voices were asked to select the next President from among five candidates.
They tell Avinash Dutt what they expect from him and
CHOICE FOR THE NEXT PRESIDENT
QUALITIES SHOULD HE POSSESS
Writer and Editor
A president should be capable of rising above party affiliations once
he becomes the head of the Republic. In the past, presidents, beginning
with Rajendra Prasad and later Shankar Dayal Sharma and R. Venkatraman,
upheld this ideal.
He should have a sound grasp of the Constitution and
be able to take decisions with a sense of conviction. For instance,
if there is a hung Parliament he should know who to invite to form the
government. He should not be cowed down by anyone, whether it is the
Prime Minister or the head of the ruling party.
Ideally, APJ Abdul Kalam should continue as the President. He did not
live up to expectations at first, but then, he grasped his responsibilities
and began acting judiciously. Among the names doing the rounds, I prefer
Vice President Bhairon Singh Shekhawat. In his handling of the Rajya
Sabha, he has not unduly favoured the BJP or any party allied with it,
and he has not been antagonistic towards the Congress and its allies.
He is a man of integrity.
Our next president should have a thorough socio-cultural knowledge of
the country’s Bahujan Samaj, which has been oppressed and exploited
throughout history. The Bahujan Samaj of India comprises six sections
— Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, some Backward Castes, Muslims,
Christians and Sikhs — and constitutes 85 percent of the Indian
Pranab Mukherjee is a Brahmin. Motilal Vora, Shivraj Patil, and Bhairon
Singh Shekhawat also belong to the upper castes. Sushilkumar Shinde
is a Chamar. He may be a Gandhian, but he is an ‘Untouchable’.
He is the only person who understands the pain of the Bahujan Samaj.
In India, we cannot think of radical changes, because those who belong
to the upper castes still control the levers of power. Sushilkumar Shinde,
being an ‘Untouchable’, should get the job.
He should be conscious of India’s commitment to peace, and its growing
role and stature at the global level. At the same time, he should be
sensitive to the poorest of the poor of this nation. He should be fair
and assertive, and bring stability at the Centre, especially given that
the bjp and the Congress are not likely to muster a majority after the
next general elections. That necessarily means a non-partisan person
who knows the pulse of the people and is politically aware.
Out of the panel of candidates, including Sushilkumar Shinde, Pranab
Mukherjee and Bhairon Singh Shekhawat, I would choose Shekhawat. He
fits the bill. He is a politician with a non-partisan attitude. When
he was the chief minister of Rajasthan, some in the party had grudges
and grievances against him, but his probity could not be challenged.
Writer and Activist
He must have a solid educational background like Kalam and should be
accepted by all. He should have a clean image and not be known as a
Now, India doesn’t
have too many people who enjoy a clean image and secular credentials.
I am 82 years old and there are not many people in politics whom I can
trust. I just don’t see people who would take the lead in ensuring
there is justice. In West Bengal for instance, there is the issue of
Nandigram. There should be someone who we can approach; who is sensitive
to basic human rights.
Among those whose names are doing the rounds, I am certain that Pranab
Mukherjee should not be the next president. None of the names inspire
confidence. I personally feel that Gopal Krishna Gandhi, the Governor
of West Bengal, should be the next president. He is accountable, trustworthy
and pro-people. I can also think of someone like Baba Amte or Narayan
Desai, individuals everyone looks up to. Of the names in the race, I
prefer Shushilkumar Shinde because he is a Dalit.
I don’t want a non-political person to be president. A president
should think politically because India is a democracy and we are not
against somebody thinking politically. Thinking politically is different
from thinking in a partisan manner. He should be loyal to the basic
ideals of the Constitution.
I like Kalam, but I don’t like his love of the atom bomb. He has
proved to be a good president though. After the riots, he went to Gujarat
and he has sent a few Bills back to the government as well. He has shown
that he is not a rubber stamp. All the candidates in the fray look good,
but one can’t be confident of their conduct once they become president.
Shivraj Patil’s performance as the Speaker of
the Lok Sabha was very good. He is always calm when dealing with a crisis.
My preference would have been for a person like Karan Singh, who is
a scholar. But among the names that are in circulation, Shivraj Patil
certainly appears better.
Vishwanath Patil, 72
Union Minister for Home Affairs
risen through the ranks and is known to go by the book.
Was the informal tutor to Sonia Gandhi when she first became
a Lok Sabha MP. His performance as Home Minister has come
under criticism, but he is going strong because of Sonia
Singh Shekhawat, 84
Vice President of India
his first election in 1952 as a Jan Sangh MLA. The three-time
chief minister of Rajasthan has forged strong links cutting
across party lines. To rid himself of the BJP tag, he might
contest as an Independent. Tried hard to be seen as non-partisan
while conducting the proceedings in the Rajya Sabha.
S. Shinde, 66
Union Minister for Power
of a cobbler, Shinde too rose through the ranks. First became
an MLA in 1974 and has twice been a member of both the Lok
Sabha and the Rajya Sabha. A staunch Gandhi-family loyalist,
his chances are weak because of a chronic inability to take
a stand on anything. Mayawati is not very keen on him.
Party’s National Treasurer
politician who belongs to the old school, he is known for
his proximity to Sonia Gandhi and is a diehard family loyalist.
Has steered clear of factional politics and served twice
as the Madhya Pradesh CM. His stint as UP Governor when
Mayawati was the CM in the early 1990s might come in handy.
Union Minister for External Affairs
became a member of the Rajya Sabha in 1969 and won his first
Lok Sabha election in 2004. Has been seen as the Number
Two in the Congress for many years. Though no longer in
the fray, he will be a strong contender if efforts to form
a consensus around Shivraj Patil or Motilal Vora fail.