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Mainstream, Vol XLV No 26

In Search of a President

Tuesday 19 June 2007, by Prem Singh

The Indian Express has initiated a debate on the qualities and the role of the President of India—a debate that would expectedly prove fruitful and significant since the nation is soon about to elect its next President. The present President Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam retires on July 24, 2007. In an article published in the Hindi daily Dainik Bhaskar (May 31, 2007) titled Agla Rashtrapati Kaisa Ho? I submitted that the ongoing discussion regarding the election of the future President of India is too generalised. In keeping somewhat with the tune of ‘Kaun Banega Crorepati?’, it has become a guessing game. The abilities/qualities of the next President and his desired role in view of the acute problems that challenge our nation and society today hardly figure in the discussion. The Left block alone in the present mainstream politics has delineated certain criteria for the candidature of the future President. The two powerful parties of the mainstream, the Congress and the BJP, are busy in either finalising the name of their candidate or seeking consensus for it. The remaining part of the political mainstream, the so-called third force, is indifferent towards the matter except when it comes to the issue of cashing in with their support. This is evident in the case of Mayawati, the BSP supremo and the Chief Minister of UP. The Governor, T. V. Rajeshwar, who is more of a Congressman than a Governor, in his special powers, has refused permission to the CBI to prosecute her in the Taj Corridor case. Experts and commentators view this development as an understanding that Mayawati will extend her support to the Congress candidate in lieu of her acquittal. On the other hand, the Vice-President, Bhairon Singh Shekhawat, by distancing himself from the ‘communal’ BJP and by presenting himself as an Independent candidate, in order to wrest the support of the ‘secular’ parties, has created a peculiar situation. By taking this course he simply proves that those who have linked him with the RSS/BJP are not wrong in their allegation. Both situations are highly unethical: Mayawati’s support in return of her acquittal and also Shekhawat’s political manoeuvring for the topmost post.

The Left parties , as I have mentioned above, have suggested that the presidential candidate should possess a political background, should have knowledge of the Constitution and the wisdom to establish a proper balance among the legislature, the judiciary and the executive. He must have secular credentials as well. All these yardsticks are valid in general. But Fali S Nariman, writing in The Indian Express (June 5, 2007) makes a special case for the present times: “... India’s President of today (and of tomorrow) can, and must, play a more meaningful role in the governance of this great country. The times urgently demand it and the Constitution does not (within limits) prohibit it.” When Nariman writes ‘the times urgently demand it’, he perhaps wants to emphasise the pressing conditions of the present times that the new President should address by playing a meaningful role as per his/her constitutional obligation. The understanding of ‘times’ (present, past or future) may differ and vary individually as well as holistically and variations can exist too with relation to the understanding of problems and challenges pertaining to the ‘times’. But any room for a similar variation of perception cannot be allowed to exist when it comes to the Constitution of India.

THE present times are the times of liberalisation/globalisation. The meaning and understanding of liberalisation is altogether different for those who suffer because of it and are its victims and those who are its ardent supporters, who also happen to be the beneficiaries. The Adivasis, the Dalits, the artisans, the small traders, labourers/child labourers, unemployed youth and the poor have not faced such difficult times prior to the beginning of liberalisation. An unprecedented and disturbing phenomenon in human history—the suicide of lakhs of desperate farmers—is a big question-mark on the ‘virtues’ of liberalisation. The pertinent question is: as the constitutional head and the custodian of the Constitution, one who has a special constitutional responsibility to protect the interests of the Adivasis and the Dalits, how should the President define his/her role and decide his/her course of action?

If one were only to look at the Preamble and the Directive Principles of the Constitution, one would easily realise that the economic and other policies carried out by one government after another in the past decade-and-a-half, have been contrary and opposed to the Constitution. Any attempt to sideline the issue in terms of ‘interpretations’, ‘perceptions’, ‘future vision’ etc. by self-styled economists and so-called constitutional experts cannot deny the fact that liberalisation based on the high-capitalist-consumerist ideology goes against the spirit of the Constitution and the dreams of the makers of our Constitution. The overall development of each and every citizen and each section of the society simultaneously, should be the primary and foremost agenda for the country’s President. To define the role and the course of action for the President it is pertinent to ponder over whether the economic and other policies of the country under liberalisation are in accordance with the basic tenets and the ideology of the Constitution. That the development process in the country should be based on a self-reliant economic system, is one of the basic tenets enshrined in the Constitution. This is in itself a rejection of the philosophy behind liberalisation.

The present mainstream political establishment in support of liberalisation has done enormous damage to the very spirit of the Constitution. Being the custodian of the Constitution, the President of the country in the present times should be one who should firmly prevent the governments from causing further damage to the Constitution. Efforts should also be made to simultaneously repair the damage committed previously. In fact, the violation of the Constitution in the denial of rights to a large population of the country is a nightmare unimagined by the makers of the Constitution. They could never have ever thought that in free India any government could mete out such unjust treatment to the deprived as has been done by the governments in the past decades. They had hoped that if the Constitution was allowed to operate in a proper manner, the need for reservation would automatically come to an end. But in the times of liberalisation, the meaning of reservation has changed. Now thegovernments, in the name of reservation, offer a small share of the booty (grabbed through the sell-off of the national resources) to vocal and aggressive sections, so as to stifle the discontent of the larger, deprived population. In the present times, we need a President who will remember that the Constitution exists even for those who cannot make their voices heard and are unable to assert their rights as equal citizens of the country. It is needless to say that by thus protecting the sanctity of the Constitution, the soverignity of the nation too is protected and upheld.

The author is a former Fellow, Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla; he is at present a Reader, Department of Hindi, University of Delhi.

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