There are two important head-hunting missions going on in India now. One is for the coach of the Indian cricket team and other is for the office of President of the Republic of India. And yes, the order in which I have mentioned them is intentional. The former gets far more attention in mainstream media than the latter – when one considers them in the context of the impact the person can have on the country in the coming years. Maybe the reason is the general tendency of most of us to believe that the office of the President is a mere ‘rubber stamp’! The idea is childish, misinformed, regrettable and even dangerous.
Contrary to popular perception, the President of the Republic of India has an important role to play in the affairs of our nation. His role and duties are titular in nature for most of the time but the fact remains during critical situations be it an internal strife, an ordinance, a path breaking agreement with a foreign power, or an external crisis, the office of the President is to act as a counter-balance to the executive headed by the popularly elected Government, to ensure that his Government’s decisions are not dictated by short term political considerations or an individual’s whims and fancies. The Constitution provides the office of the President with reasonably sufficient powers to play this important balancing act. But as it is the case with any well written rule, to be effective, what we need is a person of high personal integrity who can exercise these powers in the right spirit.
Let me explain.
To me, one of the best Presidents that we had in recent times is Mr.K.R.Narayanan. He was the President in relatively unstable times and stood up to the Government on more than one issue. He made use of the ‘reasonably sufficient power’ conferred on him by the Constitution when he sent back the recommendation of the Vajpayee Government to dismiss the UP Government. That IS an important decision. He could have very well signed it and become a ‘rubber stamp’. But he did not. Mr. Narayanan did play another critical role too. As later reports confirm, he wrote to the office of the Prime Minister expressing his anguish over the Godhra and post-Godhra violence in Gujarat. He was wise enough not to engage in a public show of one-upmanship with the Government, but I am quite sure that his letter to the Prime Minister would have carried some weight in the subsequent actions of the Government of the day. And that’s what I meant by saying that the role of a President is a critical one, though it comes to play only in times of crisis.
Consider in contrast, the decision of the current President to go along with the Dr.Manmohan Singh’s Government to dissolve the Bihar assembly; a decision that the Supreme Court later held UNCONSTITUTIONAL!!! Left to me, I would have loved to see President Abdul Kalam resign the same day. As an individual, I have great respect for Dr.Kalam, a person who has dedicated his life to the nation. As a President, he has used his office well to get in touch with so many children across India and ignite a fire in them, a fire that will help propel India forward. As a President who threw open the Mughal gardens for the public and as the first ever President to exercise his franchise, he bought the office of the President closer to the ‘aam aadmi’. But Dr.Kalam failed as President when it mattered most and that to me is unacceptable. He should have put his foot down and refused to sign the declaration to dissolve the Bihar assembly. He did not. He became a ‘rubber stamp’.
That brings me to the central idea of this blog:
The office of the President of Republic of India is NOT a rubber stamp; but Presidents CAN be!!
Hence it is essential that we have the right person as the President. Right now, the front runner seems to be Home Minister Shivraj Patil. A person who lost his mandate in the last elections; a person who entered the Government through the back route of Rajya Sabha; a Home Minister under whose tenure we saw multiple terror strikes and internal crises – remember Manipur??. But Mr.Patil has a great qualification that will overshadow all these shortcomings. HE IS A GANDHI FAMILY LOYALIST. He can be a perfect rubber stamp. And THAT matters!! (especially when the elections are due in two years and none of the two main formations showing any clear signs of advantage.)
It is rather unfortunate that as a nation we have failed to engage in a concrete, well informed discussion to elect our next President. But we have more important things to follow. Graham Ford has turned down the offer of the coach for the Indian Cricket Team. We need to find another foreign coach soon. Else, we will end up having John Emburey 😉