Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Politics of Presidency (B): SKELETONS IN THE VICE PRESIDENTIAL CLOSET?

A recently cyclostyled letter, circulated by the Hon’ble Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha, Mr. Lal Krishna Advani, among members of Parliament and state legislatures (who constitute the electoral college for the presidential election), contains his party’s by-now clichéd recitation of charges against the UPA presidential candidate, Ms. Pratibha Patil, and ends with a plea ‘to exercise a vote of conscience’ in favor of the incumbent Vice President, Mr. Bhairon Singh Shekhawat. He clarifies that any defiance of a party policy-decision does not come under the purview of the Anti-defection Act since, technically speaking, parties cannot issue whips in a presidential election; ergo, if a member of the UPA decides to vote for Mr. Shekhawat, he can do so with impunity.

Poison Pen
Now, this is the same man who only three-and-a-half years ago had condemned my- and my father’s- alleged role in attempting to split the newly-elected BJP legislative party in Chhattisgarh in what is more commonly referred to as ‘the cash-for-MLA exposé’, as “the darkest chapter in India’s democratic history”. Apparently, the abovementioned logic of technicalities didn’t seem to apply in those days. It is worth mentioning that the Anti-defection Act, as it then stood, recognized the legality of a split if the number of defecting MLAs exceeded one-third of the party’s total legislative strength; so, technically speaking, had 17 tribal members of the BJP decided to form their own separate outfit yielding to their conscience-call to elect a tribal chief minister, they could also have done so with impunity.

In this respect, the letter written by my father in his capacity as the then leader of the state Congress legislative party, extending support to this hypothetical breakaway faction of the BJP, cannot be considered any different from Mr. Advani’s own letter inciting UPA members to cross-vote: at the time of their writing, both letters sought to ‘embolden’ elected-representatives to defy their respective party-lines on the basis of ‘conscience’; and neither attracted the punitive provisions of law. Yet, for some peculiar reason, Mr. Advani puts his letter on the pedestal of collective conscience while condemning my father’s.

Something About Living in Glass Houses
While Mr. Advani, and his principal-polemist, Mr. Arun Shourie, are more than happy to launch a comprehensive assault on Ms. Patil’s past, his letter doesn’t tell us one very important thing: why exactly should one vote for Mr. Shekhawat? Perhaps, Mr. Advani believes that by putting Ms. Patil in the dock, his own candidate would, by contrast, come across as ‘holier than thou’. That ofcourse would be the most obvious explanation. But there are two other, far more disturbing, reasons.


kahin pé nigahein, kahin pé nishana?

First, the vitriolic against Ms. Patil is intended to deflect attention from the nation’s biggest political story: the END of the NDA. As things stand today, with the exception of the Akali Dal, the BJP’s coalition partner in the Punjab, all of NDA’s former allies have jumped ship. The UNPA, a new political ‘third front’ comprising most of NDA’s ousted regional allies, has decided to abstain.

Secondly, Mr. Advani’s diatribe is also intended to conjure a diversion from Mr. Shekhawat’s not-so-illustrious past. It would seem that at the time when the young Ms. Patil, and her future husband’s family (also, Shekhawati like the Vice President) were fighting our British suzerains, the equally youthful Mr. Shekhawat, then a hot-blooded policeman in the service of the Raj, was busy raining lathi-blows on them. For this, he was duly rewarded with a promotion. There are those who might be tempted to argue that he was only doing his duty. Alternatively, they could adopt his friend and former Prime Minister, Mr. Atal Behari Vajpayee’s defense. When confronted with his approver’s testimony, which, as it turned out, landed at least six freedom fighters in jail for a term of 10 years R.I. (rigorous imprisonment), the great man proclaimed: “jawani ka adhkacharapan tha” (it was youth’s folly).


Youth’s Folly might also be used to justify Mr. Shekhawat’s subsequent acts. Not too long after ‘the stroke of the midnight hour when…India awoke to freedom’, he was caught red-handed taking bribe for letting a caravan of local salt-merchants pass through a toll-tax checkpost near Sikar. Needless to say, this act unwittingly transformed him into an avant garde trendsetter for things to come: Mr. Shekhawat is, in all probability, the first policeman to be suspended for corruption in our nation’s post-colonial history. Thereupon, in what appears to be the fulfillment of Oscar Wilde’s prophesy that ‘politics is the last resort of scoundrels’, he entered public life, and climbed his way to eventually become Rajasthan's chief minister.

Rajasthan, as we all know, is an arid state. To this day, its major lifeline continues to be the Indira Gandhi Canal. To build this intricate network of waterways, private land had to be possessed. Needless to say, compensation was also paid. One such person to whom compensation was paid happened to be the nephew of the then chief minister. There was only one problem: he didn’t own the land for which he received payment. The issue was raised in the Vidhan Sabha. In his reply to the House, the chief minister claimed that the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) had investigated the matter, and found nothing in it. Again, nothing wrong with this answer except that the CBI was never asked by anyone (Government of Rajasthan included) to look into this affair. Not only had the chief minister deliberately misled the Assembly to save his nephew’s skin, he had also perjured himself before the People.

