There is speculation that President Pranab Mukherjee may lean on prime minister Manmohan Singh to resign if the Coalgate scandal leads to further political crisis and a deadlock. Will he?


Pranab Mukherjee does not like Manmohan Singh. There is nothing to suggest that their bonhomie has increased after Pranab's occupation of Rashtrapati Bhawan. Outside of the "Punjabi lobby" that surrounds and misleads him and thus keeps itself powerful (Kapil Sibal, Ambika Soni, Pawan Bansal, and others of their ilk), nobody in Congress really cares for Manmohan Singh. He has no friends in the party.

Amongst the old guard, to which Pranab Mukherjee once belonged, Manmohan Singh is seen as an interloper, a parachuted technocrat who has no clue of governance and cares little about politics. Of that old lot, two politicians were especially scornful of Manmohan Singh. One was Arjun Singh who died with his PM ambition unfulfilled. The other is Pranab Mukherjee.

Pranab Mukherjee has always thought he would make a better prime minister than Manmohan Singh, which is not saying a lot. Employing all his wile, he tried to get the job, his outer deadline being 2012, but to no avail. Meantime, he was bone tired of pulling Manmohan Singh, Sonia Gandhi and Congress's chestnuts out of the fire. He wanted out of Congress "ji-hazoori" and "ghulami" and to gain a prestigious sinecure, and he fought hard and solid for the presidency.

This magazine has previously revealed how Pranab Mukherjee had to "beg" Sonia Gandhi for presidential nomination. Distrustful of Pranab Mukherjee since 1984 (a fact he admitted to journalists off the record), she wanted either Meira Kumar or Motilal Vora for the post, with vice-president Mohammed Hamid Ansari a distant third choice. But Pranab had cannily sewed up UPA allies and sections of the opposition in support, with BJP confronting him for purely political reasons. After Mamata Bannerjee outed his name as the likeliest Congress candidate, his candidature became a manner of fait accompli.

Pranab Mukherjee knows he nearly lost the presidential race because of Sonia's reluctance for his candidature, and he considers Manmohan Singh a usurper. Congress insiders say he is not willing to forget the insults and indignities he suffered whilst in the party, and Pranab Mukherjee has never possessed a very forgiving disposition. So all bets are off on how he will act if Coalgate deepens the political crisis.

This writer's own appraisal of Pranab Mukherjee is that he is a deep and cautious man. Having been on the inside of national politics for decades, with a powerful sense of how the Constitution works, he is unlikely to take precipitate steps, nothing that will, at any rate, make martyrs of his enemies.

Pranab Mukherjee's style is to work quietly on multiple fronts. As close as he is to sections within Congress who are fed up with the Nehru-Gandhis, so he has proximity with anti-Congress UPA allies and the opposition, and in the past, he has shown particular fondness for central BJP leaders, the West Bengal CPI-M, Mulayam Singh, the DMK patriarch, and others. If Pranab Mukherjee makes a move, it will be only after getting his wide political spectrum of support behind him.

Congress's problem is that after Pranab Mukherjee's departure, it has no troubleshooter or peacemaker, someone on intimate terms with the opposition and sullen allies. By becoming President, a signal has gone to the political class that he has crossed over to the other side. Pranab Mukherjee is not about to do something unconstitutional. But he has every reason to keep the pot boiling against the dynasty and its principle nominee.

One thing is certain about Pranab Mukherjee. He will strike when the iron is hot. Having got to the great house on the Hill, he considers having "turned the tables" on his erstwhile persecutors.