Rasheeda Bhagat

Choose the best President

RASHEEDA BHAGAT | Updated on March 12, 2018 Published on May 07, 2012

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The Nationalist Congress Party’s Mr P. A. Sangma has flashed a wild card by suggesting that a tribal be considered for the post of president.

The Presidential dialogue centres around meaningless qualifications such as religion, caste and creed, while millions of Indians continue to live in poverty. What the highest office of the land needs is a person of stature.

When I was the Chief of News Bureau of the Indian Express in Chennai from 1991 to 96 and left the daily to join Business Line, a prominent city Muslim personality, who kept abreast of news developments across publications, told my brother: “She is a very good journalist and did some great articles at the Express. But please forgive me for saying this; it is a pity that during her five years heading that bureau, she did not recruit a single Muslim reporter in her bureau. She had the opportunity, but it was wasted.”

I could only laugh away this observation, or rather accusation, saying that my focus was on getting the best possible work done and fill any vacancy with the best qualified or skilled person available. Neither religion nor gender came into play while recruiting my team members.

But, while disengaging one's religious identity from one's professional duties comes easily — at least for those who don't wear their religion on their sleeves — polarisation along religious, communal or caste lines is only too common. Particularly, when it comes to larger socio-economic, political and other issues.

Political parties have thrived by exploiting the religious fervour of the masses. Indian Muslims played into the hands of the Congress for long decades before other saviours emerged in the form of the Samajwadi Party and other regional and even Left parties.

The BJP on its part, whipped up frenzy over the need to build a Ram Mandir at Ram's birthplace in Ayodhya, and used that powerful single wedge to expand its share on India's political map, finally coming to power at the Centre. Along with religion, caste and regional issues are also used shrewdly by our politicians to garner votes.

Pratibha's regional trump card

So all pervasive has been this tendency that even the highest office in the land — that of the President — has not escaped this phenomenon. Over six decades since Independence, we've had south-Indian Presidents, Muslim Presidents, the first Dalit President in K. R. Narayanan, and so on.

When it was time for the first woman to get into Rashtrapati Bhavan, the incumbent, Ms Pratibha Patil, romped home not so much because of the novelty of having a woman there.

She succeeded because she was a Maharastrian and the Shiv Sena was the first one to spoil the NDA's campaign seeking a second term for Dr A. P. J. Abdul Kalam. With Thackeray, not to mention an enthused Mr Sharad Pawar, rooting for their bhoomiputri, the Congress was able to get Ms Patil in without a contest.

Now that her term is coming to an end, there is renewed frenzy on who should be the next President. Though Mr Pranab Mukherjee seems to be heading the race in the Congress stables, Vice-President Hamid Ansari is also in the reckoning. More than any other credentials, his being a Muslim is being pushed to the fore, so that the Left parties and regional parties such as the Samajwadi Party would find it difficult to reject his candidature.

And, now, out of the blue, the Nationalist Congress party's Mr P. A. Sangma, has flashed a wild card by suggesting that a tribal should be considered for the post.

A tribal as President

Though the NCP has dissociated itself from this suggestion, Mr Sangma's salvo comes at a crucial time when the dialogue on our neglected tribal areas is picking pace. Left Wing extremism has been getting a much firmer foothold in the tribal areas of India in States such as Orissa, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand. The recent abduction of the Sukma Collector, Mr Alex Paul Menon, has once again brought to the fore the festering wounds in our mineral-rich tribal areas, driving hapless tribals into the arms of Maoists and naxalites.

There may be a plethora of reasons why the tribals in the five states are among the poorest and the most backward of Indians. In a recent interview to this columnist, the Union Tribal Affairs Minister, Mr Kishore Chandra Deo, fumed at how mining licences were being freely given to big corproates without a thought for the displaced tribals. He had thundered in that interview: “Under Lutyen's Delhi, if there is most valuable mineral (deposit), will you give it to the corporates to mine? In Colaba (in Mumbai), if they find something which is not available anywhere in the world, will you allow mining there?”

But while activists, NGOs and social scientists have picked up the cudgels on behalf of the hapless tribals vis-à-vis mining in their traditional homelands, Mr Sangma's salvo comes as a surprise. Yes, the tribals of India have been an oppressed lot and missed out in decades of development, progress and prosperity. But how will making a tribal the President of India for the first time alleviate their lot and annihilate all their pain and suffering? This country has had enough of such tokenisms which hold out zero benefits for the victims.

Tomorrow, if somebody close to the former Lok Sabha Speaker says that it is about time India had its first Christian President, the cap will nicely fit Mr Sangma himself on both the counts! The other Christian name doing the rounds is that of Defence Minister, Mr A. K. Antony.

While the Presidential dialogue centres around meaningless qualifications such as a Muslim, Tribal, Christian or whatever, millions of Indian lives continue to ebb away in the darkest, bottomless pits of poverty and illiteracy, denial and deprivation. What the highest office of the land needs is a person of stature, integrity and courage, who will shed his political lineage after being elevated to the post, and fulfil his Constitutional obligations without fear or favour.

Particularly, when the circus comes to Delhi after the 2014 elections, which are likely to throw up yet another fractured mandate.

(Responses to >blfeedback@thehindu.co.in and >rasheeda@thehindu.co.in)

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Published on May 07, 2012
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