It is ironic that the opposition should talk unity at the birth anniversary of Madhu Limaye. Whatever his other contribution to Indian politics, the late socialist leader would be remembered, above all else, for having played the wrecker-in-chief of the first non-Congress government at the Centre. 

He lent ideological gloss to the naked ambitions of Charan Singh and Raj Narain, thus,  paving the way for the return of the mother-and –son duo of the Emergency infamy. If the Janata Party fragmented in double-quick time, torpedoing the first genuine experiment at crafting a credible alternative to the Congress, it was mostly Limaye’s doing.  

He was so persuasive in invoking an effete ideological mumbo-jumbo, unmindful of all that Ram Manohar Lohia had struggled for all his life, that he emotionally blackmailed fellow Socialist George Fernandes to switch sides, even though the latter had publicly and most convincingly argued against the beakers of the Janata Party.

Space permits no further elaboration of Limaye’s dubious role in the Janta Party and, earlier, as a member of one or the other faction of the Socialist Party. Suffice it to say that for the opposition worthies to commit themselves to unity in his name was laughable. For  Limaye the politician sowed the seeds of disunity even before the birth of a new party. 

So long as the Jana Sangh, the earlier avatar of the BJP, was ready to play second fiddle to Limaey and Co., it was fine. But the moment  it sought a share in power commensurate to its strength, it was immediately dubbed `communal.’  Such opportunism and double-speak informed Limaye’s politics all through. 
 
Even otherwise, the effort to get everyone on board to support a common candidate in the coming presidential poll against the official nominee of the ruling combine is bound to come to a cropper. On paper, the non-NDA bloc might enjoy a 20,000-vote lead over the NDA. The leaders of the NCP, JD(U), SP, RJD, RLD, CPM, CPI, JD(S), etc., with the Congress backing the charade, vastly underestimate a man called Narendra Modi. If they think they can deny his candidate the tenancy of Rashtrapati Bhawan for the next five years, they fool themselves. Modi does not believe in induced suicide, does he? 

Remember how Indira Gandhi had broken the Congress Party just to ensure that she had her confidant as President.  Since then, powers of the President have been further curtailed, with the Janata Government enjoining on him to sign on the dotted line should the Cabinet endorse a second time whatever it is that does not meet his approval the first time.  But, admittedly, there are several ways a president can embarrass the Government regardless of how big a majority it might have in Parliament. 

And Modi will not should not, risk even a remote chance of having a president who is not sponsored by the  NDA. Period.  Without spelling out in so many words, it should be borne in mind that a government, any government,  has multiple ways to make the recalcitrant fall in line. The age-old carrot- and-stick approach invariably works, especially with those who are vulnerable on account of corruption and criminal charges. 

All through the UPA years, the task of taming the likes of Mayawati and Mulayam Singh Yadav was left to a designated officer in the CBI. A phone call was enough to make them fall in line. Manmohan Singh was prime minister then. We have Modi now, ably assisted by his alter-ego Amit Shah. So don’t expect the likes of Yechury to put another Pratibha Patil, a full-sleeved nobody, as Suhel Seth described her, in the Rashtrapati Bhawan.       

There is yet another reason why the opposition should not invest so much time and energy in locating a common candidate. The more Sitaram Yechury, the motor-mouth paper tiger of the CPI(M) who does not have the numbers to get himself re-elected to the Rajya Sabha,  crisscrosses the country in his quest for unity, the greater would be the loss of face when the NDA trumps them in the presidential race. Raising stakes in an unequal battle despite its notional superiority in the electoral college is a bad strategy. Defeat will look all the more humiliating after all the high-profile exertions of Yechury and Co. 

Instead of hyping up the search for a common presidential candidate against Modi’s nominee, a wise Opposition would see the percentage in pressing for a wider consensus. An all-party candidate enjoying the confidence of all sections of the polity would showcase the strength of the polity and, moreover, help avoid the confrontation inherent in a fierce contest. Post-defeat, the bitterness the losers are bound to harvest from an election whose outcome is a foregone conclusion can be avoided if only Yechury and Co., instead of grandstanding for the media, have the requisite humility and wisdom to facilitate the unanimous election of a universally well-liked candidate as the next Head of Republic.

Meanwhile, it is hoped that Pranab Mukherjee will resist the Opposition bait for a second term.  With his post-retirement plans in place, what with his corporate patrons, the ones whose cause he has espoused all through his long and gainful career, ready to fund his proposed foundation, Mukherjee should avoid re-entering the thicket of divisive politics. 

He will only end up being the proverbial sacrificial goat of the paper tigers like Yechury and D. Raja. Instead, he should spend his well-earned retirement to reflect on his eventful journey as a college lecturer from an obscure town in Bengal to the big mansion on Raisina Hill. Even a remotely factual account would throw ample light on the crony capitalism of the Congress Party which alone could turn a minor business house into the country’s most powerful corporate conglomerate.