How a high Constitutional office was dragged to a low common denominator!
The Presidential contest between Mrs.Pratiba Patil and the incumbent Vice-President Bhairon Singh Shekhawat has taken some ugly turns.This is most unfortunate.
Given the high office of the President under the Indian Constitution,an office that is both ceremonial and symbolic of the hopes and aspirations and the determination of the Indian people as regarding their freedoms and sovereignty,the sudden burst of anger and indignity after Kalam expressed his readiness to contest the election if promised ” certainty” has led to an outburst by Ms.Jayalalitha,the spokesperson of the United National Democratic Alliance.This Third Front is of course a hastily formed group that was not there some days ago and yet it brought to the fore the hypocrisy and humbug involved the selection of the current Presidential candidate. The reasons given for her selection were bogus.This everybody knows,Sonia Gandhi knows,the Prime Minister knows,so helpless was he,given the constrains on his authority and even on his right for free expression of views.In the event Dr.Singh couldn’t even to bring himself to suggest some eminent names like his friend ,the Nobel Laureate Prof.Amartya Sen or one or two others.Such was the pathetic spectacle that the Prime Minister was seen as just a willing accomplice in the scheming Mrs.Sonia Gandhi was indulging in with her stubborn favorite,Shivraj Patil,the home minister.Poor Patil,he was not acceptable even for a section of the Congress leaders and in quick succession,the others,may be more eminent veterans like N.D.Tiwari,Motilal Vohra and Dr.Karan Singh were all picked up and discarded.The most humiliated of all of them was no doubt Mr.Pranab Mukerjee who was a clear and natural successor to Dr.Kalam ,given his seniority in the government and yet Sonia Gandhi was quite unwilling and in fact fiercely opposed.There were rumours about how Mukerjee was showing his ambitions in the wake of Mrs.Indira Gandhi’s assassination and hence a rival to her husband Rajiv Gandhi who in fact took over as the PM.
Thus,there was this public perception that Mrs.Sonia Gandhi wanted one person who would be subservient to her at all times. More so in 2009,when the next general election might throw up numbers that might create new uncertainties.So,a person in 2009 at Rashtrapathi Bhavan must be pliant to Sonia Gandhi’s wishes.
This became clear when she decided to find an alternative to her first choice Patil.In the fact of the Left resistance to her other names,she was forced back to come up with a dark horse in Mrs.Patil.So Mrs.Patil was never her first choice and in fact,her choice is forced upon an unwilling Mrs.Gandhi.
Now,what threw the whole process of Presidential election into a new low,a new unseemly political contest is the fact that at the last minute when everything seemed settled in favour of Mrs.Patil who,given the numbers in the election college.was set to have a walk over,was the entry of Dr.Abdul Kalam suddenly into the electoral contest.Here is a President who was the idol of the masses,the icon of the middle class prim and proper persona,learned,visionary and given his penchant for science and technology,as the tools for India’s development,everyone thought here was an ideal President.
But hidden in the middle class mind set was the real man,a man rose from humble beginnings to the top job in the country,naturally enjoyed himself the enormous pomp and ceremony and the enormous prestige that comes with the trappings of the office.
So,we find in the final reckoning,the real man coming into the open.He fell for the temptations of political office,who hasn’t?
So,when in a last ditch attempt the Third Front,in fact a hasty formation of the leftover politicians who,till the other day,didn’t have a thought about their national level relevance suddenly woke up to find themselves with no political space.So,when the Third Front was formed,first when they met in Hyderabad and then in Chennai,nobody in the Front knew who the leader and spokesperson of the Front would be.So,we find Ms.J holding fort in Hyderabad and then next when they went to President it was Mr.Chandrababu Naidu and on the final day it was again Ms J who took the opportunity to have her anger let out.She chose to use some choice abuses ,using such words like “boorish”,”churlish” and”uncivilized”against some of the UPA allies.She said a few”scheming,selfish politicians who wanted to put up someone for selfish considerations”.Everyone knew by the time whom she was referring to.
