Who Should Be The Next Indian President?

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By Dr.K.Vidyasagar Reddy *

The presidential election in India has always been a prestigious affair, howsoever hotly debated it could be. Although the position assumes very significant, its powers and functions are largely ceremonial. Over a period of time, the presidential contest was marked by political differences between the ruling and opposition camps. Thus, the presidential contest used to evoke sharp reactions from different political camps. Except once, the post attracted serious contests on all occasions in the last few decades. In the past, almost all the presidential candidates were elected due to the support of major political parties that represented the ruling coalition.

Obviously, some of the Indian presidents were treated as merely the representatives of the ruling parties at the centre. In any case, the position does not require any special qualifications and skills to be endowed with. In fact the Indian president, being a dejure head, acts on the advice and strength of the ruling part(y)ies at the centre. There are hardly any discretionary powers being conferred on the president of India . However, the president seems to be enjoying certain extraordinary powers and functions in times of political crisis or when during the course of coalition era.

Who's Candidates?

In the present election, the media is excited with the main contenders, both being political heavy weights like Finance Minister Pranab Mukherji and the former speaker PA Sangma. In fact, both served the ruling congress party in various capacities for decades on. While Mukherji still remained a congress leader though resigned from the Union Cabinet, for being fielded as candidate of the ruling party, Sangma had to part ways from the congress about a decade ago and formed the NCP, along with Sharad Pawar.

Presently, both these contenders hail from the same ruling combination (UPA) as the NCP is part of it. Meanwhile, due to differences on the presidential contest, Sangma resigned very recently from the NCP and thus distanced himself from the UPA and its politics. Keeping these developments in view, the major non-congress parties like the BJP, BJD, Akalidal, AIDMK and others have extended their support to Sangma. In other words, political polarisation in the country would precipitate fluid situation as the campaign generates more political heat by 19 th July when the polling is expected to take place.

Initially, there were some other candidates expected to be in the fray, but only these two candidates surfaced on the political horizon so far, they might continue to be in the race. One cannot even rule out the possibility of avoiding contest, if one of the candidates withdraws from the poll. Of course, nothing can be certain at the moment, as the complete scenario is yet to emerge once the nomination process is completed.

In the present kind of coalition politics of the country, it is really difficult for anyone to predict the outcome of election of the Rashtrapati. Political climate seems to be changing as and when parties and leaders alter their positions. Thus, the numbers projected for the election of the president cannot remain same as it is estimated to be. Whatever it be, the debatable question seems to be- who should be the next President of India?

What Happened?

Retrospectively speaking, India has had about dozen Presidents who were elected in political contests. Almost all of them got elected only because of political support that the candidates managed to get. However, the election became controversial for the first time, when the candidate of the then ruling party (Congress), Neelam Sanjeeva Reddy, was opposed by none other than the Prime Minister Indira Gandhi herself in 1967!

Keeping in view of the emerging political differences that led to a vertical split in the ruling party thereafter, she did campaign in favour of an Independent candidate VVGiri. Interestingly, she got him elected and used the presidential position for partisan interests. Incidentally, the position has been occupied by political leaders who are otherwise eligible for the top post in the country. Of course, the same candidate (N.Sanjeeva Reddy) got elected unanimously in 1979, when Indira Gandhi was voted out of power!

Which Criteria?

Apparently, the presidential candidates were invariably picked up on the basis of their qualifications and integrity. But, latently, the sociological factors of the candidates were crucial in their selection. In other words, more than what clinched the issue in selecting a presidential candidate on several occasions was their caste and community, besides their geographical locations. Whether or not one accepts this fact, the community criterion was the most decisive factor in the selection of the presidential candidate.

For instance, out of 12 Presidents of India, 4 were Upper caste/Brahmins (S.Radhakrishnan, V V Giri, R.Venkatraman and Shankar Dayal Sharma), 4 were Minorities include 3 Muslims (Zakir Husain, Fakhruddin Ali Ahmad and Abdul Kalam), 1 Sikh/OBC (Zail Singh), 3 were Forward/OBCs like 1 Kayastha (Rajendra Prasad-for 2 terms), 1 Maratha (Pratibha Patil-serving President), 1 Reddy (Sanjeev Reddy) and just 1 was Scheduled Caste (K. R. Narayan).

Incidentally, while SCs (16% population) are represented for only once and that too for just one term alone, none represented the STs (8%) in the last six and half decades! This list abundantly shows that the upper caste-Brahmins (3% of the total population) have enjoyed maximum representation (4 out of 12 i.e. 33.3%), in the list of Indian Presidents. Suffice it to say that the marginalised communities like the SCs and STs are yet to be included, leave alone empowered, even after decades of independence. Whereas the less numerical community like the Brahmins have already exceeded their limit of enjoying top position in the largest democracy like India . If democracy means head counting, then no democratic party should contemplate about a Brahmin candidate in the presidential election for the next 200 years or more.

What Democracy?

However, less said the better about Indian democracy that discriminates against majority people and communities politically and otherwise. Minority communities like the Brahmins have always been preferred to majorities like the Bahujan samaj in selection and election of positions of power at various levels. Particularly, at the top levels of power, the upper castes have been given ‘over reservation' facilities beyond their population figures, of course by negating the Constitutional provisions.

