Pranab Mukherjee has never dared, but will soon be the next president of India. Today, there is every reason why Pranab Mukherjee, India's finance minister, will be its next president. Perhaps it can turn out to be the best thing for India, beset with a series of reversals that have crashed the hopes of western investors and the morale of Indian entrepreneurs.
Pranab Mukherjee, the suave Indian politician and finance minister, is a seasoned troubleshooter and negotiator, more like a fullback of a soccer team. Yet when the Team India manager and UPA chairwoman Sonia Gandhi formed her alliance's second ministry, Pranab Mukherjee, much like David Beckham of Manchester United, chose to play as its striker, setting for himself huge goals of fiscal balance and growth rates.
As a striker finance minister, Pranab Mukherjee is a disaster. Despite being recognized as a no-risk-taker, letting him have a go at the finances of the country, when keeping the momentum of growth is crucial to political success, is the biggest mistake of Sonia's United Progressive Alliance.
Mukherjee has missed two vital fiscal years and budgets without hitting any goals of reforms and growth while a roaring international audience of investors waited for action. The stock markets have tumbled since he took over the ministry. The recent announcements of India-oriented tax policies, 2G spectrum licence reversals and corporate penalties have confused everyone. It's as if India has gone back to the '80s.
The result is a disastrous crumbling of investor confidence in India's growth rate. The Indian game is over for them; they have left with their cans of Coke and popcorn for action elsewhere, withdrawing huge amounts of investment. The world would rather have someone who played ball like everyone else, especially when they see Indian corporate houses like Mithal, Ambani and Tata grabbing a fair share of international business.
Perhaps this cautious, no-risk approach, a typical Indian strain, is what made Pranab Mukherjee a "political loser" despite his long 43 years in the Indian politics. In his long career he has never become a chief minister of his own state of West Bengal or the prime minister of India.
Yet, by a strange coincidence of political forces that prop him for the post of the president of India, he will be elevated to that position in July. His elevation, in political terms, will be like conferring a doctorate on someone who failed his degree and post graduation. Pranab Mukherjee and most of India will, however, welcome this as a stroke of immense luck like the famous long shot goal David Beckham scored against Wimbledon that instantly made him a household name.
Pranab Mukherjee's nonpartisan and amicable nature makes him naturally acceptable for the various political factions whose votes he must secure, as they have nothing to worry about him. This has already assured his position to a large extent with Sonia Gandhi and the congress managers being able to strengthen that support to evolve a consensus.
However, the most compelling reason why Pranab's will be the chosen name for a consensus candidate is his erstwhile party colleague, compatriot and alliance partner Mamta Banerjee. Like Mukherjee, Banerjee hails from the state of West Bengal and is its current chief minister.
However, Mamta is seen more and more as a "black mail" politician. Mamta is at logger heads with the finance minister and the UPA leadership, and has blocked almost every effort for much needed reforms in policies and governance using the support of her MPs crucial for the parliamentary majority.
But when it comes to Pranab Mukherjee for the president of India she is undoubtedly in a catch-22 situation. West Bengal never had a president or prime minister in history and to be seen as someone who spoilt a chance will be almost unforgivable for any Bengalee, especially its chief minister.
Chances are Mamta will have to cave in, especially with her personal equation with Pranab Mukherjee who has ceded the position of chief minister to her, without contest, in the past.
Though the elevation of Pranab Mukherjee is being viewed in his party circles as "weakening" of the government by the loss of a crucial troubleshooter, at the end of the day, it can induce much needed financial policy handling talent to gain international confidence in the India story.
Playing and winning the "Mamta" game will be the ultimate test and proof of the ability of Sonia Gandhi as a political manager of a nation with 1.3 billion people. From a lady to lady Mamta can't afford to let her down.
It is a mere coincidence Pranab Mukherjee will be the real winner in this ladies club contest.
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