In fielding Ms Kumar, it is true that Mrs Gandhi and other Opposition leaders have put some pressure on the JD(U) leadership.
I often regret the inertia amongst the Indian public. This inactiveness is visible even among elected leaders. Why? Or rather a more intriguing question would be how? I would try to address both these queries in due course as I proceed further to talk about the toast of the town — the ensuing presidential elections of 2017. Pranab Mukherjee has been a seasoned politician from the old Congress school and thus he could bring the dignity to the coveted office also.
Some of his speeches in last five years would be remembered as words of wisdom of a statesman — who has worked closely with leaders like Indira Gandhi.
In 2002, in the height of anti-Muslim mayhem in Gujarat, the BJP had fielded missile scientist A.P.J. Abdul Kalam. Now it is the turn of a dalit — Ram Nath Kovind. The nomination by the BJP-led NDA comes at a time when there have been a series of anti-dalit incidents either in the name of sheer politics or cow vigilante in both the states Prime Minister Narendra Modi is directly associated with — Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh. He hails from Gujarat and at present he is an elected MP from UP’s famous pilgrim town Varanasi.
For the first time two dalit leaders will be fighting against each other. The united Opposition candidate, Meira Kumar, has rightly tried to hit at those who are trying to play the July 17 presidential polls as a dalit versus dalit battle.
Whether one likes it or not, the contest this time for country’s First Citizen talks of a different kind of politics that has come in — and largely due to the Modi factor.
An overwhelming section of India did not vote for Mr Modi in 2014. Hence, there is little to dispute that an overwhelming section of Indians would like to oppose Mr Modi tooth and nail too. That way even Opposition’s battle is against Mr Modi and not Mr Kovind, a low profile politician, per se.
That way one must hasten to add here that despite Nitish Kumar-led Janata Dal (United) walking out from the Opposition camp — at least for the presidential elections — it goes to the sagacity of Congress president Sonia Gandhi that she could keep the Opposition unity and also name a candidate.
There are certainly merits in the candidature of Ms Kumar, a former Lok Sabha Speaker and also a dalit leader from Bihar. A woman and a dalit — “Bihar ki Beti” — as rightly described — has certainly put some pressure on the JD(U) camp. Mr Kumar, may be in the time to come, may have to regret his decision of siding with the choice of Amit Shah and Mr Modi.
In terms of efficiency and more suitability respected Ms Kumar, a former IFS official and former Lok Sabha Speaker, has an edge. Numbers can be against her, but maturity in democracy has often challenged the number games.
Having said this it is imperative to look at the merits in opposing Mr Modi and the candidature of Mr Kovind. First, Mr Modi and Mr Shah hardly gave seriousness to the episode of so-called “consultation” with Opposition parties. The Opposition leaders said they believed in the government and the ruling BJP version and thus did not expect announcement of candidate’s name in “isolation”.
But what was at play is the sheer political shrewdness of Modi-Shah duo whereas the requirement was some kind of statesmanship and frank interaction as was the case during Atal Behari Vajpayee’s tenure. But statesmanship in politics cannot come all of a sudden.
Now I focus on basic questions of why and how Indian “inertia” is linked to this year’s presidential elections and more importantly how the elected MPs and MLAs should be careful about their decision while exercising their right to vote for choosing the First Citizen of India.
Mr Modi is alleged to be running an autocratic style of system. Like all dictatorships, which are often curiously similar in their modus operandi, Mr Modi-led dispensation also gives short thrift to truth. Over the last three years, he has tried to push for one kind of politics wherein there is a sustained “toxic” campaign against Muslins and even Christians.
So when truth is a casualty, Mr Modi is hardly in a position to gauge through the media and otherwise on what is really people’s choice on the next Rashtrapati. Therefore, his way of functioning is actually imposing someone from the top and this must be resisted. This is what I have been trying to emphasise.
Like every authoritarian ruler, yet again, the Modi-Shah duo has been trying to look for legitimacy to their politics. Even as we in the Opposition camp would not like to admit, the UP mandate has boosted their confidence. A “no-contest” presidential election would have given them another opportunity.
Hence, all the credit must be shared by Mrs Gandhi, the Left and other Opposition leaders for fielding a formidable candidate in the form of Ms Kumar.
The numbers may not be in their side, but there are enough merits in the case being build up by the Opposition camp that there has to be an “ideological” contest as Mr Kovind is also a RSS-loyalist and also that Opposition parties led by the Congress with the support of hardcore anti-BJP, the Left parties need to sustain a strong anti-BJP or for that matter an anti-Modi politics till 2019.
In fielding Ms Kumar, it is true that Mrs Gandhi and other Opposition leaders have put some pressure on the JD(U) leadership. Despite being a dalit and a woman, I have said earlier Ms Kumar is also a seemingly “more qualified” leader than the NDA nominee.
For her part, former Lok Sabha Speaker and united Opposition candidate for presidential polls Ms Kumar sought to take the battle to the ruling combine NDA’s camp and said that “capability and experience must always supersede” every other consideration while choosing the person for the high office of President of India.
“The post of the President carries the responsibility of safeguarding and defending our constitutional principles... It transcends the considerations of caste, religion or region. The post is not symbolic; it articulates, in the fullest sense, the basis of our electoral philosophy — that capability and experience must always supersede all other considerations,” Ms Kumar said in a statement.
It’s in a way a case of calling spade a spade. Thus, it all remains to be seen how things span out even — as stated above — numbers are in the side of Modi-Shah duo.
I am not expecting miracle. But politics is all about giving it a democratic fight. The office of President of India requires to ensure that citizens’ liberties are not in peril. The beauty of our democracy lies in the strength of the Indian Constitution.
Ms Kumar and the Opposition camp has made right moves by launching the campaign from Sabarmati Ashram, the hub of activities associated with Gandhian values. It is important for the country.
We are set for a dalit President yet again. K.R. Narayanan was first dalit leader at that office and thanks to his long Congress association — he was at the Rashtrapati Bhavan by his merits. Can the BJP speak with similar confidence in days to come?
Atrocities against dalits have been taking place mostly in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. Mr Kovind comes from one state (UP) and he was governor of another — Bihar. In Mr Modi’s native state of Gujarat also crimes against dalits make for around 160 per cent.
In the ultimate analysis, apart from constitutional safeguards, time and again, people have to bank on the courage and vigilance of masses. In a presidential election — the power to be vigilant — rests with members of the electoral college. MPs and MLAs know it well that no party whip would be applicable as this election process goes through a secret ballot. They can press the button according to their conscience.
The writer is a former chairman of the Andhra Pradesh Electronics Development Corporation and founder, Prof. G.V. Sudhaker Rao Foundation