New Delhi: Pranab Mukherjee was elected India’s 13th President with an overwhelming majority of 69.3% votes from parliamentarians and state lawmakers.
Mukherjee, 76, a veteran Congress leader from West Bengal, will take oath for the ceremonial post in Parliament’s Central Hall on Wednesday.
Mukherjee’s opponent and former Lok Sabha speaker P.A. Sangma, backed by the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), garnered only 30.6% votes.
The BJP faced an embarrassment in its faction-ridden Karnataka unit when Mukherjee secured a backing of 117 state legislators against Sangma’s 103, with some BJP members cross-voting in favour of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) nominee. Mukherjee had only a pledged support 98 members of the legislative assembly—71 from the Congress and 27 from the Janata Dal (Secular), or JD(S)—but he managed to secure the support of 19 more legislators. Sangma got 103 votes, although the BJP has 119 members in the Karnataka assembly.
Former BJP president Rajnath Singh, who has been involved in the crisis management in Karnataka where the BJP recently changed its second chief minister, said the party will seek a report from the state leadership over the cross-voting. “We will comment after that,” Singh said.
Mukherjee’s victory will boost the morale of the Congress-led UPA, which has been facing a series of controversies in the past few months. Congress leaders are now working on floor management for Parliament’s monsoon session beginning 8 August, and to ensure the victory of the ruling party’s candidate Hamid Ansari in the vice-presidential election on 7 August.
After the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), the Congress’ ally in Maharashtra, raised the banner of revolt saying decision-making in the UPA was not inclusive of its allies, Trinamool Congress (TMC) leader and West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee threatened she would go alone in the state and would stay in the UPA only till her party was given due respect.
To mount pressure on the Congress leadership, NCP leaders, farm minister Sharad Pawar and heavy industries minister Praful Patel, have been in talks with another ally, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK). DMK chief M. Karunanidhi’s daughter and Rajya Sabha member M. Kanimozhi and party leader T.R. Baalu held meetings with NCP leaders.
Patel’s meeting with Shiv Sena executive president Uddhav Thackeray, who is recuperating from a surgical operation in Mumbai, and the fresh bonhomie between the Shiv Sena and its breakaway group Maharashtra Navnirman Sena, also have sent worrying signals to the Congress leadership, admitted a party general secretary, who did not want to be identified.
The allies in the past also had complained that the Congress had been taking decisions unilaterally and never held proper consultations.
“We have always expressed our views to Congress any time we felt we were sidelined. But we feel we need to be consulted more on larger issues,” DMK leader T.K.S. Elangovan said. “In a coalition, all parties should be taken into consideration and that is not been done now.” The DMK leader in the Lok Sabha said the party would welcome any move on forming a high-level committee of all UPA leaders.
Congress leaders admit the pressure from the allies would increase as elections—both state assembly elections and the Lok Sabha election scheduled for 2014—come nearer. “It is nothing but natural that allies’ pressure intensifies as the elections come close,” Congress leader and Uttarakhand chief minister Vijay Bahuguna said. “But Congress is strong enough to manoeuvre itself out of the crisis.”
While a section of Congress leaders said the leadership would be forced to agree to the allies’ demand that there be a common platform for consultation among the coalition partners, a leader said, “A high-level consultation at this time will not be a good idea as the allies will come up with more pressure and demands towards the election time. Backroom discussions to resolve the difference would be better at this juncture.” The leaderdeclined to be named.
The allies’ moves indicate “positioning themselves” ahead of the general election, according to B.G. Verghese, a political analyst and visiting professor at think tank Centre for Policy Research. “As the election approaches, all parties, whether they are allies or opposition, would try to position themselves to their advantage. One more motive would be to generate maximum political space for themselves,” Verghese said, adding that the Congress should oblige on frequent consultations if allies demanded it.
Compounding the trouble for the ruling alliance, which is gearing up for Parliament’s monsoon session which is expected to see the government initiating a long-pending reforms agenda to revive the economy and salvage its image, two friendly parties, the Samajwadi Party (SP) and the JD(S), and the Left parties on Sunday jointly wrote to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh against foreign direct investment (FDI) in multi-brand retail.
The government had earlier withdrawn its decision to increase FDI in multi-brand retail following protests from opposition as well as its ally TMC, which said such a move would damage the small retailers.
The Congress and the UPA government have been facing vehement criticism for failure to contain corruption among its leaders and check souring inflation, and the worsened economic scenario, all of which led to policy paralysis and a deep plunge in the popularity of the Singh-led government.
PTI and Mint’s Sahil Makkar and Arundhati Ramanathan contributed to this story.