Yashwant Sinha vs Draupadi Murmu: Has the opposition already lost the presidential polls?

Amalendu Upadhyaya
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By Vidya Bhushan Rawat

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi was interrogated for nearly 50-60 hours for five days by the enforcement directorate. The summons has also gone to Party president Sonia Gandhi in the National Herald Case. Everyone knows the reality that the National Herald was a mouthpiece of the Congress party or India’s freedom movement started by its leader Jawahar Lal Nehru. For years, this paper and its sister concerns, Navjeevan in Hindi and Kaumi Awaj in Urdu, were defunct. The paper suffered serious losses and was closed in 2008. Rahul Gandhi was instrumental in its revival in 2016. All the issues related to it are basically technical based on interpretation. One cannot really say that somebody made money but as happens on the advice of lawyers and chartered accountants people follow a certain pattern to protect their business. It is purely that and depends on which side of the coin you are and how you interpret it.

Anyway, the Congress workers were on the street but except for the DMK party and its leader M K Stalin, we did not hear many voices in condemnation of the government for misusing the Enforcement Directorate and other agencies which is sad reflection of the politics today. Everyone knew this was being done to intimidate Rahul Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi and decimate the party or push it into silence before the presidential elections. Unfortunately, Mamata Banerjee, always ready to take CenterStage, without consulting anyone, started the ’opposition conclave’ regarding a joint candidate of the opposition parties. Till that time, Mamata had uttered not a single word about the continuous harassment of Rahul Gandhi by the Enforcement Directorate.  Initially, she tried to push Sharad Pawar for the post but Pawar being Pawar, would never agree to do such a thing unless ensured victory. His own politics will finish in Maharashtra so he politely refused. After that, Mamata asked Farooq Abdullah and Gopal Krishna Gandhi for the opposition candidate. All this was happening without a proper consultation but just to take the lead as the ‘main’ opposition leader. Both Abdullah and Gandhi too rejected it.

Yashwant Sinha vs Draupadi Murmu

The twenty parties got defeated at the beginning itself as they were unable to find a candidate. Finally, Mamata again jumped her guns and somehow managed to get her party in the frontal position in the presidential elections. She wanted to seize the opportunity when Congress was fighting its own battle and hence asked her party, MP Yashwant Sinha, to resign and contest as the Opposition’s candidate which he happily accepted. Congress party had sent Jairam Ramesh and Mallikarjun Khadge to participate in the all-party meeting called by Mamata Banerjee and finally agreed to Sinha’s name. The fact is there was no time to discuss it because Congress itself was in its own crisis as Rahul Gandhi was being interrogated by the Enforcement Directorate. Mamata Banerjee’s hyped ambitions actually have already created an embarrassment for the opposition parties. For the sake of opposition unity, both Congress, as well as left parties, participated in the meeting despite many differences.

There was no talk of a common candidate from the opposition side with the ruling party. We know well that Narendra Modi Amit Shah will ensure that the opposition suffers heavy defeat on all these occasions where they tried to assert and hence, they did not go for the consensus but the fact of the matter is that opposition parties too had no time. With Congress already in a crisis mode, it was Mamata and Sharad Pawar who grabbed the opportunity but it has boomeranged on them.

Whatever you call the BJP, the fact is, it has succeeded in the politics of representation much better than its opponents. The choice of Mrs Draupadi Murmu, a Santhal Adivasi for the Presidential candidate from NDA is of enormous political value and might pay heavily to those who oppose her. BJP succeeded in bringing the two most powerful allies, Naveen Patnaik from Odisha and Jagan Reddy from Andhra Pradesh. Even the other non-NDA parties will find it difficult to oppose Murmu.

It is for the first time in Indian history that an Adivasi woman will become president of India and it has a great symbolic value. We cannot undermine it plainly by saying what would she do for Adivasis. It would be difficult for Hemant Soren to oppose her in Jharkhand as when she was the governor, she refused to sign the amendment to SPTA, CNTA when Raghuvar Das tried to change the original act which had protected the Adivasi rights in the forest. There were lots of protests against the same in Jharkhand and ultimately the governor refused to sign it.

