An imaginative out of box rearrangement at the top order of the government and the party can still save the day for the ruling regime; particularly, when the principal opposition is unable to put its house in order and many in the probable third front are more than willing to perform as the B-Team of the Congress. The seasoned politicians, and there are plenty in the party led by the Gandhis, know it well that perception matters more than the performance when it comes to win the ballots.
The Presidential election and the ongoing debate in the run-up to it carry the potential for the Congress party to change its fortunes. By now, it is clear that Pranab Mukherjee enjoys undisputable goodwill among friends and enemies alike. Even when no one is happy about UPA’s governance, he has emerged as an administrator and political manager par excellence. He is not a mass leader but succeeded in emerging as a politician statesman.
No doubt, chorus is growing for him as next President of India, which in itself is an exceptional honour for the active politician. However, isn’t there a better job waiting for him instead of becoming the Head of the Republic and the de-facto Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces? If Pranab Mukherjee is so capable and popular, why can’t we all, who are pissed off with UPA’s leadership, demand in one voice that let him be the Prime Minister of this country instead of being President of India?
The forthcoming election offers an opportunity for Congress party to get rid of the reluctant Dr. Manmohan Singh as a person, even though not as a legacy, by making him a Presidential candidate, which would be the most honorable exit for him from the theater of absurd that his government has become in the last three years. Even at the risk of losing the coveted election, it is a gamble Sonia Gandhi mustundertake.
Change of Guard at the helm of the government would provide a chance for the UPA to reshuffle its ministerial team to make it more representative and acceptable to the masses. Let this be the time to introduce Rahul Gandhi to the nitty-gritties of government functioning. This will place him in the media spotlight, but democratization of Indian polity demands accountability and performance from its emerging leaders. He himself has shown that he is not a man in a hurry and would like to learn a lot to present himself as the most deserved candidate for the top job. Vacancy at the Finance Ministry would make it feasible to shift P. Chidambaram from the Home Ministry, where he has served with commitment and passion, but with mixed results. An experienced politician like Gulam Nabi Azad can prove to be an asset as a Home Minister, politically and administratively.
This is also a time for His Highness Mr. S. M. Krishna to step down as Foreign Minister and elevation of his deputy Ms Parneet Kaur to the Cabinet level. Services of talented Shahi Tharoor should also be sought in managing external affairs if no court case or enquiry is pending against him on the charges for which he was made to resign from the Council of Ministers. Similarly, Congress must make light of all-time controversial Kapil Sibal by divesting him of HRD Ministry, only to bring in person like Digvijay Singh who would be more sensitive and open to ideas.
An academician-administrator like Dr. Bhalchandra Mungekar should be made to assist in the HRD ministry, which would make the government more representative and deliverable. Such a government led by Pranab Mukherjee represents Congress and UPA's best chance to fight back decisively in next two years. The 76-year-old war horse is neither a threat to Gandhi family's dominance nor an obstacle to emergence of Rahul as a leader. In fact, the latter will learn few lessons of statecraft and realpolitik under Mukherjee, which he would never receive from incumbent PM. Most importantly, an assertive and shrewd President vis-a-vis a meek and motiveless Prime Minister will do no good to India's West-ministerial system.
This situation has the potential to create unnecessary precedents of Presidential interventions, which will be detrimental to Indian democracy's health in the long term. Therefore, it makes sense to pitch Pranab babu for country's top executive job in right earnest rather than making him to contest the Presidential election. Lets hope, good political sense prevails over 10 Janpath.
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