Modi may have final say

Modi may have final say


The Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) cannot hide its anti-Muslim fangs. Instead of building consensus behind the candidature of Hamid Ansari for the presidentship, the party has appointed its top three leaders to find a candidate who commands the consent of most political parties.

I cannot understand what is wrong with Vice President Ansari. He has handled the Rajya Sabha extremely well and before that he made the Aligarh Muslim University a really thriving academic institution during his tenure as the vice-chancellor. His erudition is beyond doubt and his commitment to secularism is without any blemish.

The non-BJP parties have come toget­her to adopt Ansari who is acceptable to all parties. It would be embarrassing for him to be the opposition candidate when he is the country’s vice president. Abdul Kalam, the former president, was the po­pular choice of several opposition parties for a second term but had to face a similar predicament before pulling out. So, all that he got was the re-naming of the Aurangzeb Road as Abdul Kalam Road.

The BJP is ultimately going to tick the choice of the RSS. It has indicated that it would keep in mind the secular ethos of the county. But it is neither here nor there because when it comes to selecting a person for the top constitutional post, a Muslim candidate would be far from the thought of the RSS.
It would ultimately depend on Prime Minister Narendra Modi to nudge the party to choose a person of his choice. And from the speeches made by BJP president Amit Shah, quite clearly indicated that the person thus chosen would be anybody but a Muslim. He has been touring various parts of the country, including the southern states, and emphasising that the presidential candidate should be someone who will be acceptable to the ruling party.

The two Houses of Parliament and the state legislatures which comprise the electoral college for the presidential election suggest that the BJP will have its way. The BJP’s appointment of a three-member committee — Rajnath Singh, Arun Jaitley and Venkaiah Naidu — who are part of Modi’s cabinet, makes it clear that the party’s top leadership will ultimately decide who should go to Rashtrapati Bhavan.

Speaker Sumitra Mahajan, who was initially supported by the ruling party, has been dropped. She is not being considered by either the DMK or the AIADMK. Understandably, the person has to be acceptable to the southern states of Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Kerala.
Even L K Advani looked like the BJP’s candidate. Probably, the court verdict on the Babri masjid demolition may have forced the party to look elsewhere as he has been charged with being part of a conspiracy to destroy the masjid. Over the years, the rough ends in Advani had been rounded off and he is more like the person who went to Karachi and laid a wreath at the mausoleum of Qaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah.

If one were to look back, controversies between the President and prime ministers have not been rare. Of the seven previous presidents, only Dr Zakir Hussain and Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed left office without any public confrontation. Zakir Hussain, who died in harness, confined himself to scholarly pursuits while Ahmed was one of the most pliable heads of state India has ever had. It was during his tenure that the Emergency was declared and he signed the proclamation without verifying whether it had the Cabinet approval or not.

Then prime minister Jawaharlal Neh­ru and Dr Rajendra Prasad had many constitutional run-ins. Dr S Radhakrishnan had even succeeded in getting defen­ce minister Krishna Menon sacked after India’s debacle at the hands of the Chin­ese in 1962. In 1967, Radhakrishnan embarrassed the ruling Congress by allowing the Swatantra Party to parade its MLAs in Rashtrapati Bhavan to prove their majority in the Rajasthan assembly.

Even V V Giri, a prominent trade unionist who was elected with the help of Indira Gandhi to the presidency, often expressed his reservations over anti-labour legislation. Thus, he objected when the Centre wanted to dismiss striking railway employees. He also registered his protest over the supersession of Supreme Court judges.

Assertive prez

The then acting president, B D Jatti, who took over the presidency temporarily in the wake of the death of Ahmed in early 1977, proved more assertive. When requested by the Janata government to sign the ordinance dissolving nine assemblies in the states ruled by the Congress, Jatti prevaricated, pleading that the Centre had no powers to prematurely dissolve duly-elected assemblies without proper reason. Then prime minister Morarji Desai was forced to hold out the threat of his resignation if Jatti delayed the ordinance and the Janata Party even organised angry demonstrations against the acting president.

Matters hardly improved even after the Janata Party installed Sanjiva Reddy. Reddy and Desai could not get along and the latter prevented the President from going abroad even on ceremonial visits. Reddy, nursing a grouse against the Janata government, made constitutional history when he invited Charan Singh to form a government after Morarji Desai lost his majority in the Lok Sabha.

Reddy set yet another precedent when he dissolved Lok Sabha on the advice of a prime minister who could not prove his majority. Zail Singh installed Rajiv Gandhi soon after Indira Gandhi’s assassination even before the Congress parliamentary party elected him as its leader. It is another matter that both Zail Singh and Rajiv Gandhi were at loggerheads more often than not.

I wish Pranab Mukherjee had utilised his term to erase the decision which he took during the Emergency. He was the right-hand man of Sanjay Gandhi, an extra-constitutional authority. Hence, his name will not go down well in the history. Like his predecessors, he too was mired in controversies particularly when he pu­blished the book while in office. He could have waited for retirement to pen down his experience at Rashtrapati Bhavan.

Meanwhile, the present government at the Centre must explain how secularism can survive when soft-Hindutva is spreading in the country. By elevating Ansari as the president, the BJP would have assured the people that the country’s ethos cannot go astray and do things which do not fit into the idea of India: democratic and secular.