Can we have peoples’s choice ?
Col (Dr) PK Vasudeva (Retd)
The political parties’ clamour for having their choice of candidate in the Rashtrapati Bhavan (President House) doesn’t augur well for the post itself, the Head of State. Not only would majority of citizens welcome a restrain but would approve that the election should be based on people’s choice, as he is the first citizen. The Rashtrapati must be a person of high moral values, well recognised in social, political and scientific circles, high profile academician and known for his impeccable integrity and character. There should be no two opinions.
However, there is a nagging doubt that if this idea is put across, the Government, the Constitutional purists and political power brokers are bound to immediately shoot it down. And argue that Article 54 of the Constitution has provided an elaborate procedure of electing the President and that is how it should be.
The Rashtrapati is elected by the members of an electoral college consisting of the elected members of both Houses of Parliament and the elected members of the Legislative Assemblies of the States, including those of Delhi and Pondicherry. It will be further emphasised that the Constitutional provision of Article 54 has stood the test of time so far and therefore where is the need to bring in a change. Unfortunately, they appear to be afraid of bringing reforms in the Presidential election, which have acquired importance with the passage of time.
Former Chief Election Commissioner, TS Krishnamurthy, has suggested a Constitutional amendment to include local governments elected representatives in the Presidential Electoral College as a way of broad-basing the composition of the electors to the high office. S Kalyanaraman, who has held a top post in the Asian Development Bank, supports the proposition, stating that the inclusion of members of the Panchayati Raj institutions will be consistent with the Indian tradition of janapadas and shall also strengthen those institutions and help them slowly evolve into the Peoples’ Parliament like China’s Peoples’ Congress.
It must be noted that there is no way the political class can be stopped from going for mediocrity or a worthless dummy as the President, since it will regard as a threat any person of strong moral fibre and high professional and intellectual endowments with capacity for independent thinking.
Whatever may be the case, the paramount consideration before the political class in the choice of the President should be that he should do the nation proud? To fulfil this mandatory requirement, political parties should shed their narrow party interests, and agree on the best person for the job.
The Constitution has made him an integral part of Parliament itself, and on the analogy of Britain’s Constitutional Monarch, India’s President too can exercise the prerogatives ‘to advise, to encourage and to warn’ the Government where nation’s well-being is at stake. That is why it is necessary to choose persons of true and solid worth to occupy the Presidency. Let us hope India’s political class will act up to the sacred responsibility cast on it.
For the past 60 years the majority of those elected to the high office so far have been persons of high stature with unsurpassed record of public service. Dr. Rajendra Prasad, Dr. S. Radhakrishnan, Dr. Zakir Hussein and Dr. A. P. J. Abdul Kalam are names to conjure with and can hold their own before the best in the world. Rajendra Prasad was a towering freedom hero of freedom struggle but for whose wise steering of the debates in the Constituent Assembly as its President, it would not have been possible to frame such a masterpiece of a Constitution within such a short time. Radhakrishnan inspired such awe around the world with his scholarly intellect that even Josef Stalin meekly submitted to him.
They had the moral eminence to pull up even the Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru on occasions and has also acknowledged how he deferred to them and benefited from their advice. Kalam made a game-changer of the presidency, by acting as a useful bridge between the people and the their representatives and electrifying the younger generation with his rousing call to make the nation number one in the world.
Giani Zail Singh had no background other than that of party politics. However, the Giani did give a jolt or two to the Congress in whose sycophantic culture he had been nurtured, first by killing the draconian Postal Bill passed by the huge Congress majority, and by keeping Rajiv Gandhi himself on tenterhooks over possible dismissal.
That out of the 12 full-time Presidents India has had so far, four were unmatched in their accomplishments, four were outstanding, two were passable, and only two were below par, is an excellent track record by any reckoning.
By and large, the political establishments of the day had adhered to plausible parameters for selection of candidates. The compulsions of coalition politics and the dominance of regional parties will also ensure that the persons fielded should command acceptance cutting across party lines.
Even so, political parties, in general, and the ruling dispensation at the Centre, in particular, should adopt the convention of broadening and deepening the process of consultations among themselves, on the one hand and, on the other, between themselves and the civil society, encompassing the legal fraternity, business and industry, trade unions, women’s groups, voluntary organisations, the academia and even the student community, to arrive at a consensus on the choice of the Presidential candidate.
This will, to a great extent, get over the limitations of an indirect election, and generate a sense of the people’s participation in the choice. This will also lead to the President being regarded, when he assumes charge, as a choice of the people as a whole, reflecting their aspirations and symbolising the unity of the nation.
This will help him/her rise to the full potential as a friend, philosopher and guide to his Council of Ministers, Parliament and the people at large – exactly as the founding fathers intended him to be. Indeed, if he is a person of sagacity and integrity, he can, from behind the scenes, even serve as an antidote to political opportunism and instability. A unanimous election for the country’s highest post should be the efforts of all the political parties to show solidarity in the largest democracy of the world. (INFA)