Raisina Downhill

This moment in presidential race throws up the worst of coalition politics

The contest over the next president is fast becoming a window on the current historical moment. The picture is not pretty. There is now an almost Orwellian doublespeak to what most political parties say. When a party says, for example, that "we are searching for consensus", what they mean is "we are looking for an opportunity for one-upmanship". When parties claim to be allies, what they mean is "we are going to publicly humiliate our ally". Parties are more interested in forcing a crisis than solving a problem. None of them is forthright about the reasons for doing so.

There is no other way to describe the manner in which the Samajwadi Party and the Trinamool Congress have complicated the race for the president. These parties choose to publicly reveal the Congress's names; then they choose to publicly contradict their ally. The interesting point is not that they disagreed with the Congress — they have every right to do so — but that they seem to have chosen to humiliate the Congress leadership. By putting the prime minister's name up, they have indicated that there should be a drastic change in government; and the alternatives they have suggested, particularly the name of the former president, A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, are to entice the opposition. So much for coalition dharma.

But the Congress's mishandling is equally monumental. Its reputation for doing things by murky stealth has fuelled all kinds of speculation: that the Congress wants to fire from the shoulders of allies to scuttle Pranab Mukherjee; that the Congress wants to make changes in government and so forth. All of this may be speculation, but creating circumstances where speculation runs riot has reputational consequences. It also erodes the party's authority. What are the implications for the Congress when an impression is created that that allies do not think that the finance minister is worthy of being president? Or when it is being told by its allies in public that it is time for the prime minister to move on? Or when the word of Sonia Gandhi is quickly contradicted in public?

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