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
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
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
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.
(Ranjana Khare works with the Indian Council of
Research on International Economic Relations, New Delhi. She can
be reached on email@example.com)