Presidents are expected to shun politicking
Blog Friday, May 29, 2015 - 05:30
One always has to exercise a degree of discretion when attempting to be critical about a sitting President. The holder of the highest office in the country is supposed to represent and embody all the positive attributes that symbolize the country. Not only is he/she expected to shun partisan politicking but is expected to display utmost impartiality in dealing with disputes between the political formations. In other words, to borrow David-Ben-Gurion's popular phrase, a president should be a person that the nation feels good about. And the State of Israel followed this statesman's advice when they were embarking on a choice for their first president. They decided to shun all active politicians and pitch in for Albert Einstein who refused. The position ultimately went to Chaim Weizmann. For the present generation who may not be as familiar with this name (as they would be of Einstein) , Weizmann was an all time great of chemistry who had conducted stellar work on acetone. His name finds a mention in Philip Barker's 'Top 1000 Scientists From The Beginning of Time to 2000 AD' - generally regarded as the most authentic selection of the top superstars of science which finds a place in the Nobel Library reference section. Broadly India which had acquired independence around the same time subscribed to the same principles. We have had the presidential office that has been graced by luminaries like Radhakrishnan, Zakir Hussain, Narayanan and Abdul Kalam who have added stature to the office. Ruefully there have been others who have not lived upto the promise and a few who have only served to debase the office. When the last presidential elections were about to take place, the country was presented with a choice of Pranab Mukherjee and Purno Sangma. I must confess I had some serious reservations about Pranab Mukherjee although admittedly I did not know much about Sangma's credentials. My major apprehensions were rooted in his very questionable role during the period of Emergency . I believe that like all the Emergency culprits , he had not reassured a large section that his actions were not manifestations of bad faith. He did not even hesitate to badmouth Justice Shah the former Chief Justice known for his rectitude -Shah was heading the enquiry into the Emergency excesses. The most unfortunate part of the saga was that those who replaced Indira Gandhi and her A-team proved unequal to the task of governance and the government fell under the weight of its own contradictions paving way for the return of the fallen dictator. Her first actions unsurprisingly were to nullify all the commissions of enquiry against herself and her minions by all means possible. Justice Shah had complied his report. Indira made certain that the report was removed from all the libraries in India and copies were burnt. It was years later in the Australian National Library I actually got to read the report in its entirety. Pranab is one of the culprits identified. My own generation had its political baptism during the Emergency era. I vividly recall the dark days when we used to smuggle out in the dark to paste poster in full knowledge that we could be shot without any redressal;habeus corpus had been snatched away from us courtesy ADM Jabalpur vs. Shivkant Shukla judgement (which surely must rank alongside Dred Scott as the worst judgement in a democratic state. To us, elevation of a person so egregiously tainted by Emergency was an insult. I wrote a column in the Newslaundry outlining my concern. To the best of my knowledge, the only other columnist who expressed similar concerns was Ram Jethmalani in theSunday Guardian. But it seemed that people had either forgotten the Emergency or had convinced themselves that Mukherjee had paid his dues, despite the fact that he had never acknowledged let alone apologised for his dubious role during that dark period. The Fourth Estate went out of its way to promote Pranab who had always been known to keep them in good humour. Even Arnab Goswami otherwise aggressive abandoned his declared hostility towards politicians when he interviewed Pranab-they ended up discussing the comeraderie Pranab enjoyed with Arnab's uncle. I believe that apart from the passage of time, there were two other reasons why Pranab had an easy ride. The first was that Pratibha Patil had proved to be the most abject failure in all respects and there was a general feeling that Pranab was at least better than her;I do not subscribe to this as one would really have had to make an effort to be worse than Patil. The other was that many of the major Emergency culprits had switched political parties-it would be difficult to identify a party today that goes not have an Emergency tainted. The feeling was that it would be unfair to single out Congress (I) for the blame. Pranab as expected won hands down. I recall a Bengali anchor expressing her delight by declaring "Jai Bangla". Sceptics like myself genuinely wanted to believe that the dignity of the office would ensure that the new president would fit into his role. For a little while, we were pleased that there were no real presidential blunders which characterized his predecessor. But after that we observed many disturbing signs. Abhijit Mukherjee, Pranab's son was provided a Congress (I) ticket. He had no political/social credentials of note nor was he recognized for his erudition and scholarship. Offsprings of presidents of course have a right to pursue their own political careers. But in this case the concerns shared by many including myself were that this was facilitated by his father's position (much the same way Shankar Giri was elevated). If this was not enough , this first term MP was allocated the residence previously meant for teh Finance Minister which he was not entitled to. We all observed this man's calibre when he spoke on the Nirbhaya issue. And this clearly was not enough-his daughter was awarded Congress (I) ticket to fight the Delhi Assembly elections and made the party spokesperson without having any political credentials of note. Then we observed another event which left many with a bad taste! Presidents while in office do not as a rule badmouth present and past political opponents not just in India but in most democracies. Pranab wrote his memoirs in which he took pot shots at his opponents while enjoying perks of presidential immunity. I was also not very impressed to note his publishers advertising this memoir on the front page of national dailies. I do not recall any past president indulging in this conduct. Then we came across a leak from the Essar which presents the then Finance Minister now the president in a very unflattering light. His presidential position enables him to avoid making a comment on this very disconcerting matter. But what prompted me to pen this column was Pranab's diatribe against the media today on the Bofors matter in a Swedish daily. If this was not partisan, I do not know how to describe it. Imagine the uproar that would have resulted had Modi tried to capitalize on the Bofors matter while abroad! The saddest part is that the president was being unacceptably economical with the facts. I have myself examined all the documents presented by Chitra Subramaniam and while I do not find any direct evidence linking Rajiv and his family, the evidence against Quattrocci was absolutely clinching and there was enough circumstantial evidence to convince even a legal rookie that shabby attempt had been made to shield Quatrocci in which not just Rajiv but the entire party apparatus of Cngress (I) was complicit. A non-descript lawyer Bharadwaj who had been made a minister was catapulted to gubernatorial position after an egregious act of defreezing Quatrocci's account thereby removing all possible leverage that the government could have had against this fugitive from justice and an absconder. And I do not accept that Pranab does not know that the issue is not about the efficiency of the guns purchased but illegal gratification. Yet he raised the irrelevant and tangential issue in order to obfuscate the matter. I have also had the good fortune of examining the Watergate documents and despite what the likes of Mani Aiyar have to state, the evidence Chitra presented against Quattrocci was far more convincing than against Nixon in the Watergate scandal where only John Dean spoke out against his president. Clearly we do not have space for the likes of Woodward and Bernstein within our system. We must remember that not even Nixon dared to utter a ward against the two and contrast that with what is happening here. And Pranab sadly has been a major disappointment for many including myself!