Presidential elections in India have always been marked by political controversies!

Abdul Kalam’s chances for a re-nomination looks slim to impossible!

India’s President A.P.J.Abdul Kalam is soon to lay down office. The political parties have already taken up the issue of the next Presidential candidate in all its seriousness with an eye on the ongoing UP Assembly elections that holds such a crucial place in the Indian political scheme of things. If we can put it so starkly, as we should, if we are to understand the psychology of the major Indian political parties, no political party wants to be left out of the race for nominating its own candidate or its own fancy candidates more for the cynical value such a nomination would bring to the Indian polity. The Congress, though a major party, is nowhere in the UP scene.

So, it has kept its own nominee to the last minute as it has to, for it has no independent choice when it doesn’t have the numbers of its own. So too the BJP. The BJP though can now claim that it has nominated Kalam in the first place, it was done so just to eliminate the other candidate then, namely, the then Maharashtra Governor P.C.Alexander.At that point of time, the Christian community was making news in Orissa, the murder of the missionary Staines roused much passion and anger cutting across party and religious divides and also the Christian missionaries were also felt persecuted in Gujarat.

So, the choice then was to leave out any stain of religious bigotry and so once the favored candidate (even NCP and Shivsena favored Alexander), the choice was to opt for some other more acceptable face. Once Kalam was named, the Congress even waited for some days before expressing itself in favor of Kalam. So, we can’t simply say in a simplistic manner that Kalam was an all-party favorite. Kalam was chosen finally through a process of elimination, not otherwise, through any wider consensus just in the first round as such.

This time too the final choice would be through a process of elimination. Bhiraon Singh Shekawat, the much admired Vice -President, is favored much, though the BJP still talks in favor of Kalam. This, in my view, is just a ploy to look a broadminded view. This also is being done in the context of the on-going UP elections where the Muslim vote is critical for any major party.

It is said that Sonia Gandhi would like to have one person who would side with her political decisions in future. This is both fanciful and fat-fetched. Even Kalam couldn’t escape censure over his signing of the Bihar govt’s dismissal. The Supreme Court verdict was almost a near censure of both the high offices of the country. Finally, the axe fell on the helpless Governor and he had to go. So such midnight signature by the Presidents is a sure nightmare for any future President of India!

So, Sonia Gandhi too has to tread with not much freedom. She has to take the nod of the more problematic allies, the CPM and the DMK. Now, in the current uncertainties, after Nandigram and the DMK’s own unpredictable behavior with very narrow political considerations, anything can happen.

So, the so-called call for a second term for Kalam is just to buy time and fool around the more gullible public who have a great admiration for the present incumbent in Rashtrapathi Bhavan. Kalam is of course a good President when compared with so many others of the past. He is qualified, scientist with distinguished service to the country and a good talker and a sort of visionary. All this is conceded and yet a second term for the Presidential office of the country’s highest Constitutional post is a quite different thing.

Just we have to have a look at the past occupants of this high office to deduce how it had worked in the past. Rajendra Prasad, the first President, was a national leader in the ranks of the greats.I had had the good fortune of seeing him in close quarters when I was just 10 years in my high school, a vintage Gandhian school (the foundation stone of the school was laid by none other than Mahatama Gandhi!) and Prasad looked every inch a Gandhian a pure gold, so simple, so simple looking and no trace of any politician in him. Such was the stuff freedom fighters of those times were made of. Offices didn’t have any attraction for them, they didn’t become great because of the office, and the office became what it became because of the occupants of those times. Today, the situation is just the opposite! Once our present occupants vacate their premises, they would look like zeroes! Plain and simple!

The next President, Dr.S. Radhakrishnan’s elevation was already controversial, he had to wait for long, and Nehru persuaded his colleagues to elevate the philosophy-teacher turned statesman. His son and biographer, Dr.S. Gopal narrates all the drama and pathos that marked Radhakrishnan’s office as President and also after he completed the first term, how he was misled by politicians, opal puts the onus on Kamaraj and yet the fact remains the great philosopher was tempted for a second term by just believing everybody who met him and said so. Very much like the present stance of the politicians who seem to be opting for Kalam, while the ground level truth is they don’t!

So, at least Kalam could take a leafy from the Radhakrishnan episode and gracefully announce his retirement so that he might not be accused in future he too was craving for just power and glory!

The other Presidents, V.V.Giri, Sanjiva Reddy, came through very controversial political battles, Indira Gandhi wanted to settle scores with her political opponents and we know that though Giri and Reddy, in my opinion, did make independent decisions. Though Reddy did the great mistake of refusing to nominate Jagjivan Ram for the Prime Minister’s post, he nominated Charan Singh with disastrous consequences!

When I once traveled to Ananathapur to meet Reddy in retirement, he was so conscious of his mistake of this incident (of nominating Charan Singh) he was only explaining his guilt for not nominating Jagjivanram! Reddy was a simple man with no pretensions for any learning or maturity of political judgments and so he was just going on one decision after another form his Chief Minister’s days and how he was a man of principles. People who knew him for long (I too know him from his AICC Presidentship days) used to say how Reddy was a man not given to any political wisdom or maturity. He did things as any politician looking for some expediency or other to save himself from some tight situation. But I have much respect for Reddy for the man had the courage of conviction and he explai9ned in a book later his many actions. This many of our senior politicians don’t do more and more lately. How the posterity would remember them if they don’t see wisdom in at least sharing with their countrymen, the so many mistakes they committed while enjoying the fruits of office?

The disasters were Fakhrudin Ali Ahmed and Giani Jail Singh.

Of course Presidents, Zakir Hussain and R.Venkatraman, to use the favorite phrase of RV himself, were all copybook Presidents. Even RV earned the wrath of Rajiv Gandhi by calling him immature and also for not listening to his advice.

Now, the question is: should the President of India once completed the term must voluntarily go? Yes is my answer for the simple reason that in India we have some national traits. One is sticking to office late in their life and almost preferring to die while holding some office or other!

Pandit Nehru himself was no exception. There is a passage in Judith Brown’s biography of Nehru (OUP) where she mentions how Earl Mountbatten, Nehru’s friend, advising him to retire and take rest and yet Nehru went on to the last minute. This is an Indian disease. Also another trait is that we don’t have any sense of shame for accepting and sticking to office which doesn’t come through legal and ethical channels. Indian sense of propriety is near zero! We don’t have any sensitivity and no moral scruples to seek and cringe before anyone who can offer or promise help to secure office.

Such thoughts cross my mind these days when I see that those in high offices today don’t do their duty when such duty calls for recognizing talent in others. K.R.Narayan in my opinion is the greatest of the Indian Presidents, or at least one of the greatest. He so meek-looking and yet had the guts to speak to   the face of Bill Clinton   that “while the world may be a global village but America shouldn’t imagine itself as the world’s policeman”!  And also he nominated so many for the Bharat Ratna, the highest civilian honor to the Indian nationals.

One of my regrets would be Kalam didn’t think fit to make any such recommendations to nominate some of the great men and women of India for this highest civilian honor! Anyway, Kalam is a good man and he had earned the goodwill of the country for his child-like enthusiasm for many great dreams.
So, as a dutiful citizen I would pay my tribute to the man who at least exhorts us everyday to dream for big and powerful India, an India of a developed nation in the near future.

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