Debate on next President
With the race to become the first citizen of India around the corner, the question boggling many, today is whether a non-political person would be suited to occupy Rashtrapati Bhavan or not. The notion of a republic is not new to India, for it was during the era of the Vedic civilization that the notions of the “Raja and Praja” and “Sabha and Samiti” emanated and therefore the attributes which would serve as pre-requisites for taking up the post of such eminence, owe their origin to this period.
The two, most important complexions of a king were dexterity and integrity according to the Arthashastra. India might have come a long way from ephemeral stints of democracies during the Vedic period to a mature and resolute one in the 21st century, but the notions of dexterity and integrity have not changed and will never change.
It has been the case in history many times over that on one hand the best heads of states have had nothing to do with politics and on the other hand it has been similar men who have proven to be the greatest weeds of administration. Therefore, there can never be a ‘know-all’ panacea to decipher who could be a potentially good President. To start with, Nehru once remarked that “He who has some standing and who has the ability to command respect of his own people and the people of the world, should be made President”. What is to be understood is that India which opted for parliamentary democracy as against presidential democracy with a view to give more representation to the diverse ideologies of the land, attached the position of a nominal head to that of the President. It has never been seen as a ‘non-political’ position, however it is imperative for the person at the helm of it to transcend all his political affinities and obliterate his personal interests. One of the most ignominious instances of the desecration of the sanctity of this office was Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed, a Cambridge graduate, signing the draconian declaration of emergency back in 1975, rather than exercising any other option, even if it meant his resignation as President. A tenacious character is needed as a President and not a florid Cambridge degree.
Contrary to the present era coalition politics, Presidents were chosen by the party in power because they had the numbers both at the centre and the states. The Presidents of the erstwhile era were plagued with a servile syndrome of sorts, best encapsulated by Giani Zail Singh who as a sitting president went on to say that he would even mop the floor if Mrs. Indira Gandhi told him to do so! History is testament to the fact that the prudence of the President, when eclipsed by the Trojan authority of the sitting government, to facilitate the government to accomplish its vested interests, has always produced the most corrosive of results.
But on the flipside, there have been reservations to these aberrations too. The most befitting example of this reservation is Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam, who did not only cuff himself free from poverty to become one of the best known nuclear scientists of India, but also epitomised the principles of secularism and integrity and in spite of being non-political, knew exactly when he had to employ his political acumen by allowing Manmohan Singh to become the Prime Minister and not Sonia Gandhi. Dr Kalam is in the league of people like Dr Radhakrishnan, Dr Zakir Hussain and Dr Rajendra Prasad who are arguably among the best Presidents this country has ever had. But in spite of these similarities, these instances bring forth a contradiction too. The paradox being that they were all political workers and yet did not play politics with the Constitution, governance or administration.
Coming back to today’s politics, we have a person who may have defied male paramountcy at the Rashtrapati Bhavan, but who along with her family has been known for her notoriety in land allotment scams and other controversies. The issue now boils down to the character of a President. Therefore a President should have such a disposition that even the worst of the worst while vilifying him, should know that their attempt will end in futility. Even though the position of a President is that of a ceremonial head, he needs the ability to shoulder the weight of the office without playing into the hands of partisan politics and remember at the end of the day that he is the President of India and not of a political party that may have nominated him or her. His political or non political status should be the least of our worries for what we need is a President with a impeccable discretion, impregnable character and indomitable spirit!