This piece is dedicated to the Gen Y, or rather, the ‘digital generation’ because, going by their miserly reading habit, they may have missed some dramatic history of the presidential intrigues in the past. But the older generation knows it well, I hope.
Another presidential election is round the corner. And, this time a nip of excitement is in the air, because it is going to have a semblance of a contest. At least the election has the ruling front UPA and Opposition NDA vertically and horizontally divided. We may hope to have a ball.
Going by the arithmetic of the electorate, Pranab Mukherjee is as good as in the Rashtrapati Bhavan. Nevertheless, this election will throw up some cross voting by smaller parties which makes it an interesting contest.
And, it should be so, because democracy denotes choice or election, not selection, or putting up a dummy and call it a ‘consensus’ on the might of sheer number in Parliament. Both the UPA-sponsored Pranab Mukherjee and NDA-backed PA Sangma are competent persons who do not have the stains of corruption on their person. But they do not inspire as the first lot of presidents did.
To a layman, the office of India’s president appears a curious one. There is a comic touch to it like the royal family of Britain. The government of India is run in the name of President. He is ‘supreme commander’ of the defence forces, and yet, he/she can’t decide on anything, not even free speech. It is the prime minister and his party that decide who should be the lord of the Rashtrapati Bhavan.
But there are occasions when the president becomes a decisive factor (for good or for bad) like a hung parliament or an unsure parliament. Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed signed the ‘midnight order’ of Emergency declared by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi which earned him the doormat status. Cartoonist Abu had drawn the most damning caricature of him in which the president was shown in a bath tub, signing the order brought to him by his aide through the bath aperture.
It was the mighty Madame Indira Gandhi who began the practice of putting what media calls ‘rubber stamps’ in Rashtrapati Bhavan. Her promoting Giani Zail Singh (who famously said he’d sweep the street if Indiraji asked him) is the classic example. Since then the office of president has been denigrated. Whereas the examples of the first three presidents of India, Dr Rajendra Prasad, Dr Sarvepally Radhakrishnan, and Dr Zakir Hussain enthused the Republic, some others were reviled. Since the coalition politics of the post-Indira era, three presidents stand out in stature — R Venkaraman, SD Sharma, and Dr APJ Abdul Kalam Azad.
But, boys and girls of digital times, never be misled by the call to elect the “first backward caste president”, “first tribal president”, “first woman president” etc. We have seen how these tags are mere red herring that serves no purpose. I vividly recall the media-made euphoria at the election of the “first tribal chief minister of India” Amarsinh Chaudhary in Gujarat in 1985. He did nothing for “tirbals” and went out defamed with corruption charges. The “first scheduled caste” president KR Narayanan never visited his community since becoming the first citizen. Pratibha Patil, the “first woman president”, was a rude shock to the nation. I bet nine out of 10 of you had never heard of her before she was chosen as the Presidential candidate.
So, let us not be swayed by the “tribal” tag of Sangma. But one can hope that his stature brings him votes, even as political pulls decide the outcome.
Recently, a satirical cartoon appeared in the incisive ‘Tughlak’ magazine edited by the inimitable Cho Ramaswamy. It said as an advertisement, “A rare job opportunity for the aged. Position: President of India; age: above 35 [over 80 preferred]; job: speak words of solace to people on Republic Day, keep the mercy petitions of murderers and terrorists pending infinitely, jet around and visit different countries with family; salary: `1.5 lakh per month.”
The writer works for Postnoon
About the Author (Author Profile)
PK Surendran is senior editor at Postnoon.