Abdul Kalam for President? You hear these murmurs growing louder by the day and wonder if you are in a time warp. Wasn’t Kalam President earlier? Wasn’t there a clamour to give him a second term, a clamour which the Congress resisted, probably because he had become too popular, and was seen to be too independent?
Whatever the reason, APJ Abdul Kalam then went into the retirement from which he had earlier been snatched and pitch-forked into the presidency. Is he to come out of retirement once again?
It is interesting to see the other names floating around as likely candidates. The three main contenders seem to be Pranab Mukherjee, AK Antony and Meira Kumar, in that order. On the periphery are names like Hamid Ansari, Karan Singh and PA Sangma, though the chances of the last named have probably been shot in the head by the candidate’s own party chief, Sharad Pawar, when he said that the next candidate should be non-political.
Will it indeed be a non-political person who will occupy Rashtrapati Bhavan? If that is to be so, the names that crop up instantly are of Narayana Murthy, now no longer running Infosys, and Ratan Tata, on the verge of handing over the reins of the Tata group to his designated successor. These names are attractive, and will raise the stature of the presidency, a much needed elevation after the lacklustre years of Pratibha Patil. But I don’t see this happening: politicians and the corporate sector have an uneasy relationship, and men of the calibre of Tata and Murthy will be seen as being too independent in their thoughts and probable actions in case of a constitutional crisis.
If the general consensus is to choose a non-political figure, why restrict ourselves to the corporate sector? Why not look at people from fields like public service, culture and so on? Two very eminent names suggest themselves readily: there’s Aruna Roy and Ila Bhatt. Bhatt’s NGO Seva has been doing sterling work to help the lowest of the low, a selfless effort of many years standing which has been recognised even by the United Nations.
Roy’s was the one sane and balanced voice when the Lokpal agitation produced high-decibel shrillness from every quarter. She was also instrumental in bringing in the Right to Information Act, something dear to the Congress party’ heart. When you think about it, how one wishes that one of these two really accomplished ladies had become India’s first woman president rather than the pedestrian Pratibha Patil!
Other non-political figures are possible: why not a musician like Amjad Ali Khan (Ravi Shankar now being too old)? Or India’s most eminent architect, Charles Correa? Or a painter like Satish Gujral (Akbar Padamsee, Ram Kumar and SH Raza now being too frail)? Or a film maker like Shyam Benegal?
As one can see, there are many eminently suitable non-political figures: to go back to what Abdul Kalam suggests that the world’s second largest nation has a paucity of talent, which is clearly not the case. In any event, even if the opposition parties, and the Congress’ own allies in the UPA suggest Kalam’s name, the ex-president himself should decline, seeing the offer for what it is: a clear political move to embarrass the Congress.
Finally, there is one radical option that may be in the Congress’ own interest: to elevate Dr Manmohan Singh to the presidency, a move that no one is likely to oppose. He obviously has the general respect and gravitas which suits the job, and it takes him out of the hurly-burly of day-to-day politics which he so clearly despises. That frees the Prime Ministership for someone more hands on like Pranab Mukherjee.
Any takers for this idea?