For a right choice

For a right choice

President Pratibha Devi Singh Patil is scheduled to demit office on July 24 next, but no party or even alliance is in a position to get a candidate of its choice elected. So, the race is on and different parties are busy scheming for ensuring their victory. First of all, the name of Purno A Sangma was floated on the ground that he is a Christian tribal and also from the North East which has not had the glory of giving the country a President. However, Sharad Pawar scotched it immediately and floated the idea of having a non-political person as the first citizen.

 The name of A P J Abdul Kalam is again doing the rounds with many parties endorsing his candidature. His name was first proposed by SP’s Shahid Siddiqui but he has recanted as the SP is toying with idea of pushing none else than its supremo Mulayam Singh Yadav for the top post. However, in case of Kalam, the convention goes against a second term. In 2002, when K R Narayanan’s name was floated for a second term by some quarters, prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee personally went and told him that the convention was against a second term.

First President Dr Rajendra Prasad is the only exception who got two and a half terms. He assumed the office on January 26, 1950, the day India became a republic and then was duly elected in 1952 and 1957. Jawaharlal Nehru was against his candidacy right from the beginning. His ratiocinated that since the prime minister was from the north, the President should be from the south. However, since Nehru did not have absolute authority, he did not have the final say.

 In 1957, Nehru again opposed Rajendra Prasad’s candidature, and supported vice-president Dr S Radhakrishnan. But in the meeting of the Congress Working Committee, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad vociferously pleaded for Prasad saying that Rajendra Prasad was comrade in arms with them during the freedom struggle while Radhakrishnan was not, notwithstanding the fact he was a great scholar. Azad’s advocacy clinched the issue.

In 1962, there was again a talk of Dr Prasad contesting for the third time and CPI leader Bhupesh Gupta introduced a private member’s bill for a cap on the third term for any President. But now, even without legislation, the convention is well-settled that no second term should be given to any President. This is not only desirable but should be made mandatory as the second term is tantamount to post-retirement assignment and the incumbent President may scheme for a second term sacrificing his/her impartiality.

Living up to the oath

Whosoever occupies the Rashtrapati Bhavan, whether political or non-political, has to act impartially living up to his oath of working for ‘the well-being of the people’, an oath which no other constitutional functionary takes. Though he/she is supposed to be above politics, the presidential election generates a lot of political storm which began with the first election and culminated in the fiercest politicking in 1969 leading to split in the ruling Congress when prime minister Indira Gandhi pitted V V Giri against the official Congress candidate Neelam Sanjiva Raddy and asked the MP/MLAs to vote according to their conscience. Even a political person can be impartial to a fault and a non-political person can indulge into politicking.

S Radhakrishnan was an apolitical person, known and respected for his erudition. Nehru always supported his candidature. But after the humiliating defeat of India in the Sino-Indian war, the relationship between the two touched a new low, and Radhakrishnan even asked Jayapraksh Narayan: “JP, make ready to take over.” It was also rumoured that he was going to float his King’s Party, and Indira Gandhi had then complained to vice-president Zakir Hussain. Relationship between Morarji Desai and N Sanjeeva Reddy was also marked by personal rancour as recorded by Arun Gandhi in ‘Morarji Papers.’

Though the President is supposed to work on the aid and advice of the council of ministers, there come situations when he can shape the destiny of the nation. Article 75 of the Constitution bequeaths him the power to appoint the prime minister and this is the only provision where he/she is not required to act on the advice of the council of ministers. In the age of coalition era, his role becomes crucial in appointing the prime minister. Besides, he/she can return a bill at least once or delay bills which according to her/him are not in the national interest. The President has to protect the Constitution as he/she can be impeached for its violation.

The President has to act like an anchor and guardian shorn of all bias in whom every one reposes faith. This is not impossible. In fact, India, with huge illiteracy, has the notable exception of electing eggheads as Presidents. His role acquires added significance in the present circumstances when a coalition rules at the Centre and different parties or coalitions in different states. This is what Rajendra Prasad said in his famous lecture at the inauguration of the Indian Law Institute demanding a debate on the power of the President. Further, when the credibility of the elected government is at its lowest ebb, people look up to autonomous institutions like the judiciary, the EC, the CAG or the President to wriggle the country out of slush and mud of politics.

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