The road ahead

Vis-à-vis the government, the ideal Indian President is neither obsequious nor obstreperous

The victory of the National Democratic Alliance’s candidate Droupadi Murmu in the Presidential election was a foregone conclusion. The Bharatiya Janata Party-led NDA was shrewd to choose a tribal, and a woman to boot, as its candidate. In a polity where identity and tokenism reign supreme, it was very difficult for political parties to vote against a tribal woman. Even Shiv Sena Uddhav Thackeray, who was recently removed as Maharashtra chief minister and who has no reason to oblige the NDA, was forced to support her, lest he be dubbed as anti-tribal, anti-poor, etc. Ditto with Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren. Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik was also forced to support Murmu as she belongs to his state. Even a Congress MLA in Odisha reportedly voted for Murmu, who earlier served as governor of Jharkhand, voted for her. Congress MLAs are also said to have voted for her in Meghalaya and Telangana. Such are the wages of identity politics. The Opposition’s candidate Yashwant Sinha, quite apart from less political support, didn’t have a background that is politically attractive. While he was supported by 34 parties, Droupadi Murmu got support from 44 parties. But, as mentioned earlier, she also benefited from cross-voting. She will take oath on July 25.

Now that the Presidential poll is over, she will have the onerous task of upholding the Constitution. The very office she will occupy after a few days confers authority in her to do that. There are several paths from which she has to choose. The seemingly easiest one is to become the rubber-stamp President: just do what the government of the day wants her to do, and thus hope to avoid any controversy. Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed, among some others, seems to have adopted this path. The perfunctory manner in which he signed the Emergency proclamation on June 25, 1975, without the consent of the then then Cabinet, precluded a tiff with prime minister Indira Gandhi — but it also tarnished his memory as being a President who was lackadaisical, if not timid, while putting his stamp of approval to a decision that undermined democracy for 21 months. Then there was president K.R. Narayanan (1997-2002), who was kind of antithesis to Ahmed. The Left-leaning Narayanan kept intervening all the time; the worst thing he did was disregard the precedent of asking the leader of the largest party to form government; he asked Atal Bihari Vajpayee to present him letters of support. Precedents multiplied, thus creating such a constitutional mess which our system is yet to get rid of. The best path for Murmu — indeed for most people — would be the Buddhist one: the middle way, avoiding the extremes of passivity and hyperactivity. Vis-à-vis the government, the ideal Indian President is neither obsequious nor obstreperous. This will also restore the dignity of the top office which got compromised by the behaviour of some of her predecessors. Hopefully, she chooses the middle path.

Source: The Pioneer