THE MOVING FINGER WRITES
President Pratibha Patil will relinquish her office in four months, precisely on July 24. A new President will have to be elected and one understands the search for a successer is already on. As of now, a few names are bandied about but that is only to be expected. A likely candidate, surely, could be the current Vice President, MA Ansari, but would he be automatically acceptable to all parties and not just to the UPA coalition members? That is a million dollar question.
The election of the President, as many may not be aware, is held in accordance with the system of proportional representation by means of a single transferable vote. The system is pretty complicated. More to the point is not the number of votes a candidate may garner but his general acceptability to both MPs and MLAs throughout the country. And there’s the rub. One does not expect unanimity among coalition partners whether in the UPA currently in power or in the NDA that is in opposition at the Centre. Knowing the unpredictability of Chief Ministers such as Mamata Banerjee and the hue and cry raised on the issue of federalism by her equals in Gujarat, Bihar, Odisha, Tamil Nadu, Madhya Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh and Punjab, nothing can be taken for granted.
Ever since the failure of the Congress in the last two decades to stay as the unchallenged leader in politics, conditions in the country have been in a state of disarray. One may remember the assault on the dignity and stature of Pratibha Patil when her name came up for presidential candidature. She was accused of corruption and other sins in a manner so brash that one is amazed at how she survived and what is more did much better than was expected of her in such trying circumstances. The open question is: who should be the candidates and what should be their qualifications for nomination to the highest post in the land? Would a strictly non-politician be able to fill the bill? We have had as President a Muslim, a Sikh, a dalit and in the last five years a woman as well. Is it time for a Christian to get promoted? Or, for that matter, for one who is a Jain, a Buddhist or, the Lord Forbid, a Marxist?
Surely there are fellow citizens who have made a great name in the field of Education, Law, Technology and all the rest? And why not look for a Parsi, among all minorities the smallest? Ratan Tata, surely, would make an ideal candidate? Or, to offer a choice, someone like Fali Nariman or Soli Sorabjee, men distinguished in their own fields? There are no hard and fast rules, beyond what are laid down in the Constitution, in naming a presidential candidate, though a sound practice would be the automatic elevation of the Vice President to the Presidentship. It could save a lot of bother and hard feelings. In the case of APJ Abdul Kalam, the then BJP-led coalition succeeded in getting the Congress nod. One understands that it was Mulayam Singh Yadav, the Samajwadi Party leader who first suggested Kalam’s name. Kalam, apart from being a liberal Muslim was non-controversial and by all accounts did a splendid job.
Pratibha Patil’s successor needs to be one with unchallengeable credentials. With the power he now wields, will Mulayam again come out with a candidate of his choice? Whoever will finally make it to the top one would expect him to be able to handle tricky situations that call for a great deal of sagacity. With every likelihood of a future Lok Sabha most definitely having to face issues such as a Lokpal and Lokayukta Bill and a proposal for setting up a National Counter Terrorism Centre, the need for having a strong and highly qualified President who can act not only as a pacifier but as a co-ordinator as well cannot be more sufficiently stressed. What is worth remembering is that in an atmosphere where states are getting to be more and more self-assertive, a figurehead President is the last thing we want. In the circumstances we find ourselves in, we need a President who is a leader in his own right and not just a toady. This calls for all political parties to be cooperative and not cantankerous, more institution-conscious and less petty.
There is a great deal of rumours presently in circulation that E Sreedharan, the incomparable man behind the Delhi Metro and the Konkan Railway (seen as the two most successful engineering infrastructure projects ever conceived) as topping the BJP list of possible nominees to the Presidentship. It is also said that Sreedharan’s name has found acceptance at several levels of the party, which is not surprising. Sreedharan retires from the Delhi Metro’s job as CEO on 31 December, but the story is that he has not yet been asked whether he would be interested in being nominated for the post of President. Now in his seventies, Sreedharan is known for his integrity, the pursuit of spirituality and his devotion to yoga and meditation. Visitors to his office have often expressed their pleasant surprise to see behind his desk a sign which reads: “Whatever is to be done, I do, but in reality I do not do anything”. Such, obviously, is his detachment as prescribed in the Gita.
What is a cause for worry is that we do not seem to have men of such high intellectual and moral standing as Dr Rajendra Prasad, C Rajagopalachari or Dr BR Ambedkar, certainly not in our political parties crowded as they are with individuals like Mayavati and Mamata Banerjee. And among those that have—do we have to name them?—their marginalisation is only to be expected given the nature of our politics. So we go back to Square One. But time is running out. The election of the President has to be completed by June 12 and the publication of the favoured list of nominees should not be deferred to the last minute. The public has the right to know who the parties most favour and why. To hold on tight to the last may be smart politics but poor show of democracy. The position of the President, especially is these turbulent times is too important, for any party to think that the naming of the candidacy to the post is its sole prerogative. This is where the great public must assert itself instead of being led by the nose by some capricious elements with their own axes to grind, in party circles.