Soon we will have a new President and a new Vice President. The name of the new Head of the Republic is Ram Nath Kovind, the name of the next Vice President is not known yet. But it is not Gopal Krishna Gandhi. The well-regarded grandson of Mohandas Gandhi and C. Rajagopalachari will turn out to be the proverbial sacrificial lamb propped up by a desperate and disparate Opposition, seeking relevance in an increasingly one-party dominant polity.
Gandhi’s excellent credentials as a former civil servant, diplomat and Governor, unfortunately, will come to nought before the sheer force of numbers. The ruling combine has the majority in the Electoral College and it must have its own nominee as Vice President. Numbers, after all, are the bedrock of any democratic system. The vital role the Vice President plays as the Chairman of the Rajya Sabha completely rules out the selection of Gandhi. NDA must have a loyalist in the post, especially when it still does not enjoy a majority in the Upper House. And it shall have it.
That said, it is rather curious that invariably they zero in on prominent “outsiders” to contest the Presidential or Vice Presidential polls only when they lack the requisite numbers in the Electoral College. Aside from the rather creative choice by A.B. Vajpayee of A.P.J Abdul Kalam, or the Marxists’ sponsorship of Hamid Ansari as Vice President, when is it that they have chosen an unattached non-politician to actually tenant the big mansion on the Raisina Hill? The non-Congress parties have fielded a former Chief Justice of India, a couple of retired Supreme Court judges and even a woman freedom fighter—but always to offer a token fight, never to win.
Go back to the earlier presidential polls and you will find that a few prominent names from outside the world of politics have invariably figured among the list of probables for President. Among them were the Infosys founder N.R. Narayana Murthy, former Maharaja Karan Singh, Gopal Krishna Gandhi, etc. Why, they installed a nobody named Pratibha Patil as President in preference to someone vastly more deserving, vastly more qualified, such as Gopal Krishan Gandhi, when they actually had the numbers. When they could, they settled for someone whose only interest lay in using the highest perch in the Republic to advance her family’s interests.
And now that they don’t have the numbers, they come up with a widely-respected name. Which thanks to the use of the Gujarati Gandhi name by a political dynasty, has lost much of its sheen, but, mercifully, the genuine article, that is, Gopal Krishna Gandhi continues to command respect. In fact, those feigning excitement over the credentials of the Mahatma’s grandson seem to forget that his name was bandied about at the time of the last presidential poll as well.
The Congress Party, after the bungle and the fumble over the naming of the joint Opposition candidate for President, has post-haste embraced the erudite Gandhi for the Vice Presidential contest. But, in 2012, it was dismissive of all speculation over his name when at the last minute the 10 Janpath coterie was obliged to accept Pranab Mukherjee as UPA’s nominee for President.
Indeed, if the relationship between Mukherjee and Narendra Modi has been rather smooth, it may be due to the fact that he was not Sonia Gandhi’s first choice for President. She had to perforce accept him as UPA’s candidate once Mamata Banerjee publicly expressed her support to the fellow-Bengali. It should be noted that Mukherjee had found himself ejected out of the Congress when Rajiv Gandhi became Prime Minister—it is another matter that he returned to the party in sackcloth and ashes after experiencing irrelevance outside the Congress tent.
Given the Constitutional safeguards put in place by the Founding Fathers and a vital one enacted after the Emergency, a President can only harass and embarrass an elected government, but not stall its working. The nearest the President-Prime Minister ties came to a breaking point and pelted the carefully crafted Constitutional order was when Zail Singh occupied the Rashtrapati Bhawan and Rajiv Gandhi tenanted 7 Race Course Road.
Singh was ignored and humiliated by Rajiv Gandhi. In his youthful arrogance and immaturity, Gandhi failed to appreciate that as the Head of the Republic, Singh was no longer the doormat the Gandhis had been used to dealing with. Eventually, an ugly denouement was averted, though Singh died a bitter man, lamenting the ungratefulness of a family he had served loyally all his life. To Mukherjee’s credit, he did not allow his long-standing political beliefs and associations to impinge on his equation with Modi. Both were always mindful of the Constitutional norms and niceties.
While Mukherjee and his conscience-keeper and all-powerful secretary, Ometa Paul have already taken care to set up a new foundation, which should keep them suitably engaged post-retirement, as he occupies a Type-VIII bungalow not far from Rashtrapati Bhawan, the focus will soon turn to the new occupant of the most famous house-on-the-hill. Kovind, by most accounts, will make a correct and copybook President. If Mukherjee could get along with Modi, there should be no reason why Kovind would not.
Regardless of the fears in some sections that he would be a rubberstamp, Kovind can be expected to preserve the institutional memory and enhance the dignity and decorum associated with the office of the Head of the Republic. Unlike several of his predecessors, Kovind brings no questionable baggage of corporate or personal nexuses to Rashtrapati Bhawan. He will begin on a clean slate because his own slate has been clean, albeit as a second-rung leader.
A SUCCESSFUL FIXER-LAWYER
Every profession has its share of crooks and fixers. Such are the times that you measure success only in financial terms. By that yardstick, some of these wheeler-dealers are very, very successful indeed. Take the case of this lawyer. His knowledge of law is inversely proportional to the size of his purse. Built on his networking skills with crooked businessmen and other shady characters at home and abroad, he got his early break as a bagman for a senior minister in the Rajiv Gandhi government. He has not looked back since. Now, a little bird tells us that he seems to be the cause of the travails of a media group, which, despite feigning innocence, finds itself in the thick of massive tax troubles. The same lawyer had midwifed shady transactions of a former editor who got enormously wealthy exploiting the blind trust of his employer, buying prime properties in Lutyens’ Delhi and in the hills from the builders contracted by the newspaper group. A clear case of conflict of interest, isn’t it?