Indian Decade

Could Mukherjee Win Backfire?

Pranab Mukherjee looks set to win India’s presidential election. But will a win backfire for the UPA?

Indian politics is becoming stranger, not least with developments tied to the July 19 presidential poll.

Pranab Mukherjee, India’s finance minister and the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) presidential candidate, seems likely to become president of India with a comfortable margin over his rival Purno Sangma. But although the UPA may well win the battle, the question is whether it will win the general election war in 2014? And will a Mukherjee win end up weakening the UPA?

Consider the facts. Sangma, the former Lok Sabha speaker and a heavyweight politician from northeastern India who is contesting the presidential election as a tribal leader, dumped the Nationalist Congress Party, a regional party that’s an important ally of the ruling UPA at the center. Another UPA ally, Mamata Banerjee, the leader of the Trinamool Congress, seems to be sitting on the fence.

Meanwhile, the main opposition BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) is looking divided after it lost Janata Dal (United) and Shiv Sena, the latter being the oldest ideological ally of the BJP.

The worst case scenario for the UPA is that the perceived fence-sitters in the NDA, the JD (U) and the Shiv Sena may see the presidential result and decide against abandoning the “mother ship.” So, the end result may well be that the NDA emerges stronger with three regional forces finally coming under its umbrella – AIADMK, JD (U) and Sangma himself.

And there are other political repercussions for Mukherjee and the UPA to reckon with should he prevail. L.K. Advani, the cerebral patriarchal figure of the BJP who has been in the wilderness for some time, has bounced back into the party’s decision-making process. The 85-year-old politician, whose prime ministerial ambitions have hardly been a secret, finally prevailed on the party to at least offer some token support for Sangma. A sign of Advani’s growing influence?