The just concluded presidential race was one of the most bitterly fought battles for a high constitutional office in the country.
Never in the recent past was an election marked by vilification, viciousness, malice and intrigue as this one. Although the United Progressive Alliance (UPA)-Left backed Pratibha Patil won by a huge margin of over three lakh votes, every party lost something in this election.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) emerges a big loser from this election in many ways. It failed to garner the support of its steadfast and ideologically compatible ally, the Shiv Sena. The BJP’s failure to retain its erstwhile allies—such as the Trinamool Congress and the Telugu Desam Party—and earn the support of new allies such as the Janata Dal (Secular) is a clear indication that none of them see the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance a favourite for winning the 2009 Lok Sabha polls.
Patil’s election has left the Congress party bruised and divided. The party’s image among the middle classes has taken a severe beating with a sting of allegations against its candidate Patil.
Even as the party celebrates the huge win of its candidate, many stalwarts in the party are seething with anger and indignation for being discarded in favour of the relatively less known Patil.
Patil’s election lends strong credence to the popular notion that Sonia Gandhi has undermined the highest offices of the Prime Minister and the President of India by appointing political lightweights.
In my assessment, this would emerge as a key issue in the 2009 Lok Sabha polls and the Congress would pay a political price by losing the support of a sizeable section of the urban middle classes.
In terms of their clout, the Left parties have certainly emerged stronger by vetoing several names proposed by the Congress party.
They have also had their way in the selection of the candidate for election of the vice-president of India. The Left parties have not only selected their vice-presidential candidate, but chose the Congress party’s presidential candidate as well!
This is a clear sign that in the months ahead, the Congress party will be willing to surrender its authority for the sake of buying peace with the Left. All this must make the Left parties terribly happy. But, they aren’t.
They are aghast at the statements made by Patil and at her prowess in conversing with ghosts. Within the Left Front, the blame game is on, with the CPM blaming the CPI for backing Patil’s candidature in haste without checking out on her credentials.
In many ways, Patil’s views—on the purdah system, her tête-à-tête with spirits and ghosts, etc.—are anathema for the Left parties and they can barely stomach the fact that she was their chosen candidate.
The less said about the ‘third front’, grandly named the United National Progressive Alliance, the better. The regional compulsions of these parties militate against their avowed interest in forging a ‘united’ front at the national level.
Jayalalithaa did a u-turn, supporting Shekhawat in the election for thwarting a BJP-Vijayakanth-led DMDK tie-up in the Lok Sabha polls.
Vijayakanth is chipping away at the AIADMK’s youth voter base and a tie-up with the BJP would give his fledgling DMDK a huge boost in Lok Sabha polls.
Jayalalithaa had called Patil’s candidature a joke on the nation. But, the real joke of this election is the Jayalalithaa’s statement that her party MLAs and MPs were confused with the Election Commission’s directive and voted without her personal knowledge.
Is Jayalalithaa taking any political cue from Deve Gowda who had stunned the nation with similar guile and theatrical abilities?
The only winner in the election—Patil—is also a loser in some ways. Given her unassuming personality, a lot of muck raked against her ought not to have stuck.
But it did, as the allegations largely went unexplained by her. Her image lies completely shattered, despite an impressive win.
While most presidents in the past have not evoked any expectations, no one assumed the office either with a baggage of negatives. That she succeeds the hugely popular President Kalam makes her job more difficult.
Given this background, she would be under public scrutiny for her entire term, and time will show whether she proves to be worthy of the high office.
The presidential election marked a low in our political campaigns and has left a lot of countrymen sad about the falling standards in our public life and political discourse.
In my assessment, this western-style campaign—largely based on facts and documented track record of both contestants—was timely and warranted.
How else do we get to know about the low eligibility of contestants to high offices?
G.V.L. Narasimha Rao is a political analyst and managing director of Development & Research Services, a research and consulting firm in New Delhi. Your comments are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org