It is sad that the prevailing regime is not much concerned with preserving or promoting the conventions and spirit that lie behind the Indian Constitution. At every important transitional phase in the evolution of Indian democracy, the entrenched political elite can be depended on to take the low, more convenient road, rather than make the sacrifice and effort to achieve the standards required. This has led to the decline in the many institutions of state, which fact is so often lamented, but ignored when it comes to taking action.
One such phase is the coming presidential election. The media very early on pointed out that the numbers were such that it would be possible to elect a president who would truly embody the concept of a non-partisan head of state, acceptable and respected by the people of India and the political parties. Unfortunately, however, it does not seem that the parties themselves – even those who are in the opposition and placed to benefit the most from such an arrangement – are interested in achieving this result. The politicians are divided at such small levels and so desperately insecure that it is easy for Congress to maneuver a weak, rubber stamp president into office.
The BJP’s opening moves do not seem to have been well thought out, with members already contradicting each other and betraying a lack of strategy. The fact is, the party should have shown its cards only after studying the situation. Instead, it has jumped the gun in a way that has alienated its own allies. There is no doubt that APJ Abdul Kalam, if age allows, is an excellent candidate, but the reasons that did not allow for him to be re-elected earlier still prevail. As such, he should not have been fielded as an opening gambit. Considering the clear veto of the Congress on his candidature, the only way he could be elected is if all the UPA allies were to go their own way. Surely, they would not risk their standing with the Congress merely to support a BJP candidate, even if it is a Kalam! By no means would it be an exhibition of their clout in the ruling coalition.
If the BJP does really wish to drive a wedge between the Congress and its camp followers, the best way would be to encourage this formation to work out, independently, its own proposal and, then, to support the best candidate. Instead, it has only succeeded in earning the hostility of the Congress allies by outright rejecting the candidature of Vice President Ansari. This has allowed the Lalu Yadavs to harp on the BJP’s ‘anti-Muslim’ bias. (Muslims like Kalam don’t count!) It is a time-tested strategy, because it basically changes the subject of the debate, stampeding the ‘others’ to circle their wagons on the ‘secular’ theme. One loses count of the number of times the BJP has fallen into this trap. Even the JD(U) was quick to distance itself from Sushma Swaraj’s stance.
The way things are going, it is likely that the convention of having a president that truly personifies the spirit of Indian democracy is going to be discarded once again in favour of a person more amenable to the Congress design of things. The non-Congress, non-BJP parties probably do not see much advantage in a non-partisan president, not anticipating any turn of events in which they could benefit from a decision taken in Rashtrapati Bhavan. However, they do stand to benefit from doing a deal with the Congress and obtaining concessions on matters that are of more immediate concern to them, such as sundry CBI cases.
A rejection of the BJP in the presidential election could, perhaps, result in a change of approach for the 2014 General Elections. Having been ditched so often by its allies, maybe the party will stop trying to be a more ‘democratic’ version of the Congress and fall back into its core by putting forward Narendra Modi as its Prime Ministerial candidate. If it is going to be vilified anyway, why not go the whole hog and see what transpires?