Doesn’t it seem ironical- even unfortunate- that atleast two men who collaborated actively with the British to send their countrymen- freedom fighters, no less- to jail should go on to occupy two of our nation’s highest political offices whereas those who they got imprisoned are conveniently forgotten, erased from history, as if they never existed; that a man who willfully perjured himself to indulge in shameless nepotism now aspires to the Office of President of our Republic?

J’accuse
Even more perplexing, is the now-deafening silence of Ms. Patil’s backers. It would be ridiculous to attribute credence to Mr. Advani’s fictionalized ‘chargesheet’ against her. Apropos her role as chairperson of a district cooperative, the following facts need to be noted: one, she is NOT the founder of the district cooperative society, as has been alleged; two, no loan was sanctioned to any of her relatives during her tenure as chairperson; three, it is true that three of her relatives had defaulted on their loans, but as every agriculturist knows only too well that given the vagaries of monsoons, such things are not only commonplace in our rural hinterland but to construe them as ‘illegal’ is akin to calling all our nation’s farmers robbers; four, all three did repay the full loan-amount with interest, as far back as 1999; five, Ms. Patil’s cooperative was among 181 others in the region that were closed, so surely there were other more universal factors, such as crop-failure, in operation.

Six, the complaint-case now pending before the Bombay High Court regarding Ms. Patil’s husband’s alleged role in the death of a school principal is outrightly bizarre: in his so-called suicide note, the deceased alludes to the fact that he had written several letters to Mr. Shekhawat (Ms. Patil’s husband), who was the chairperson of the school’s Educational Trust, requesting a transfer, but to no avail. Now, while the death itself is unfortunate, surely Mr. Shekhawat receives several correspondences of such nature, and he cannot be prosecuted under section 304(B) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC)- enticement to commit suicide- for not responding favorably to one of these requests. Lastly, another complaint-case has very recently been filed before the Aurangabad Bench of the Bombay High Court seeking institution of proceedings under section 302 (IPC)- murder- by the widow of a rival district-level Congressman. While judgment is awaited, the timing of this complaint is itself suspect: what was the aggrieved party doing all this time; why did she decide to file the complaint only after Ms. Patil’s name came up for President?

Are Umpires always Right?
In all this, the role of the Media has been, for lack of a better word, one-sided. Rather than simply report the allegations against Ms. Patil as they ought to have done, most editorialists (with the notable exception of The Hindu and The Outlook) hastily went on to pronounce verdict against her, thereby becoming parties to the conflict. Now, it is a fundamental principle of civilization that ‘a person is to be presumed innocent until proven guilty’. As things stand, Ms. Patil has not been deemed guilty by any court of law, and as the preceding paragraph shows, there is very little chance of that happening. This reminds me of the pre-poll surveys conducted by the nation’s mainstream media in 2004, when all of them showed the NDA as getting a clear-cut majority in the Lok Sabha election. When the results were out, and it was clear that the UPA will form its government, Mr. Rajdeep Sardesai, then with NDTV, introspected thus: “as the media, our primary duty is to disbelieve; the fact is we didn’t.” Even a newspaper like The Indian Express, which prides itself for its ‘journalism of courage’, failed in this primary duty, dutifully publishing word for word what the BJP fed it.

There could ofcourse be another reason for this pervasive (if not perverse) lack of disbelief. With the old-school ‘Nehruvian’ generation of journalists long gone, and the current crop of editorialists completing their metamorphoses from socialists to socialites, could it just be possible that a significant majority of the new breed secretly sports khaki-shorts under their carefully-creased trousers?

AJ

9 comments (टिप्पणी):

Hitendra said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Hitendra said...

1. A call for concsience vote in a presidential election can not be comapred to 'horse trading' to curb which, probably the anti-defection law was passed.(eralier with a one-third condition then the new act)
2. Presidential elections in India are indirect elections by the people of India in which members of the electoral college vote for the president. there is no whip in these elections.
3. since a president's job is apolitical, voting on party basis should be discouraged. So, calling other party members for a favor is not that bad.
4. you are right in saying that Mr. Shekhawat is not a good choice. He was not an outstanding CM or doesn't have any such credentials as Mr. kalam had.
5. But, is Mrs. Patil the best choice. So, let NDA die, but we coudn't we have a better choice from the congress?
6. same views on this link:

http://hsonline.wordpress.com/2007/07/07/pelections/

Akash said...

I think in present circumstances nobody was better suited than Kalam. He was doing a great job and he showed that a President can't be treated like a rubber stamp, whereas congress always wanted to have one at “Rashtrapati Bhavan” and when they failed to find it in Kalam they decided to try other way and then appeared Pratibha Patil and we had to see all these dramas. Do you think either Pratibha or Shekhawat is better suited than Kalam?

