June 27, 2007

In a Prez

What are the qualities I look for in a President? Here are some:

  • The (preferably demonstrated) ability to rise above partisan politics.

  • Notwithstanding that, an understanding of politics anyway. Not simply party politics, but an appreciation for the often political nature of the job, of how to use politics to further a cause.

  • A clean conscience, a sharp and independent mind.

  • A willingness, even an eagerness, to take a stand.

  • The ability to articulate matters, so as to explain them, especially unpopular ones, to people.

  • An absolute disinterest in the ceremonial trappings of office, whether the luxury of Rashtrapati Bhavan or the protocols of the position.

    (Aside: Qualities I couldn't care less about in a President: state of origin, last name and/or community of spouse, gender).

    Did I see these qualities in any of the men who have been President? Yes, in President Narayanan. Perhaps in Rajaji too, though I don't know enough about him. That's it. None of the others? No. Not even President Kalam? No.

    Do I see these qualities in any of the current Presidential candidates? No. Not even the front-runner, Pratibha Patil? No. Reports of a murder case and a sugar factory loan default must, at the minimum, be explained satisfactorily. Instead, they are winked at. Besides, I am not reassured by the process which led to her selection.

    Is there anyone in public life that I think would make a good President? Yes. Are they running for President? No. Will they ever run for President? I don't know. I wish they would. They'd get my vote. If I could vote.

    ***

    Update/Correction: Made this post, then stepped out for the evening, sometime during which I realized what a silly mistake I had made, got back and the first thing I'm doing is correcting it.

    Rajaji was never President, he was Governor-General immediately after Independence. While he was a man of great stature, the President I meant above was Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, in office 1962 to 1967.
  • 12 comments:

    Amit Varma said...

    "Did I see these qualities in any of the men who have been President? Yes, in President Narayanan. Perhaps in Rajaji too, though I don't know enough about him."

    Dilip, agree with the post, but one correction: Rajaji was never president. He was Nehru's choice to be India's first president -- much before they fell out -- but Patel supported Rajendra Prasad and prevailed.

    A complete list of presidents here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/President_of_India#List_of_Presidents_of_India_.281950-Present.29

    Dilip D'Souza said...

    Thank you Amit, got your comment right after posting my update. My mess-up.

    anonymous coward said...

    dilip could you elaborate why Kalam or Shekhawat fail to measure up to your standards ?

    Samir said...

    Dilip, does it really matter? The role of the President of India has been so shorn of any real responsibility or authority, that this whole drama is utterly meaningless, imho.

    Nitin said...

    Anonymous Coward,

    The debate over Kalam or Shekhawat is moot. They are not really in the running---because the electoral college that elects the president is firmly in the UPA's hands. They are imperfect men, and imperfect candidates. But at this time, their imperfection is not of national importance.

    Samir

    First of all, the President is not shorn of real responsibility or authority. Sending back legislation, approving the government's decisions to sack state governments, and commuting death sentences---just some of the decisions s/he needs to take. And in the event of a hung parliament, the president's judgement is important.

    Second, even if it is only a symbolic role, shouldn't it be all the more important to ensure that the person symbolises the ideals unachievable otherwise in real politics? Symbolism, on the contrary, is very important in Indian cultural-social context.

    Jai_Choorakkot said...

    Very good list. I would up the first factor and downplay the second.

    - consistent demonstrated non-partisanship.

    - willingness to understand and negotiate with the political compulsions of the partisans from as non-political a perspective as possible.

    regards,
    Jai
    PS- This blog has almost always been thought provoking but now with the comment thread really starting to ZING, its becoming even better. Thanks to everybody on the comment thread.

    Anonymous said...

    Wasn't Comrade Basu's name bandied about as a PM candidate once?
    http://offstumped.nationalinterest.in/2007/06/26/cia-reveals-high-treason-by-indian-communists-will-mssrs-basu-karat-and-yechury-respond/

    Along the same lines is AB Vajpayee (or Mishra) in the payroll of CIA?

    Anonymous said...

    try a tiny URL instead:
    http://preview.tinyurl.com/34c4kv

    dodo said...

    Agree with qualification proposed for the President. But could not agee on Narayanan as an example of it. He failed to rise above the partisan politics. Quite opportunist all through his career.

    Dilip D'Souza said...

    could you elaborate why Kalam or Shekhawat fail to measure up to your standards?

    Not any more than what's already implicit in the list of qualities above.

    Samir, shorn it may have been, but there are powers (stated and unstated) that Presidents can exercise and exploit. I wish more of them would do that. I look forward to a President who does that.

    Nikhil said...

    President NArayanan's track record
    The (preferably demonstrated) ability to rise above partisan politics.

    Notwithstanding that, an understanding of politics anyway. Not simply party politics, but an appreciation for the often political nature of the job, of how to use politics to further a cause.
    -Can you elaborate? I can show several instances where he has not shown this ability.

    A clean conscience, a sharp and independent mind
    - Yes. Agree on this

    A willingness, even an eagerness, to take a stand
    - This is rather vague. First of all taking a stand should involve keeping national interest first. Narayanan definitely did not do this.

    The ability to articulate matters, so as to explain them, especially unpopular ones, to people.
    -No absolutely not. Please give examples. I shall give you mine later.

    An absolute disinterest in the ceremonial trappings of office, whether the luxury of Rashtrapati Bhavan or the protocols of the position.
    -Yes Agree totally on this.

    (Aside: Qualities I couldn't care less about in a President: state of origin, last name and/or community of spouse, gender).

    - Not sure whether you were keeping track of the news. But didnt the media only portray his caste and simply ignore his other credentials?

    Please give the examples for each of the point

    Anonymous said...

    "Is there anyone in public life that I think would make a good President? Yes. Are they running for President? No. Will they ever run for President? I don't know. I wish they would. They'd get my vote. If I could vote."

    Who are you talking about?