A Presidential dilemma   (24 Feb 1998)

So okay, I know I am not an astrologer. Never knew much about stars or suchlike, but I think I should be able to get away with this little prediction: President K R Narayanan is going to burn some midnight oil as soon as the poll results come.

Provided there is no sudden Vajpayee wave, the BJP and its allies would get maximum 230-240 seats. The total number of seats with the non-BJP forces — including the Congress, its allies, and the United Front — would be between 270 and 280. Naturally, the President will have to decide whom to invite first to form a government. The BJP or the others?

See his dilemma?

Probably, this is the first election in which nobody is able to make any prediction. It is a close fight; either of the two major blocks may form the government. Both the BJP and the Congress plus the UF are hopeful. While in the BJP camp the discussion is on who should be the finance and home ministers (and such nitty-gritties), the Congress and the UF are still working on who should be the prime minister.

The names which have been suggested for the top job in Congress include Sonia Gandhi and Dr Manmohan Singh besides half a dozen others like N D Tiwari, Arjun Singh, Madhavrao Scindia and Jitendra Prasad. In the UF, apart from I K Gujral, three other names have been put forward — Jyoti Basu, G K Moopanar and Mulayam Singh Yadav.

Unless the Congress and UF leaders do not send a letter to the President staking their claim for government formation within two days of the poll results being announced, the President will have to call Atal Bihari Vajpayee to form the government and prove his majority in three weeks time.

But I dont think the UF and Congress will do any combined letter-writing. Why? Because of five great personalities — Harkishan Singh Surjeet, A B Bardhan, M Karunanidhi, Chandrababu Naidu and Prafulla Kumar Mahanta. The minute the results are out these five will start shouting their refusal to support a Congress-led government. And this time, the Congress would just dig in its boots and say, Nope, no dice, we want to have a PM of our own! The Congress would agree to share power with the UF only if it kicks out the DMK. But Surjeet-Naidu company will take a minimum of one week to reconcile to such a position. Meanwhile, the President will not have any other choice but to call the BJP. After all, the President cant wait that long, can he? And why should he?

Sensing this scenario, Mulayam Singh, Moopanar, Kanshi Ram and Laloo Yadav have already indicated they wouldnt mind a Congress-led government. If the major UF constituents are ready to accept the Congress, people like Mahanta and Chandrababu Naidu may join the BJP camp as outside supporters. Karunanidhi would have also supported the BJP if it had not allied with Jayalalitha.

Meanwhile, the election scenario in Uttar Pradesh is getting further complicated. The Samajwadi Party is giving a tough fight to the BJP in 25 constituencies. Of this, Mulayam Singh is confident of winning 22 seats. Kalyan Singh, for his part, claims the BJP would get 44 seats of the 53 that went to poll in the first phase. In the second phase, the party would get 16 of the 21 seats, he believes.

The most significant thing in the state is that the SP has enhanced its base in western UP also and is fighting the BJP in 75 seats. Another significant development is that the Muslims are not allergic towards the Congress this time around. In the next election, it is likely that the community would go to the Congress in good numbers all through the country. The Bahujan Samaj Party is facing rough weather, and may not get more than four seats. As it is, it is fighting only six seats.

The names are many. You might have heard them before, but not often enough to register that George, Ahluwalia, Kulkarni and their likes are important. Or rather, important enough.

But they are. In a sense, more important than the politicians who overshadow them. They are the ones who make — and at times, break — the public figures. The ones who turn a saadha MP into a minister and a minister into a saadha MP.

They are the backroom boys, the invisible hands who, to a large extent, manufacture the poll prospects of political parties.

Unfortunately, these invisible faces are not getting any publicity or political reward for the contribution they are making. They are neither members of Parliament nor ministers, though their role is more important than many of such.

Like I mentioned, there are several of such men in every party. Lets take a look.

The prominent of the Congress backroomers are V George, Vishwajit Prithvijit Ahluwalia, Sarbjeet Singh, Jairam Ramesh, Janardan Diwedi, Major Ved Prakash and Tom Vadakan. In the BJP, its Sudheendra Kulkarni, Mohan Guruswamy and Kanchan Gupta, while Amitabh Adhar plays the role for the Samajwadi Party. He is the think-tank of the party and is involved in every exercise, right from drafting its election manifesto to media efforts, speech writing and tour planning.

In the Congress, Georges role stands out. He is a key factor. These days, he works 18 hours, keeping his profile low, very low. As secretary to Sonia Gandhi, he not only manages all the affairs of 10, Janpath, but works as a bridge between Sitaram Kesri and Sonia. He is involved in every activity right from policy and planning, election management, AICC affairs, selection of candidates, input for speeches, feedback, media handling and crisis management. Every one of the Congress leaders is in touch with George. He is in his element now, this trusted lieteunant of Rajiv Gandhi.

To date, George has not got any political posting. And neither does he care for one. Narasimha Raos biggest mistake, his undoing, was that he tried to humiliate George on several occasions.

Vishwajit, Janardan, Jairam, Sarbjeet, Ved Prakash and Tom, though paling before Geroges shadow, are contributing to the Congresss poll prospects. Except for Vishwajit, no one else has been a member of Parliament. They are just joint secretaries in the AICC.

Vishwajit, for his part, was nominated only once to the Upper House. When the time came for renomination he was forgotten — the Congress leadership never take these people seriously when it is nomination time. They are also never made anything more than general secretaries of the party. If not a general secretary, a few of them should at least be made secretaries, a new post which should be created.

Kulkarni, Guruswamy and Kanchan combine to form the BJPs think-tank. They are the strategists who advise A B Vajpayee and L K Advani on many issues. They supply inputs for their speeches and were involved in drafting the BJP manifesto. This time, the party manifesto has been appreciated all over for touching all major issues.

The media cell is also being managed by them, but unlike in the Congress they have not been given joint secretarys post. Worse, they are not even part of the organisation! In fact, the BJP bosses seems to be just making use of them instead of appreciating their work.

In SP, Adhar is managing a number of responsibilities, but like the Congress and BJP, gets nothing in lieu. He still continues to be its publicity secretary.

Similarly, a number of talented and hardworking people are contributing from behind the scene to other parties also. But todays political leadership, unfortunately, ridicule these people, calling them rootless backroom boys. Politicians consider these intellectual managers as mere social climbers.

I feel that if parties today needs grassroot leaders, it also needs good political managers to run its affairs. Politics is no longer mere politics. Now its business too, requiring a modern look, pragmatic approach, the latest technology, information system and proper organisation.

For this we need educated, competent people. We need the backroom boys.