New Delhi: India's most experienced and much loved journalist Inder Malhotra, (who is now almost 90 years old!) writes that first three Presidents of India Dr Rajendra Prasad, Dr S Radhakrishnan and Dr Zakir Hussain were men of great repute and personal integrity.
It was Hussain’s untimely death in 1969 that brought the passage to this august office into some disrepute. This was due to a very ugly contest for the presidency because of bitter infighting within the ruling Congress party. As they say 'History repeats itself'.
The ruling UPA led by the Congress is now facing a similar situation after 43 years. The bitter infighting within the UPA partners and its leader the Congress is leading to a very ugly contest once again.
The ruling UPA led by the Congress is facing a situation that it had to during the 1969 President poll.
In 1969 the then prime minister Indira Gandhi did not want party's official candidate and Lok Sabha Speaker Neelam Sanjeev Reddy to become the President. She knew that Reddy was fiercely independent and had his own mind. The shrewd politician Indira Gandhi secretly asked the then Vice-President VV Giri to contest against party's official candidate Reddy.
In the words of Inder Malhotra 'protesting that he had been unjustly ignored Vice-President VV Giri resigned and announced that he would contest as an independent candidate. The infuriated Indira camp immediately rallied round him in the name of “conscience vote”.
Giri finally won by a narrow margin on the basis of second preference votes defeating Sanjeev Reddy.
This time the situation is almost similar. Not exactly the same. As the West Bengal Chief Minister and TMC chief Mamata Banerjee says Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee is Congress president Sonia Gandhi's first choice for the Presidency.
Well, Pranab truly deserves it. But, Sonia Gandhi has had a very uneasy relationship with this stalwart and a relic of Indira era. Like Sanjeeva Reddy, Pranab also has an independent mind and nobody expects him to be a servile, rubber stamp like the incumbent Prathibha Patil.
It may not suit Sonia Gandhi. Mamata Banerjee is actually helping Sonia by opposing a fellow Bengali Pranab's name for the post of President. But, Sonia is not in a position to feel happy and thank Mamata.
If she dumps Pranab at this juncture, it will be seen as an insult to a stalwart of Pranab's stature by her. If she goes ahead with his candidature, he might even lose, if the entire opposition (minus the Left, which opposed Kalam even in 2002) and UPA allies SP and TMC oppose him and go ahead with APJ Abdul Kalam's name.
Two rival Tamil parties J Jayalalithaa led ruling AIADMK and M Karunanidhi led DMK will be forced to come together to back a fellow Tamilian Kalam.
Surely, a tough decision to make for the DMK.
If DMK opposes Kalam merely because he is not Congress' candidate and Jayalalithaa is backing him, it will have to stop talking about Dravida or Tamil pride.
DMK is not in a position to oppose a Tamilian and a Muslim candidate Kalam.
If it really happens, three major allies of Congress.....TMC, SP and DMK will have to walk out of the UPA resulting in its collapse, which might lead to early elections to Lok Sabha.
There are not many choices before the Congress. As Jayalalithaa rightly said Congress has botched up the whole exercise by not taking the allies and the opposition into confidence.
The Congress has brought this upon itself, because of its arrogance and one-upmanship. If it leads to the collapse of UPA, there will be not many waiting to shed tears. Congress and its backers (including some TV panelists) must understand that Sonia Gandhi is not Indira Gandhi and India in 2012 is entirely different from India in 1969.
This time, Congress allies might demand a conscience vote. If they do, it will be the end of UPA.