protected] He is an FMT columnist.