Published June 7, 2012 | 1:21 pm
Political parties have added factors like religion, gender, caste and region, making the otherwise more deserving ineligible for the post.
Come July and there will be a new occupant at Rashtrapati Bhavan. The journey seems more exciting than the destination itself.
Presidential elections have changed in recent years. Conventions like a vice president succeeding as president have been broken. It was never a healthy practice. India is not a monarchy where automatic succession takes place.
The general elections of 2014 will in all probability throw up another fractured mandate. The president will hold the key to government formation. Naturally, each political party wants a friendly president.
But the political class is subverting the constitution, which provides for the election of the president. The process of election is being replaced by selection, whereby a candidate is chosen by consensus. The election that follows is a formality. This was not what the constitution’s founders intended. They knew that only through elections can the best possible candidate emerge.
The constitution lays down fairly simple rules of eligibility to contest the presidential election. Political parties have added factors like religion, gender, caste and region, making the otherwise more deserving ineligible for the post. Thus an unwritten reservation has crept into the office.
Many may argue this sort of symbolism is needed in a diverse country like India. They should bear in mind that the president symbolizes the nation and does not represent any section of society. The fact that he belongs to a particular section can only be incidental. Merit and impartiality should be the only criteria for choosing the president.
We should not to be prisoners of symbolism. Symbolism does not lead to empowerment. Our current president, Pratibha Patil, was chosen for her gender, beating other more deserving candidates. The same media which is criticizing her today was gung ho over her credentials and lauded that a woman had occupied the chair.
Politcal parties may not admit publicly but it is actually Vice President Hamid Ansari’s minority status which they feel will fetch them electoral dividends in future. If representation of minorities or other sections of society is the criteria for the highest office, then there are other more neglected communities who might want to be represented.
Former president A.P.J. Abdul Kalam’s example is often pointed out to buttress the claim that a consensus candidate has added to the prestige of the office. What they fail to see is that Abdul Kalam’s identity as a member of a minority community was submerged by his brilliance and integrity. If ever there was a direct election for presidency, he will win hands down on sheer merit and not because of any other factor.
The office of president should not be the preserve of the political class but extend to people of eminence in other fields. An apolitical person will serve better as he will not be partisan.
The president’s role becomes all the more relevant today when a hung parliament is becoming the norm. The nation would certainly benefit if the office is occupied by the likes of Fali Nariman, J.S. Verma, J.M. Lyndogh, S.Y. Quraishi or Vinod Rai. They would any day be better than the names being proposed by political parties.
Instead of a consensus candidate, political parties should let genuine elections take place, refrain from issuing whips and elect the most suitable person on merit alone. The candidate thus elected will reflect the mandate of the whole parliament and not of any one formation.
We do not need Rashtrapati Bhavan to be reserved for a Dalit President, Tribal President, Woman President, Other Backward Class President but a President of the Republic of India.
(The writer works with the Indian Council of Research on International Economic Relations, New Delhi)