New leadership graces Raisina Hills

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This is the first time when a saffron soldier has occupied the Rashtrapati Bhavan. Bhartiya Janata Party led National Democratic Alliance candidate Ramnath Kovind has finally become the next president of the country and hence, it is now pointless to debate whether Meira Kumar would have been a better choice for the top post of the Indian republic.

Backed by 40 parties, including those outside the ruling NDA, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s pick Kovind, 62, a former MP and Bihar Governor, defeated Meira Kumar with a margin of a vote value of 334,730.
He got 2,930 votes carrying a value of 700,244 while the former Lok Sabha Speaker secured 1,844 votes with a value of 367,314, the highest vote value recorded by any losing candidate in all the Presidential elections held so far.

The electoral college consisted of 4,986 voters with a total vote value of 10,98,903. Seventy-seven votes with a value of 20,942 were found to be invalid. While Kovind got 65.65 per cent of the total valid votes with a value of 10,69,358, Meira Kumar got 34.35 per cent. MPs and MLAs are eligible to vote in the Presidential election. Of the votes of MPs, Kovind got 522 compared to 225 by Meira Kumar.

kovindAll the past presidents had one thing in common that they believed in shared perspective on freedom struggle, democracy, secularism and socialistic pattern of society. We all know that the RSS, mentor of Kovind has been in conflict with all these ideas which are enshrined in the Constitution. The saffron organization has been combating almost all core doctrines of the Indian constitution. The organization neither believes in pluralism, nor does it accept federalism as the basis of the polity. It believes in one culture, one centre and one ideology. Can we ignore the ideological conflict between the RSS and the Constitution in an atmosphere where issues like triple talaq, Gauraksha and Ramjanmabhoomi are taking centre-stage and minorities are being dubbed aliens to the country?

A close look at the scheme of the Constitution will reveal that the office of the President has been designed to protect the values of the nation and the federal character of the polity. Federalism in a country like India is not limited to the political structure alone, but is all pervasive and not only allows autonomy to the states, but also allows governmental and non-governmental institutions including media to function freely. Naturally, architect of our constitution, Dr BR Ambedkar wanted the president to preside over a federal polity with all the required powers in his hand. So, it is not surprising to find that the president has extraordinary powers so far as federal issues are concerned. He is not at all a rubber stamp to approve decisions of the cabinet.

The question arises how many of the past presidents have been able to perform their duties as assigned by the constitution. It would not be an exaggeration if Dr K R Narayanan is declared the best one. He actively protected rights of states and refused to work according to the whims of the ruling party at the centre. He refused to accept the report of Sunder Singh Bhandari, then governor of Bihar, who had recommended dismissal of the Rabri Devi government and imposition of president rule in the state on the ground of deteriorating law and order situation. If he refused to oblige then Vajpayee government in Bihar, he also refused to oblige Inder Kumar Gujaral by not accepting recommendations to dismiss Kalyan Singh government in Uttar Pradesh. Narayanan reacted strongly on Gujarat riots and wrote to Prime Minster Vajpayee to remind him of the responsibilities of the centre. The state was then headed by Narendra Modi. Narayanan had written several letters to the Vajpayee government on issues concerning to the welfare of scheduled tribes, scheduled castes and minorities. When he was in office, he made it a point not to visit priest of any religion.

If Narayanan performed most efficiently as the custodian of the constitution and the chief presiding officer of a federal republic, Fakhruddin Ali Ahmad was an utter failure. He would be remembered for his signing the declaration of emergency on June 25, 1975. He even did not bother to check whether the declaration had been approved by the cabinet. He just signed the declaration when Prime Minister Indira Gandhi approached him. Mrs. Gandhi got it approved by the cabinet only next morning. He also approved censorship and never objected to any of the decisions of Mrs. Gandhi in her suppressing fundamental rights or infringing upon the independence of the judiciary.

Kovind’s selection as the candidate obviously disappointed opposition because the BJP failed to establish his credentials as an ideologically neutral person as Dr. Abdul Kalam was. This is the reason why announcement of his name evoked negative responses from leaders like Sitaram Yechury, D Raja, Ghulam Nabi Azad and Sharad Yadav. Only Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and elder UP leader Mulayam Singh Yadav came in his support and Mayawati assured to consider him positively because he is a Dalit.

Besides his having an image of a soft person who can obey his mentors, Kovind has, in the past, explicitly displayed adherence to the ideology of RSS. His assertions documented by US diplomats in India have been posted on Wikileaks. The document that relates to the future of discrimination of Dalits in India was prepared in 2005. As against Dalit leaders like Sukhdeo Thorat and Udit Raj, Kovind put forward a view that says that the caste system is based on the division of labour. He, like his RSS teachers, believes that caste discrimination is not the result of social hierarchy, but has economic reasons at its base. He also told the US diplomat that discrimination has reduced significantly after affirmative action by the government. He does not believe in the annihilation of castes and prescribes reforms in the system to free it from ills.

His views on minorities are also in conformity with the views of RSS. In 2010, Kovind, then a BJP spokesperson, opposed recommendations of Justice Rangnath Mishra Commission to provide reservation to Christians and minorities in jobs and education. He said that Christians and Muslims are aliens to the nation.

He subscribes to the views of RSS was confirmed by RSS ideologue Raskesh Sinha as well when he asserted on a TV channel that Kovind supports RSS ideology and accordingly, he is opposed to providing reservation to Dalit, Christians and Muslims. Can anyone expect former Bihar governor to go against the ideology he believes in?