By Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay
Before India and Indians got around to discussing who is likely to be the next President, it would have been more prudent to deliberate what kind of a person should assume the exalted post; what should be the person’s background, preoccupations and value system.
But, before this we need to quickly recapitulate those who have been in this high office. The first President, Dr Rajendra Prasad had a political background and having headed the Constituent Assembly, his choice was a foregone conclusion. But a corrective decision was taken simultaneously – Dr S Radhakrishnan’s election as Vice President. Corrective because the message sent out initially and finally endorsed in 1962 was that the Vice President would eventually be promoted. In 1962, it was also signalled by Nehru’s government that the President’s office would be kept away from partisan politics – to underscore this, Dr Zakir Hussain was elected VP.
The need for a political President arose after the 1967 election resulted in Congress losing its stranglehold and VV Giri became VP. In 1969 when Indira Gandhi began the process of splitting the Congress by supporting Giri against Neelam Sanjeeva Reddy – the official Congress candidate, both were political candidates.
Thereafter, there was no looking back. Even KR Narayan, despite his academic and diplomatic background was initiated in politics before becoming VP and eventually President. APJ Abdul Kalam neither had a political pedigree nor had he ever held an elected office. But the decision to field him was a political one – as the poll was held in the aftermath of Gujarat riots in 2002. The Congress did not oppose Kalam and a couple of other anti-BJP parties also extended support to him primarily because of his professional background and religious identity.
The present occupant of Rashtrapati Bhawan was the only one on whom most journalists had to do a quick Google search to know who she was.
Coming back to the only apolitical President in decades, Kalam lived up to the expectations by not being a doormat or a rubber stamp. His stance on Gujarat elections immediately after being elected required the matter to go up all the way to the Supreme Court. He also carved a separate constituency for himself and endeared himself to the middle classes who found him a clean alternative to dirty world of politics.
Hamid Ansari was a non-political VP which surely raises the spectre that he may buck the trend of the past decade (of two VPs not going past that office). But, make no mistake political parties are unlikely to take chances with someone who does not have a political past given the likely fragmentation in the next parliamentary election.
No prime ministerial aspirant among the satraps would want anyone from their region to be nominated to top spot as it would preclude their rising. Earlier, every Congress leader of some worth and outside the family was keen on the top spot because they knew the being prime minister was impossible. Now, no leader worth his salt would accept the offer and become a forced bystander in 2014.
No real options remain for the people except accepting the compromise choice. One only hopes that the person remains committed to the Constitution, sets a high standard for her (unlikely though) or his conscience and does not fear shaking the edifice if the flow of events is contrary to public and political morality.