B S Raghavan

Give people a say in choice of President

B. S. Raghavan | Updated on April 18, 2012

I can anticipate the reaction to the above proposition: It will be immediately shot down by Constitutional purists and political power brokers alike! They will argue that the Constitution, in Article 54, has provided for an elaborate procedure of electing the President 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, and this has stood the test of time.

True. Also, the majority of those elected to the high office so far have been persons of high stature with unsurpassed record of public service. Rajendra Prasad, S. Radhakrishnan, Zakir Hussein and 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 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 scholarship and intellect, that even Josef Stalin meekly submitted to his affectionately putting his arms round his shoulder!

GAME CHANGER

They had the moral eminence to pull up even Jawaharlal Nehru on occasions and the latter also has acknowledged how he deferred to them and benefited from their advice. When Zakir Hussein was elected the President, I was a US Congressional Fellow in Washington D.C., and watched with immense pride the leaders of the Senate and the House of Representatives taking note of it as free India's coming of age as a great, pluralist and inclusive nation.

There was Kalam who 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.

V. V. Giri, R. Venkataraman, Shankar Dayal Sharma and K. R. Narayanan too, although they may not have been exactly of the same ilk, brought lustre to the post, after their own fashion.

EXCELLENT RECORD

N. Sanjeeva Reddy and Giani Zail Singh had had no background other than that of party politics, and this showed. 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 score 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 tribune of the people as a whole, reflecting their aspirations and symbolising the unity of the nation.

This will help him rise to his full potential as the 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.

Published on April 15, 2012

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