There's a lot of inside baseball to play yet, but Congress Party stalwart Pranab Mukherjee looks to have the inside track to become India's next president, according to various press reports. But all the talk about whether he'll get the nod from the party's partners in the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) and what that will mean as an indicator of the waning strength of Sonia Gandhi & Co. has ignored one other small item.
Does a nomination for president mean that Pranab is being put out to pasture?
Though it's a prestigious position, the Indian presidency doesn't come with much real power, and the president winds up playing a largely ceremonial function. So is it a golden handshake? They gave it to current president, Pratibha Patil, when she was 73 and had been out of active politics for a decade or more, and though she said she would not be a "rubber stamp" president when she assumed office, nobody has heard much out of her since. Before that was Abdul Kalam, who'd captained India's nuclear missile program in the days before color TV. He spent most of his time in office droning on about kids and science.
Meanwhile, over the past several years, Indian media outlets have hummed over a reported rivalry between Finance Minister Mukherjee and Home Minister P. Chidambaram, both of whom reportedly had their eye on the prime ministership if the party wins a third term. Basically, the question was Manmohan Singh again, Mukherjee, Chidambaram, or the "prince" Rahul Gandhi.
These days Singh is a non-starter, it seems, due to his perceived weakness in dealing with the coalition. Chidambaram is being targeted left and right with corruption allegations, whether or not they have any merit. So if Mukherjee is headed for the rocking chair, it seems like the message the Congress is sending is that they've already decided who'll lead the party in 2014.
Their candidate for prime minister, whether he's ready or not, will be Rahul Gandhi.