New Delhi: With less than three months to go before President Pratibha
Patil's term ends, a slew of possible successors are doing the
rounds. But with the ruling Congress doing poorly in recent state
elections, regional parties may hold the key to selecting the
nation's 13th president.
Among these names, Sam Pitroda, seems to have generated most
While there has been some print media attention to Pitroda
emerging as the "dark horse" in the presidential race, he seems to
be exciting the web world more. On April 4, for instance, Pitroda
was number 4 most trending on Twitter.
His name has been circulating among the movers and shakers in
major metros but the first clear sign came in a piece written by
industrialist Harsh Goenka in The Economic Times.
Although the piece on April 2 mentioned several other potential
candidates for president, Goenka said, "I would like to end with a
wild card entry, which is a radical option of considerable merit -
Sam Pitroda. Rajiv Gandhi's poster-boy for reforms, he quietly
revolutionized the telecom sector, paving the way for subscriber
trunk dialling, public call booths and nationwide networks."
Goenka also said, "This man of ideas will be in keeping with our
image of a modern, tech-savvy nation on the rise."
"If I had to place my bets, I'd predict a photo finish between
(Vice President) Hamid Ansari and Sam Pitroda," Goenka said.
Pitroda himself has made no specific public comment on the sudden
upsurge in his favour, particularly in the business and technology
circles. He has been known to say he is focused entirely on his
current assignment as advisor to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on
public information infrastructure and innovation.
Apart from that Pitroda is closely involved with at least half a
dozen major, long-term national projects whose transformational
potential is said to go well beyond the telecom revolution. They
include the National Knowledge Network, Panchayati Network, cyber
security, broadband expansion among others which altogether
represent an outlay of nearly Rs. 100,000 crores.
The web is also witnessing some impromptu sites as
PitrodaForPresident on YouTube which has a collection of videos
under titles such as "Pitroda the Technologist", "Pitroda the
Reformer" and "Pitroda the Innovator." It is unclear who is behind
this site, which was set up on April 5 by a 28-year-old in India.
But Pitroda is not alone in this presidential stakes.
Apart from Ansari, the names being talked about in political
circles are those of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Lok Sabha
Speaker Meira Kumar, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, former
West Bengal governor Gopal Krishna Gandhi, senior Congress leader
Karan Singh, former president A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, former speaker
Somnath Chatterjee, Chief Election Commissioner S.Y Quraishi,
Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal, Samajwadi Party chief
Mulayam Singh Yadav, Janata Dal (United) president Sharad Yadav
and Nationalist Congress party leader P.A. Sangma.
Ansari, a career diplomat, who for sometime had been the most
obvious choice, seems to have lost some of his clout after his
infamous adjournment of the Rajya Sabha during the Lokpal debate
that earned him the opposition ire.
Congress president Sonia Gandhi has always insisted that there is
no question of replacing Manmohan Singh as prime minister, while
Pranab Mukherjee is seen as the principal trouble shooter for the
party. As regards Meira Kumar, she may be a popular choice, but
after a woman president it will be difficult for the Congress to
pitch for another woman candidate.
There is also a view that Defence Minister A.K Antony, a Gandhi
family loyalist, should be named as the country's next president
as so far there have been a Hindu, Muslim and a Sikh president but
not a Christian as the head of state. But the perceived
mishandling of the army chief controversy has put a cloud over his
The name of Sangma, a Roman Catholic, is also doing the rounds,
but he is again not a popular choice, especially in the Congress
But what has further created a stir in political circles is the
cosying up of Trinamool Congress chief and Samajwadi Party chief
Mulayam Singh on the presidential polls. Kalam's name has been
apparently suggested by both, but the Congress is not in favour of
the former president, who is now 80, being sent to Rashtrapati
The Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government
holds 40 percent of the votes and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)
holds 30 percent in the electoral college that consists of members
of parliament and the state legislatures. But the Congress is
keeping its card close to its chest.
But as Goenka said in his article that it is time "parties
invested their effort into selecting a candidate based on
competence rather than extraneous considerations." This is yet to