Posted On Sunday, July 15, 2012 at 12:56:18 PM
School textbooks say the President of India is a rubber stamp. That they merely endorse executive decisions. And yet, the election for the thirteenth President of India is being fiercely contested as the most political of battles.
Why this is so came into sharp focus when UPA candidate Pranab Mukherjee met Bal Thackeray at the latter’s residence in Mumbai on Friday to seek support.
• Uddhav Thackeray shows Pranab Mukherjee a framed photo as Bal Thackeray and Sharad Pawar look on at Matoshree
In the complicated arithmetic of Presidential polls, Shiv Sena holds 18,000 votes through its 15 members of Parliament and 45 legislators. That’s not a number to sneeze at. And it isn’t just votes.
The Sena’s support also holds great symbolic significance. The party has sided with Mukherjee despite being part of the opposition NDA, whose official candidate is Purno Sangma.
How this transpired is the stuff of historical footnotes. Mukherjee who came calling at Matoshree was served chai, savories and plenty of sweet talk. But the main course on the menu was Thackeray’s pet project: the hanging of Afzal Guru.
The 20-minute-long meeting was marked with much bonhomie, the parading of Thackeray grandchildren — Aditya was there for most part taking photographs. They spoke about the Sena boss’ admiration for the cartoonist Sir David Low, his own, more modest efforts.
Inexplicably, a few minutes were devoted to the Great Khali — wrestler and Big Boss contestant who had also been a guest at Matoshree and presumably tickled Thackeray’s funny bone.
Then between mutual admiration for each other’s well-preserved form — Mukherjee is 77 while Thackeray is 86 — the two men dropped their voice low as the others discreetly withdrew and contentious issue of Afzal Guru was brought up.
Guru, a former associate professor at Delhi University, has been on death row for a decade now for his involvement in the 2001 attack on the Parliament. His death sentence was upheld by the Supreme Court but his mercy petition has been pending with the President of India since 2005.
His hanging is a political hot potato that could have repercussions in Jammu and Kashmir. Thackeray has in the past been vocal in his view on Afzal Guru.
“Afzal Guru has been treated in Tihar jail as a guest…Afzal should be hanged to set an example of how India reacts to terrorist strikes. His hanging will send out a strong message that whoever attacks India will either be hanged or be eliminated in encounter,” Thackeray has said in his editorial in Saamna.
In the backdrop of this, Friday’s discussion gains considerable significance.
Though given Mukherjee’s enormous experience in negotiating tough deals, it would be foolish to believe that anybody can get a commitment out of him in 20 minutes, nobody drives a bargain as hard as Thackeray does.
And he did seem in a good mood after the meeting, insisting on accompanying Mukherjee to the ground floor where they then jointly addressed a press conference.
When a reporter asked Thackeray if Afzal Guru was discussed, his reply was: “It’s our little secret.” So, it is quite possible that Afzal Guru’s fate was sealed in a small room on Matoshree’s second floor on Friday evening.