Pratibha Patil will win the presidential election, but we will have a "tainted" President. Few, if any, in the immediate future will claim credit for selecting her name after everyone else's name was rejected by the Left, even though many of the names had merit and ability. The Left has committed another historic blunder. The loyal media gives a secular, non secular twist to the whole episode, but this will yield little benefit as the public mood is anything but happy at the choice of the President. There are reports of sugar scams, bank fraud and a murder mystery, with dynastic attachments. Brother, sister-in-law, niece, nephew etc., all have allegedly benefited from the sugar factory and the bank at the expense of the government and the poor, the weak and the deprived whose meagre savings have been devoured by family loans. This scandal will not go away, and sadly, in a system of coalition governance where governance is being sacrificed by asset distribution among family members and close associates, this is another blow to political respect and authority.
The Left will defend its historic blunder and will pay a very heavy price in the future. Millions take loans from the government, banks and other institutions. Can they follow the example set by Pratibha Patil? Accidents take place in politics, but this is a catastrophe, and can well result in a resignation as the Opposition and the public dig deeper into the family affairs of the former Rajasthan governor. This controversy will not go away and while the UPA has the numbers, it lacks public credibility and respect. It seems for the first time we will have a "tainted" President.
Names like Dr Karan Singh, Pranab Mukherjee, Shivraj Patil and Mohsina Kidwai - the list can include another 20 leaders from the Congress party - would have bought dignity and grace to the office of President. The Left, more than the Congress, is responsible for this unfortunate situation. My assessment is that when the blame-game starts it is the Left that will be held responsible for this accident, as Sonia Gandhi and the Congress stood firm on Shivraj Patil's name till the time it was politically possible to do so. The Left can claim that "due diligence" was the responsibility of the Congress, but as things stand, it is the Left which vetoed Shivraj Patil and rejected Dr Karan Singh.
The Left leaders are under siege in West Bengal and Kerala, and clearly, there are signs that the red citadel is on very shaky grounds and the 65 seats they hold today can drop to 45 seats in 2009. My assessment is that in West Bengal, despite having chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee they stand to lose at least ten seats to the Trinamul Congress and the Congress. In Kerala the Congress can win eight to ten seats, if not more, as the Left government in the state is in total chaos.
The old guard (I have had a working relationship with Jyoti Basu and Comrade Surjit) made way for the younger generation. This was a timely move by the two stalwarts whose political acumen and ability matched the best under the system, but things have not worked out. Clearly, the CPI(M) is under pressure. The party, more than the CMs, is responsible for the situation.
West Bengal was thriving till Nandigram took place and the chief minister was helpless before the CPI(M) cadres who control the political ground and resources in the rural areas. Things are no different in Kerala where chief minister V.S. Achuthanandan had public support, but corruption issues and the expulsion of K. Venugopal (nephew of A.K. Gopalan) bring into focus the dissension within the party. The chief minister started a well publicised demolition campaign against "illegal" buildings but all this stopped as the CPI(M) itself had violated norms and encroached on public lands. The fight is between the powerful faction led by state secretary Pinarayi Vijayan and the chief minister, and barring them from the Politburo meeting has little effect on the public mood.
The problem in Kerala is that the Congress government with A.K. Antony as chief minister, did nothing and was decimated in both the Lok Sabha and the Assembly elections. The CPI(M) won a huge victory, but this is difficult to sustain. I don't really know what Prakash Karat can do in these circumstances. Perhaps both West Bengal and Kerala have been affected by the coalition virus.
Pratibha Patil sets new rules for loan defaulters and now Uttar Pradesh chief minister Mayawati sets a new record for gifts as her assets increase from Rs 12 crores to Rs 52 crores in three years. The donations are made by the poor, the deprived and the weak and make a mockery of every rule in the book. It would be interesting to see how the law courts treat this issue.
We speak of the rule of law, but where is the rule of law? We are heading for a chaotic situation, and an electoral victory is being treated as a personal licence to acquire assets and to use official agencies to hound and harass the Opposition and those within the party who complain about these excesses. The electorate is helpless till the next election. What we need are strict disclosure norms and if these are in place for all three wings of governance then we will not have these embarrassing instances. What we are witnessing is a systematic loot of public resources.
The economy booms and as it grows at 8 per cent plus over the years, we will see increased criminality in almost every field as effective governance and timely legal action are missing in the system. In this connection, the actions of Pratibha Patil and her family members are a disgrace.