The pity is that the “choice” of Mrs.Patil was in fact an outcome of such low calibre selfishness and scheming only.Mrs.Patil is only a symbol.Her elevation is not going to make the least impact on the condition and status of Indian women.As the elevation of Mayawati as CM and K.R.Narayan as President never made any impact on the status of the Dalits.
As the Hindu editorial wrote:”Succumbing to an end of term President’s natural yea ring for a second term seemed out of character with Mr.Kalam’s public persona”.It was this unexpected political ambition in what was seen as a scientist and bureaucrat as he was all his life and as he wished to pursue an academic career after he laid down his office,suddenly to enter the electoral fray,knowing fully well that there is no chance whatever for him is a serious blot on the man who was a mass hero of sorts.
Then wisdom dawns not often on many worthy men often! Others wrote that he had unknowingly “done the damage to the man and to his office.If only for a few days,the detached savant showed glimpses of ambition”(The Hindu).
So,Kalam’s late entry into the political race also gave rise to comparisons with his predecessor.K.R.Narayan,it is pointed out,took a consistent and well-thought out political decisions,he sent back many Cabinet decisions,he refused to confer the Bharat Ratna on Veer Savarkar while Kalam obliged the BJP and unveiled the portrait of Savarkar right in the very Central Hall facing the portrait of Mahatma Gandhi in whose assassination his name was implicated!
In fact,Narayan did many daring things,he articulated India’s independence in front of the US President Bill Clinton,choosing some well-articulated language,he wrote to the then Prime Minister Mr.Vajpayee to send the army against the Gujarat riots and he called the Gujarat crisis”a grave crisis of society and the nation”Against this bold stances of his predecessor,Kalam’s succumbing to the Bihar Assembly dissolution which was called by the Supreme Court “a subversion of the Constitution”
So,it is not as if Kalam was above blame and he was a more successful President than of his very many predecessors.
In fact,the current debate while it is on,must contribute to some deeper thoughts.
It is always needed that only men and women of high stature,preferably with sufficient political background and experience must be chosen as the President.For all its past experiences,it can be seen that whenever such personalities presided over the Rashtrapathi Bhavan,the Indian polity and the Constitution was seen by the public as high offices and high state documents.
Rajendra Prasad,V.V.Giri and Sanjeeva Reddy and Shnkar Dayal Sharma and even Venkatraman exercised their discretions,if at all,did so in a highly dignified manner,they brought stature to the office.There were political lessons in their exercise of Presidential authority.
When,on the other hand,the less political persons,the academics and others came in,in my view,to that extent,we can see the Presidential office was only of much symbolic value,not much of any political significance.
It is only very rarely a President can bring both the learning and the practical world experience to bring to bear on the many agonizing thoughts of the masses as well as the classes.
There are at present many issues of great public concern,like the rising corruption,the helplessness of the various agencies like CBI or the Vigilance Commission,even the issues like the tainted ministers in the Cabinet,even the Governor’s refusal to give consent to pursue the cases against Mayawati(against the instruction of the Supreme Court) etc that are likely to be subverted thanks to the political manipulations.
The power of the Executive is not exercised up to its fuller extent.The Parliament is not reformed of the many deficiencies.The Supreme Court is burdened with so many calls from the State.
These are all grave issues and they can be attacked and they must be attacked,given the more capable leaders.
As the polity is now evolving,there are so many distortions,”extra-constitutional”authority,the “election” of the Prime Minister is not as per the conventions,nor the political parties are functioning in a true open and democratic spirit.
All these can be improved if a President is sufficiently of a moral calibre and moral authority.This moral authority comes from some innate strengths and qualities or from a President who draws up his or her Constitutional priorities right and goes about their duties in a systematic manner.
So,a President of India in the future can still rise above the current practices and can impact the polity to reach a more perfect political balance.