Many people are finding it difficult to how she would sweep a shiva temple. Now, what is the problem here?

Political leaders do that as they do things more symbolically. Secondly, why should we question her faith issues? After all, Gyani Zail Singh followed the dictates of the supreme body of Akal-Takht which declared him Tankhaiya and hence to atone he cleaned the shoes of the devotees who came to Harmandir Sahib. The upper caste morality of questioning the people from the marginalised sections is patronising, to say the least. It means, Dr Rajendra Prasad must have done something for ‘Kayasthas’, Dr Radhakrishnan for Brahmins, Dr Sanjeeva Reddy for feudal landlords, Pranab Mukherjee again for Brahmins, Pratibha Patil for women etc.

You cannot fault BJP or RSS as to why are they working with Adivasis. That is their long-term programme and they have been working there for years. Today, they have the government and power so their outreach has already been extended but the party is not satisfied with that. The party continues to cement its ties with Adivasis keeping in mind the long-term political benefits. Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Maharashtra, Telangana, Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat have a significant Adivasi presence. These states are going to poll in the near future.  President Ram Nath Kovind made several visits to Uttar Pradesh during the elections but since the Dalit population has already been politicised the impact was not that big in terms of the Adivasi issue, I feel, the situation might be different as Ms Draupadi Murmu is the first Adivasi leader rising for the top post of the country and the impact might be too big.

While Murmu’s choice gave a benefit to BJP and NDA, the opposition could have made a better choice than Yashwant Sinha. Though he was brought into politics by Chandrashekhar yet Sinha made good relations with the top leadership of the BJP which needed him. During VP Singh’s Mandal period, Sinha was sitting in the opposition camp. The problem with Sinha was that he considered himself much more than other politicians could think about him.

An arrogant Savarna leader, Sinha was finance minister in the short-term Chandrashekhar regime and then Vajpayee included him in his ministry where he served in various ministries including External Affairs and Finance.

Frankly speaking, as a finance minister, he could not bring new ideas to the Ministry. Sinha never really dissociated with RSS and like Arun Shourie, he too was hoping that Modi will take care of him. Both have never been critiquing Modi and it is only after Narendra Modi completely disconnected from them, that they became his critique. Sinha felt he was the ‘need of the hour’ for the BJP but Modi never thought that. Finally, he left BJP and now became a critic of Modi’s style of functioning. He has been critiquing Modi but not necessarily that of the Sangh Parivar. His son is still an important functionary of the party and was a minister under Modi.

The opposition parties should have been dealing with this issue with seriousness and greater understanding but they failed to do so. Perhaps, Mamata Banerjee’s ambition to create a central niche for herself cost the opposition. While the numbers favoured the opposition earlier, it looks clear that Yashwant Sinha may not get even the opposition votes as most of the regional parties will think twice before voting for him. Had he done anything for the Dalit Adivasis, parties would not have faced the problem in dealing with him but his own track record stands nowhere and hence I am afraid he might be left with very few friends.

In democracy contesting is important and that way Yashwant Sinha’s efforts need to be lauded as every person knows what will be the outcome of the election but it is also got that after 75 years of our independence India will get its first Adivasi president and it is definitely an opportunity to celebrate. Of course, we all know that presidents don’t have enough powers and that they work according to their political ideology unless personally humiliated or ignored as happened in the case of Gyani Jail Singh. Let us not expect much from Mrs Draupadi Murmu as most of the time presidents have followed the political ideology of the government. We only expect that she will be the guardian of our constitution and has a duty to uphold our constitutional values and the rights of the marginalized when they are under the threat. Will she be able to do that? We will only see her once she assumes the office. Till then, we need to celebrate her nomination in the hope that she wins and upholds our constitutional values.


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