Thursday, Jun 06, 2002
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By Harish Khare
Meanwhile, the President, K. R. Narayanan, is reported to be on the verge of making himself unavailable for a second term, after it became clear that a victory might elude him even if he allowed himself to be persuaded to take the unusual step of entering the electoral fray. The requisite bi-partisan support that an incumbent President should have in a re-election bid has failed to materialise. Apart from the uncertainty, a contest means seeking a mandate against the ruling party. No President has done that, though Zail Singh, R. Venkataraman, and Shanker Dayal Sharma were all keen on a second term. An unlikely success would pit Mr. Narayanan against Mr. Vajpayee, thereby creating a distracting constitutional tension.
The National Democratic Alliance has already informed Mr. Narayanan, through Mr. Vajpayee, that the ruling combine wants to stick to the convention of "no second term" for anyone in the Rashtrapati Bhavan. Though Mr. Vajpayee has incurred the charge of gracelessness, at least the ruling party has not left any room for political ambiguity. The thinking within the Congress, too, is veering around to the view that Mr. Narayanan has left it too late in coming to a decision on whether he would be a candidate for re-election. Even now, there is no definite announcement or indication on whether the "open mind'' means "availability.''
The thinking within the Congress is that it would be better off cutting its losses and that it should throw its weight behind the Vice-President, Krishna Kant. At least the Congress can insist that if the NDA does not want to depart from the convention that no sitting President should seek a second term, it should follow the other convention of elevating the Vice-President to the Rashtrapati Bhavan. Except G. S. Pathak, B. D. Jatti and Hidayatullah, all the Vice-Presidents have moved up.
Even the Left appears to have lost its ardour for Mr. Narayanan. The Left's enthusiasm for the President can be traced to a die-hard opposition to two probable NDA candidates P. C. Alexander and Abdul Kalam. But the Left is also aware of the numbers in the presidential electoral college, as also of the unreliability of the Samajwadi Party.
The recent utterances of an SP leader against Mr. Narayanan have not been taken kindly by the President's well-wishers. The dignity and prestige of the Rashtrapati Bhavan cannot be mortgaged to the likes and dislikes of such leaders, many felt. It would be better for Mr. Narayanan to leave on a dignified note rather than seek the support and indulgence of small-time leaders.
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