Last word form me , people loved Kalam as a person, as a scientist and as a president and he will always be loved by us(people) whether he is president or not !! Because ultimately it’s the person who matters and not the position.

Akash said...

Go through these two links :

http://www.ndtv.com/convergence/ndtv/story.aspx?id=NEWEN20070019258&ch=7/18/2007%2012:11:00%20AM

http://www.indianexpress.com/story/205424.html

Dr Saibel Farishta said...

Pratibhatai - The Divine President

http://newchhattisgarh.blogspot.com/

Akash said...

Pratibha Patil, governor of the northwestern state of Rajasthan, is the candidate of the ruling Congress party and its allies, but her nomination has surprised many political observers because she lacks national stature and has been dogged by embarrassing scandals.

Analysts say Patil's main qualification for the presidency is her unswerving devotion to Sonia Gandhi, leader of the Congress Party, and Gandhi's powerful family, which has historically controlled the party.

To read more : http://www.iht.com/articles/ap/2007/07/18/asia/AS-GEN-India-President.php

Remmish Gupta said...

@Amit Bhaiya:
I fully agree with the points quoted in ur column. Umpires may be wrong too and have been in some cases. Sometime the media acts as a 'Biased Figure'. It's the misconception that whatever media flows is right.

@Akash:
Agreed that Dr. Kalam was best suited for the coveted job and people liked him as a person, as a scientist and as a President. He was doing a great job too. But my question is- Can we elect a person for the top job, whether it's the honourable post of 'President' or Prime Minister, for a life time tenure just coz' he's the best liked person? In that case, there's no need for an election or a timely tenure. We just need to find out who the best suitable person is and make him a lifetime 'President'. Do u think that in the present political scenario n circumstances-where political allies play an important role-it's possible to have a common consensus? My answer is NO. As we need to cope up with the challenges and threats of coalition politics, we can not find out a solution like that...

As u've wrongly quoted that "whereas Congress always wanted to have one at “Rashtrapati Bhavan” and when they failed to find it in Kalam they decided to try other way and then appeared Pratibha Patil and we had to see all these dramas", I completely disagree with ur quotation. It's the 'Misconception' among the people of India fed by so-called TRUE 'HINDU'STANI PARTY- BJP. It has never been a case. Whoever was eligible and best suited (criteria, I guess u know) for the job, has been given priority. Please remember the dramas played 6 years back by BJP-Dr. Kalam was never BJP's first choice for the top-job. It all happened (Off-course the best choice our country had seen) coz' BJP was unable to form a common consensus for Mr. Shekhawat's candidature. Dr. Kalam had been proposed by Mr. Mulayam Singh Yadav as a nominee for the coveted job.

Lastly, It's the never ending episode in Indian political boundaries. We need to understand and carry ahead the People's verdict. Here, we don't elect the 'President' directly but our elected legislators & members of electoral college choose the one best possible person. I'm not against Dr. Kalam. Infact, I'm one of the biggest fan n folower of his charismatic personality. But, in current scenarios, we need to go ahead along with many allies too who impact the decision making authorities in a big way.

Anw, it's the first time in Indian Political History, when we see a woman in the top-job-First Lady of India.

(These're my personal views and may differ from others.)

Rgrds, RG

Atul said...

Its really a very big moment for us..India is getting a lady president for the first time..Yahan se ek naye adhyaye ki shurwat hogi..
Bhaiya u have rightly written all the points. Watevr points u hav raised, all r valid. and "antaraatma ki aawaz" par vote dene ka statement BJP par hi bhari pada. As we have seen because of this instead of some members of UPA voting in favour of Mr Shekhawat, the reverse happened. Atleast in 8 states members of NDA voted in favour of Mrs Patil.

and @ all above.
I too m not against Mr Kalam. He has done an excellent job. But presently we have a coalition govt in the centre. Some of UPA partners were not in support for Dr Kalam because of wats so ever reasons. In that case its the duty of Congress to respect their opinions and take everyone together. And moreover one person cant hold a position for ever. There have to be changes. Its the law of nature.

Pratibha ji Jindabaad..

Akash said...

@Remmish!!

Hmmm.. I know you are a true supporter of Congress that’s why you don’t want to see the reality. It’s a well known fact that congress has chosen "Pratibha" to have a rubber stamp at rashtrapati bhavan and every non-congressi would agree with me. I cant blame you on this because its quite obvious that you would support a party that you used to do always whether its right or wrong as you have true faith on it but in my case I don’t like (blindly support) any of the parties but I like individuals in politics from various parties (eg Atal Bihari Bajpayee, P Chidambaram, Chandra Babu Naidu etc). So as neutral spectator (better to be) I can say that if we would have gone for Kalam we could have avoided this mud slinging and worst presidential poll in Indian history.

Anyway the presidential pole is over now and we have got a new president and we should hope for the best!!

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