Troubleshooter Pranab Mukherjee wants to become prime minister

Sonia Gandhi’s leadership of the Congress is facing two major problems, one or both of which may be insurmountable.
Manmohan Singh has proved a non-asset in securing the Congress moral and political high-ground vis-a-vis the BJP/Left opposition. No sooner than the 2G JPC was conceded, Wikileaks turned adverse floodlight on the PM’s corrupt 2008 parliament confidence-vote victory and his shameful pro-Americanism.
Faced with bleak assembly-poll prospects in UP and in Andhra Pradesh that are critical to gaining national power, Manmohan Singh is not making it any easier for Sonia Gandhi to enthrone Rahul Gandhi in 2014. Manmohan Singh’s liabilities are beginning to overshadow his loyalty to the Sonia Gandhi family, and even the BJP even suspects the same. Arun Jaitley insinuated that Manmohan Singh’s “birthright” taunt flung at LK Advani was actually directed at the dynastic succession being planned for Sonia by her son.
The second major problem for the Sonia Gandhi leadership is Rahul Gandhi. So far, it was whispered by Congress party managers that Rahul Gandhi is not prime-minister material. One Congress general secretary calls him “murkh”, which does not decently translate into English. Now, Wikileaks has added credence to those whispers, with quotations from Congressmen that they are awaiting Rahul’s exit and Priyanka Vadra nee Gandhi’s, entry into politics. So far as this writer can tell, Sonia Gandhi is not ready to withdraw Rahul from the PM race, having planned an entire future for him. But Rahul Gandhi’s much-advertised unsuitability for prime-ministership keeps the crisis from resolution, and keeps growing.
The qualities that got Manmohan Singh the job from Sonia Gandhi were his personal honesty and his Gandhi-family loyalties. But the country has had enough of him. Key sections of the Congress are unwilling to fight his battles, especially as they relate to his pro-Americanism. Pulling the Congress/government’s chestnuts out of the fire time after time is Pranab Mukherjee, and he wants to be PM from 2012 to 2014 in return. The PM’s Advani potshot may even have been directed at Pranab Mukherjee, and their rivalry is longstanding.
When Sonia and Manmohan Singh divided the leadership, her control over domestic politics was formidable. This gave her the confidence to give him the government, secure that she ultimately controlled it. But Sonia’s political charm is fading (related to the law of diminishing returns, plus UPA failures). And Manmohan Singh is no help. He has no control over the government and he can make no contribution to politically stabilising the Congress and giving it the upper hand on the long road to 2014. So what’s to be done?
Given Pranab Mukherjee’s obvious political skills, vast experience as finance, defence and foreign minister, and apparent prime-ministerial qualities, he should succeed the PM, who can be promoted as president of India next year. Manmohan Singh will not go easily. But insiders say he is far from well, and he brings no equity to the Congress any longer. He is again embarked on the fatal project of peace with Pakistan that threatens to engulf the government and party in fresh controversy.
Pranab Mukherjee brings baggage certainly. Positioning himself as Indira Gandhi’s successor post her assassination cost him politically, perhaps even the prime ministership. It could come to assail his run for PM again. But on the flip side, Pranab Mukherjee could manage the opposition to a degree that government becomes functional again. It has to be accepted that the artificial split of party and government (with Sonia managing one and Manmohan the other) has not worked, and nobody could be a better bridge between the two than Pranab. With the 2G JPC constituted and angry UPA allies waiting to backstab the Congress, someone like Pranab Mukherjee would fit the bill.
But whether Pranab comes or Manmohan Singh stays, the future of a Rahul Gandhi as PM looks darkly clouded. Even the rosiest poll verdict of 2014 (a fairytale by today’s reckoning) cannot make it easy for Rahul to run the country. If he throws up his hands and says no, there are any number of takers. But what about Sonia Gandhi’s plans for Rahul? Will circumstances precipitate Priyanka Vadra’s entry?
These are some of the tricky questions and conceivably insurmountable problems facing a declining Congress leadership today.