Presidential Poll 2012 and Beyond

As anticipated, Pranab Mukherjee has won the Presidential race hands down. With the UPA eventually staying intact, and support coming in from sections of NDA as well as the Left Front, as from formally unaffiliated parties like the Samajwadi Party, Bahujan Samaj Party and Rashtriya Janata Dal, Pranab Mukherjee’s emphatic victory was a foregone conclusion. Pranab Mukherjee has not just been a prominent Congress leader, but a crucial architect and custodian of the pro-US neoliberal order that has been shaped over the last two decades. Only the future can tell us the implications of having such a key bourgeois leader as the President of India.

The Congress has definitely used this occasion to the hilt to try and shore up its fortunes and corner its rivals. The resounding victory of Pranab Mukherjee in the Presidential election marks an eloquent contrast to the pathetic performance of the Congress in all recent Assembly elections and by-elections. This has certainly been possible only because the Presidential election is an indirect election and it does not directly reflect the public mood or the real situation on the ground. To treat the Presidential election outcome as a sign of turnaround for the Congress will therefore be clearly premature and unrealistic. In fact, the Congress wanted a key leader as President precisely in anticipation of a hung Parliament in 2014 where the Congress could well lose its position as the single largest party.

Yet the fact remains that it is the BJP which has emerged the biggest loser in the Presidential poll. For the BJP it could have been an opportunity to showcase the renewed potential of the NDA as the rallying point for non-Congress non-Left forces. But in the event, two of the BJP’s long-standing allies, Shiv Sena and the JD(U), deserted the BJP and sided with the Congress, indicating clearly that in today’s politics, corporate preference prevails over ‘coalition dharma,’ or more precisely, it is corporate power that can easily make or unmake bourgeois coalitions. Mr. PA Sangma, whose candidature was eventually backed by the BJP, was actually fielded by two regional parties, the AIADMK of Tamil Nadu and BJD of Odisha, and the BJP was left without any initiative.

The Presidential election over, the ruling coalition is now getting ready for the next big battle, the 2014 Lok Sabha election. The drama of political succession in the Congress seems ready for resolution and Rahul Gandhi has declared his intent to play a bigger ‘pro-active role’ in the affairs of the Congress party and UPA government. Meanwhile, the pressure on Manmohan Singh to ‘perform’ has been on the increase from Indian corporates as well as Western powers. The Time magazine ran a cover story branding Singh an ‘underachiever’, Obama openly called for a freer flow of FDI into India, a British daily ridiculed Singh as Sonia’s poodle, and Ratan Tata, while recalling Singh’s role as the architect of neoliberal reforms, also added a quiet reminder that it was time for Singh to step up the gas. By every indication, the Congress will try to use the last two years of the lame duck Prime Minister to intensify the neoliberal economic assault, while doing everything possible to project Rahul and corner the BJP/NDA over the issue of leadership.

The Congress looks forward to a Rahul Gandhi versus Narendra Modi showdown in 2014. The forthcoming Gujarat election would also have the same theme, but this mini battle will be played on Modi’s home turf, while the bigger battle in 2014, the Congress hopes, may work more favourably for the Congress. While it will surely rattle the NDA by forcing parties like the JD(U) to take a final call, the Samajwadi Party and the CPI(M) would have no problem aligning with the Congress in such a scenario. The Congress also hopes that the anti-Congress edge of the anti-corruption public mood would be blunted with time, what with governments led by the BJP and other parties all getting equally embroiled in mega scams.

Against this backdrop, the coming days are crucial for the people’s movement in the country. The mass resentment against corruption and economic crisis and the aspiration for change must be pushed in a radical direction. What need to be changed are the policies that govern the economy and the country, and not a mere rhetorical shift in slogans and a generation change in leadership. The crisis of the Congress and the waning support for the BJP could be an ideal moment for the Left and its politics of social transformation and people’s rights. What the CPI(M)’s decision to support the Congress in the Presidential election amounts to is an injustice to this great possibility, and a complete abdication of the political responsibility of the Left. The organisations and struggles of the working people and the progressive intelligentsia must reject and overturn the suicidal course of the CPI(M), and press for a determined advance against the corporate plunder, social injustice and violation of democracy.

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