Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Shall we Choose the President?


Today, as I write this, the buzz in town is Kaun Banega Rashtrapathiji?!

This overtly quotidian but politically invaluable question has been doing the rounds in the Capital for some time now- In fact, ever since the  UP elections. When the Congress ended up in third place in the UP elections, news wires broke out and much speculation was made then about UPA's inability to manage winning votes, let alone confidence of the people but all that is history.

The quintessential question that has attracted the news hunter's cynical eyes to focus is, Who will assume the much hallowed office in July?

However, what I write today is to highlight the finer details that we tend to brush under the carpet. Stay with me, because the secret lies in details.

Clearly, all of the Presidents in the Indian Republic were not full time social workers or constitutional experts. Out of the total 12 presidents, the first 3 were outstanding luminaries of all time, the next 6 that followed were practicing politicians and the last 3 included diplomats and even a missile engineer. Thus, historically the norms of choosing our Presidents was founded on political consideration intending to represent India's stature and caliber by choosing country's most respected, well learned, gracious and brightest face as its head.

V.V. Giri was an outstanding labour movement's leader but rumor has it that he was selected as president in 1969 because the then political authority thought Neelam Sanjeev Reddy was too independent a person to toe before line. Fakrudeen Ali Ahmed, who followed  is infamous for his tame acceptance of emergency which paved way for the two year long suspension of democracy in India. The next president N. Sanjeev Reddy's act of rejecting Jagjeevan Ram's (Janatha party) claim to form new government when Moraji Desai lost majority is speculated to have been the reason for the return of the Congress in  1980.

After him came Giani Zail Singh, appointed (again after some Political consideration) to reach out to Sikh separatists. And then? Operation  Blue Star & the 1984 Anti-Sikh riots happened while the President sat in silence, a passive observer.

R. Venkattraman was a rather silent President unwilling to be silenced by anyone. S. D. Sharma who came after him is praised for abiding parliamentary discipline above anything else but his decision of letting the BJP to form government in 1996, which lost support and broke down just 13 days after its formation, is still questioned by many. 

K. R. Narayanan was distinctive and unique when he claimed himself to be a 'working president' and not a 'rubber stamp' President A.P.J Abdul Kalam who came after him, (despite rumours that claim he was the reason behind Mrs. Sonia Gandhi being held back from the Prime ministerial post in 2004) is celebrated as People's President for his candour and his inspiring speeches. Our substantial youth population, who though highly cynical about our politicians enjoying every luxury without paying for anything, have made Kalam their hero, watching the way he conducts his life with genuine simplicity.

When Kalam stepped down, Ramachandra Guha wrote in an article - “The bazaar gossip has it that the next president will be an old Congressman, currently unemployed or under-employed".
He would have been happy if it rested as a gossip.

Unfortunately, today's generation views the Rashtrapathi Bhavan as nothing more than a luxurious guest house. What made matters worse in the recent past was the alleged 'land-grabbing' scam that hit Rashtrapathi Bhavan. Truth and falsity apart, this is definitely not the news that one expects to hear about their First Lady.

Let it be clear that the Office of the President of the Republic is more than a glorified rubber stamp. In theory, he is the upper hand over every constitutional office but in practice, his duties include ceremonial addresses to people and visiting foreign nations. The President's office has been politically instrumental in selection of governments, the appointment of the Prime Minister in a hung Parliament, in dismissing a state government and imposing President's rule there at the suggestion of the Union Cabinet etc. Given a highly fractured verdict expected in 2014 elections by all political analysts, along with the trends of regional parties tightening noose around the UPA and NDA, it is an easy guess that no party is going to support an independent President (although I do not completely refute its happening).

"There is a wide raging cynicism in the nation now against our politicians”, Supreme court lawyer Harish Salve tells us, “making people believing sab chor hain, other than a handful of peoples, thanks to the Civil Society." 

Given these peculiar circumstances we are passing through as a nation it’s the expectation of the citizens of India here to expect our next President to be someone with merit than one who is picked up for his benevolent servitude to one party or another. Choose someone not because of his caste, community, gender or some other identity, to represent 21st century India. Choose him in whom  the hopes of every Indian transcends the boundaries of identity.

If we can afford to avoid the negative precedents we followed for a couple of years until now, we may see our Rashtrapathi Bhavan enjoy the status of a magnet of support, respect and dignity that it should be.

Nidheesh M K 
@mknid on Twitter

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