No. 13 is lucky for Pranab

Some people have been pointing out Pranab’s failures as finance minister. A failed finance minister may become a successful President. This can also work in the reverse.

Our Republic will soon have our 13th President installed in the nation’s highest office. Thirteen is supposed to be an unlucky number but not so for the most likely winner in the current presidential sweepstake. Let us hope that under the 13th presidency, the nation stuck in the quagmire of moral and economic decadence, can be extricated and led to a great future.

The previous 13 presidential elections except one were almost routine affairs and there was nothing extraordinary about them. The 1969 presidential election was a photo finish which was won on the basis of second preference votes. It was the first and only time when a Prime Minister put up a candidate opposing the ruling party’s official nominee. Indira Gandhi sponsored V.V. Giri against the Congress Party’s official candidate, Neelam Sanjeeva Reddy, and called for conscience voting. Had Giri lost that election, that would have had a very adverse political fallout for her. His victory strengthened her hands and Indira Gandhi split the Congress Party, sidelining the all-powerful syndicate that had installed her in power. This election marked the beginning of a new era in Indian politics in which the grammar of polity changed. Political power replaced political morality. It started being blatantly misused to achieve questionable ends. This was in sharp contrast to the preceding era of Lal Bahadur Shastri. More than any Prime Minister of India, Shastri epitomised political morality. He kept his personal life and the office of the Prime Minister totally clean, investing both with highest moral authority. Although denied presidency in 1969, Neelam Sanjeeva Reddy had the satisfaction of being elected President unopposed in 1977, when Indira Gandhi was not in power. That has been the one and only occasion when a President was elected unanimously.
The run-up to the 2012 presidential poll has several distinct features. The two main political parties kept the name of their candidate close to their chest. There was a debate about a President with or without a political background. Out of the 12 Presidents we have had so far, three have been very eminent apolitical personalities — Dr S. Radhakrishnan, Dr Zakir Hussain and Dr A.P.J. Abdul Kalam. They added much lustre to the nation’s highest office. Among Presidents with a political background Rajendra Prasad did the same but three of them denigrated the highest office.
The current presidential election is linked with the future of the present government. A defeat at the presidential poll could lead to the fall of the UPA-2, widely viewed as a tottering and non-performing government. Two regional parties providing life support to the government caused a political earthquake when they suddenly declared three names as their choice for the next President, all unacceptable to the Congress. A night of deceit and treachery followed and matters got resolved for the ruling party. The Congress was forced to announce the name of its candidate for the presidential poll. It chose Pranab Mukherjee who commands support across party lines. It is widely believed that had it not been for that night of shenanigans, Mr Mukherjee would not have been spared by the party and would have missed the bus again as in 2007.
Dr Kalam as President of India had won the hearts and minds of the people of this country and had rightly come to be known as the people’s President. There was much popular resentment at his not being given a second term in 2007. In 2012, there has been overwhelming support among the people wanting him back as President. Opinion polls have confirmed this. Vox populi, vox dei, voice of the people is the voice of God. In a democracy legislators are entrusted by the people to rule the country. They may not be legally bound to abide by the wishes of the people but in a vibrant democracy, they need to respect them. The electoral college for President is confined to MPs and elected legislators of state Assemblies. The Congress, being in power, can manage the numbers. It does not want Dr Kalam as President. As numbers did not total up, Dr Kalam decided not to contest the presidential polls. The BJP was keen to support Dr Kalam for President, but in view of his decision, has decided to support P.A. Sangma. The Congress and the chatterati have been critical of this. They maintain that this will only be election for the sake of election, instead of a national consensus. Except in the case of Sanjeeva Reddy there has never been a unanimous presidential election. There have been few well contested elections.
The BJP would have been guilty of dereliction of duty as an Opposition, if it did not offer even opposition to a ruling party so mired in corruption, dynastic politics and poor governance leading to economic landslide and rising prices hitting the people so hard. Electoral contests are the stuff democracy is made of. It is only in a Communist polity that all elections are unanimous and the party chief and the politburo take precedence over the head of the government and the functioning of the government. The President of the ruling party and the National Advisory Council are virtually functioning in that manner. Let unanimous elections not further distort our democracy.
No doubt Mr Mukherjee has had a distinguished parliamentary record. He has been in Parliament since 1969. A successful troubleshooter for his party, he enjoys good relations with leaders cutting across party lines. After Indira Gandhi’s assassination he had the temerity to question heredity for Prime Minister. He had to go out of the party for a few years before being taken back but his prime ministerial ambition got ruled out for ever. Presidency will be a well-earned substitute for him. Some people have been pointing out his failures as finance minister in tackling corruption and preventing economic downslide and spiralling prices. A failed finance minister may become a successful President. This can also work in the reverse. Manmohan Singh was a successful finance minister but is not likely to go down in history as a successful Prime Minister in managing the country’s economy. It is a coincidence that Mr Mukherjee had quit as finance minister to fight the presidential poll on June 26, 2012, the same date in 1975 when as a minister in finance, he had let loose income tax hounds during the Emergency.
Mr Sangma, a former Speaker of the Lok Sabha and the only tribal leader in the country of national stature, is a good candidate for presidency. He may not have the numbers with him to take him to the Rashtrapati Bhavan but he is entitled to our regard and good wishes. His tenacity should be admired. Let the electoral dice be thrown and let there be good luck for the winner.
Whoever emerges the winner in the 2012 presidential sweepstakes should have the unstinted regard and support of the entire nation. Let us hope that the 13th President of India fully restores the high dignity of that august office.

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