However, even though there are constitutional provisions being in vogue, for the benefit of the Bahujan samaj, otherwise described as lower castes like the SCs and STs among others, none of these provisions was ever implemented as per law. While these communities were provided with ‘under reservation' at the top level jobs, but ‘over reservation' at the lower level jobs, so much for the claims of reservations in India!

Incidentally, as observed earlier, presidential post is more a ceremonial and titular than a really powerful one. Even for such a dejure position, the marginalised communities find it difficult to be selected. Then one can imagine the fate of prime ministerial position that is defacto top position in the country. Thanks to Sonia Gandhi, even the prime ministerial position has also been demoted to the level of a nominated post, as is witnessed in the recent past. Suffice it to cite the case of present Prime Minister Dr.Manmohan singh!

Why Upper castes?

But still, it is ironical to note that none from the marginalised communities is found to be eligible for the top executive post in the country so far. No major party or national party is ready to field such candidates in the elections. Be that as it may. At least in the case of present Presidential election, it is still time for these parties to ponder over candidates belonging to the marginalised communities. Majority communities and their people are no longer tolerant towards the status quoist parties being dominant in the country for ever. Viewed in this backdrop, emergence of Mukherji as the major contender for the top post seems to be surprising, if not shocking.

Once again, fifth Brahmin (Pranab Mukharji) candidate is in queue to become the next President of this country. Not only the ruling combination (UPA) but also sections among the opposition (NDA) and the Left parties like the CPM are also found to be one on selecting Mukherji for the political race. What shocks the bahujan samaj more than anything else is the unconditional support being extended to the ruling party candidate, by the BSP and the SP, which claim to represent the marginalised communities in the country. And, of course, there are some small parties and leaders who had always opposed the congress party have also decided to back the candidature of the Brahmin samaj.

Why Discrimination?

We, in India, always believe in ‘unity in diversity', and propagate it so day in and day out. Thus, in such a country of extreme diversity due to caste, religion, region, language and ethnic multiplicity, all segments of the society should be represented in every sphere of governance. But, caste and community alone reign supreme, whether in politics or in governance. Particularly, casteist discrimination continues on end at all levels of society. As usual, upper caste, Brahmin samaj is desperate to have its 5th candidate as the next President in the country.

Thanks to the role of money, media and mafia in our manuwadi politics today, the people became mere spectators in the Presidential election. Expectedly, whole brahmin brigade is leaving no stone unturned to manipulate the national psyche to suit its narrow casteist agenda. Thus, the manuwadi media is engaged in projecting the cause of Pranab Mukherji, at the cost of P A Sangma, the candidate of the marginalised STs. Even though there has been no official word from any political party, on the issues of caste and community, rumour mongering by manuwadi media has reached its climax and getting shriller with each day passing.

Where's North-East?

When one looks at the Indian map, the most incompatible thing that passes one's mind is the asymmetrical character of its polity. Not just in terms of the divide along social spectrum, even in terms of the geographical divide, there is a lot of discrimination that exists in the country. For example, the North-Eastern region joined with the mainland India through an ‘umbilical cord' (barely 25-30 kms wide and around 125 kms long), has consistently suffered since independence. This region has found itself repeatedly neglected both politically and culturally by the centre.

Although the region is a rich repository of our cultural, social, religious and ecological diversity, it has never been given its due share in terms of political representation in the governance machinery. This sort of political neglect, coupled with socio-cultural neglect has resulted in drifting away of this geo-politically and strategically vital constituency from the mainland India . Besides, serious problems like cross border intrusions, extremism and socio-political upheavals are some of the perilous consequences of this age-old neglect.

Where's Tribal?

Moreover, the North-East region consists of predominantly Scheduled Tribe population. The total population of the STs is close to 8% at national level but in the region, it is much higher. In about 4 out of 8 North-eastern states, the tribal population is as much as 90% in each state. Incidentally, this area also has a preponderance of religious minorities like Christians, Buddhists and Muslims. P.A Sangma, who hails from North-East ( Meghalaya State ), has had a rather illustrious career record as Speaker of Lok Sabha, prior to it, the union Cabinet Minister and Chief Minister of his state.

Obviously, he is the tallest political leader from the region and outside. It would be in the fitness of things to see that such a person of high academic and political credentials should reach the august office of the President of this country. This will also correct a historic wrong perpetrated by the mainland India against the region. It requires immediate corrective measures to soothe these multipple wounds in the region. The election of Sangma, an accomplished Scheduled Tribe leader from North-East, to the office of President of India would send a clear signal to the whole world that ours is a true and vibrant democracy that believes in inclusiveness and fair share.

What Next?

Finally, at least the Bahujan Samaj that consists of SC,ST,OBC, Minority and women should come together and jointly recommend the name of P. A. Sangma for the post of President of India. A unanimous decision in this matter would be a positive step for the strengthening of the Indian democracy and would send a positive signal to the people of North East who have felt neglected for so long. Also, Scheduled Tribes, which is also one of the most marginalized sections of the country, would also feel one with the national ethos. The election of Sangma would go a long way towards redeeming the pledge that the country took at the dawn of independence that till date remains unfulfilled.

* Dr.K.Vidyasagar Reddy is Post-Doctaral Fellow(PDF) @Dept of political science, Osmania University, This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


Picture: Pranab Mukherjee (Left) P.A. Sangma (Right)


Vol. 12 - No. 3


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