By Harihar Swarup
The President’s post is the highest office of the land. At the time of constitutional crisis or other emergencies, the President’s role becomes very crucial. Therefore a person of high integrity and moral standards, who commands the respect of the nation, should be elected to the exalted office. Caste and political biases should not influence choice of India’s next President but just that is happening. Most reprehensively, Political parties in the recent past and now think on caste and community lines while choosing a President. The ruling dispensation prefers a pliable President who would do the bidding for the government of the day. In choosing a successor to outgoing President Pratibha Patil, the stress has been on a Muslim leader as Mulayam Singh Yadav, having won back the support of Muslims in recent assembly election in Uttar Pradesh, would prefer a Muslim President.
Who that Muslim leader could be? It is too early to hazard a guess but only two are in sight; former President APJ Abdul Kalam and Vice President Hamid Ansari. It would, however, be an insult to Kamal’s stature to describe him as a Muslim leader or the argument that he should get second term in the Rashtrapati Bhavan to appease the Muslim Community. Kalam belongs to all communities and, first and foremost, he is an Indian leader of highest integrity. India will be fortunate in the event of a consensus emerging on his name. Given the fragility of India’s polity, the coming years would be full of instability, turmoil and uncertainly. India needs a man in Rashtrapati Bhavan who commands the confidence and respect of the people. Kalam is ideally suited in the present difficult days but only if he is chosen unanimously. One, however, wonders if he would like to become President for the second term if there is a contest. However, reaction of Kalam is not known; no political party has approached him so far. Let us see what will be his response?
According to latest reports, there was an hour -long meeting between West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and Samajwadi Party’s Chief, Mulayam Singh’s emissary, Kironmoy Nanda, last week on the possibilities of the two parties joining hands for the President’s election.
Significantly, TMC and SP appear keen on a Muslim candidate and the name of Kalam—who may not be opposed by the BJP—came up for discussion. The Congress would be happy with a Muslim candidate but it is not keen on Kalam’s candidature. This, perhaps, will be a grave mistake because in the event of Congress loosing 2014 Lok Sabha election, Kalam will be more fair and judicious in the event a crisis erupting.
Few may be remembering that Mulayam Singh’s emissary, Nanda, was a minister in successive Left Front Governments in West Bengal. One wonders who picked him as negotiator; it is indeed a interesting development in the run up to July Presidential election. Nanda has reportedly broken all ties with CPI-M now. Incidentally, Mulayam Singh continues to enjoy cordial relationship with Marxist leadership. One wonders if Mamata would like SP Supremo’s proximity with the Marxists. However, if Trinamool and Mulayam Singh join hands, they can play a significant role in the coming Presidential elections. There are also reports that SP may replace Trinamool at the centre if Mamata goes on creating problems. The latest is that she has demanded Rural Development, a portfolio held by Jayaram Ramesh. The ministry has sponsored some of the key projects of the UPA government.
Apart from Kalam, among the non-political persons, the name of Gopal Gandhi, a grandson of Mahatma Gandhi, has been doing the rounds. Given his performance as the Governor of West Bengal, scholarship and clean image, he will be ideally suited as the successor to Pratibha Patil. Given the self-interest of political parties, one wonders if a consensus will be evolved on his name.
Though it has not been mentioned officially by the Congress or any other political parties, there has been wide speculation in political circles that a consensus may be possible on the name of Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee. He is almost indispensable to the government and one wonders if Sonia Gandhi will relieve him. If chosen for the high office, he will make an ideal President because of his wide experience in the government as well in politics. Many other names are also under discussions.
India’s first three Presidents, Dr. Rajendra Prasad, Dr. S. Radhakrishnan and Dr. Zakir Hussain were chosen mainly on their excellent record in public service. Dr Rajendra Prasad, who was the only president to get two successive terms in the highest office, was an eminent freedom fighter and leader of high stature. Dr. Radhakrishnan and Dr. Zakir Hussain were great men of learning.
For the first time in 1969, when the internal dissensions in the Congress party came to the fore, politics crept in Presidential elections but it was all within the Congress party. Indira Gandhi’s candidate, V V Giri trounced the official nominee, N. Sanjiva Reddy. A new political terminology was invented by Mrs. Gandhi. She called upon members of the Electoral College to “vote according to their conscience” and not necessarily vote for the official candidate. She succeeded.
The fact, however, remains that Giri was a distinguished labour leader and qualified for the President’s office. The history will rate two Presidents—Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed and Giani Zail Singh— as worst. Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed truly turned out to be a “Rubber Stamp” president having tamely signed the emergency proclamation. Gianiji made Rashtrapati Bhavan a hotbed of politics. He was made Rashtrapati by Indira Gandhi to appease Sikhs and his election was hailed as “the First Sikh President”. Gianiji touched lowest ebb of sycophancy when after being elected, he declared “ If my leader (Mrs Gandhi) asks me to pick up a broom and sweep, I will gladly do that” . History was made in Gianiji’s tenure—Mrs Gandhi was assassinated and Rajiv Gandhi sworn-in as Prime Minister by him. Later Gianiji developed differences with Rajiv and, at one stage, threatened to dismiss his government.
Congress brought K R Narayanan to the Rashtrapati Bhavan more as a “Dalit face” to appease backwards than because of his scholarship and knowledge. Narayanan made a good President. (IPA Service)