From the ed­i­tor- in- chief

India Today - - FROM THE EDITOR- IN- CHIEF - ( Aroon Purie)

Some­time in the third week of July, In­dia will elect its 13th pres­i­dent. The votes will be cast on be­half of the peo­ple by their elected rep­re­sen­ta­tives— an elec­toral col­lege that con­sists of mem­bers of Par­lia­ment in the Lok Sabha and Ra­jya Sabha and mem­bers of Leg­isla­tive Assem­bly of each of In­dia’s 30 states. The race is par­tic­u­larly in­ter­est­ing this time around be­cause the rul­ing coali­tion, un­usu­ally, does not have a ma­jor­ity in the Elec­toral Col­lege. The Congress and its al­lies have just over 40 per cent of the votes. The lead­ing op­po­si­tion al­liance, the NDA, has around 30 per cent of the votes. The po­ten­tial king­mak­ers lie among the pow­er­ful re­gional par­ties like the SP, BSP and CPI( M), which are aligned nei­ther with the UPA nor NDA. Given the arith­metic, Congress will find it very dif­fi­cult to elect a per­son of its choice uni­lat­er­ally. Even al­lies like the Tri­namool Congress, NCP and DMK may not play ball. That rules out a Prat­i­bha Patil type of can­di­date this time around. That is good for In­dia. Patil was an ob­scure politi­cian who had far too many skele­tons in her cup­board to de­servedly oc­cupy In­dia’s high­est of­fice of state. Her only qual­i­fi­ca­tion was that she was fault­lessly ob­se­quious to the Congress’s first fam­ily. The pres­i­dency reached a nadir af­ter her elec­tion. It needs a re­newal.

The Pres­i­dent of In­dia is mostly, but not en­tirely, a tit­u­lar of­fice. The pres­i­dent is al­ways bound by the ad­vice of the prime min­is­ter and coun­cil of min­is­ters, ex­cept while nam­ing a prime min­is­ter. It needs a per­son of stature to oc­cupy it. In­dia’s first three pres­i­dents, Ra­jen­dra Prasad, S. Rad­hakr­ish­nan and Zakir Hus­sain were schol­ars and free­dom fight­ers. They had the moral au­thor­ity to take stands on is­sues that were at vari­ance with the gov­ern­ment of the day. Prasad, for ex­am­ple, clashed with Nehru of­ten on var­i­ous mat­ters of pol­icy, in­clud­ing the Hindu Civil Code Bill. A good pres­i­dent must be able to re­tain some in­de­pen­dence of opin­ion and be seen to be above par­ti­san pol­i­tics.

Un­for­tu­nately, what in­ter­ests po­lit­i­cal par­ties, now, is the one dis­cre­tionary power vested in the pres­i­dent— the right to ap­point a prime min­is­ter. Of course, the prime min­is­ter can only con­tinue in of­fice if he or she has a ma­jor­ity on the floor of the Lok Sabha. But in an era of frac­tured man­dates when no sin­gle party or al­liance has the req­ui­site ma­jor­ity, the role of the pres­i­dent in de­cid­ing who gets the first shot at form­ing a gov­ern­ment is cru­cial. Congress would cer­tainly like a pli­ant pres­i­dent should a hung Par­lia­ment ma­te­ri­alise in the Gen­eral Elec­tion of 2014. Congress Pres­i­dent So­nia Gandhi knows a few things about con­fronta­tional pres­i­dents. Giani Zail Singh was loyal to Indira but turned against her hus­band, be­com­ing a threat to his po­lit­i­cal sur­vival.

Our cover story, writ­ten by Ed­i­to­rial Di­rec­tor M. J. Ak­bar, ex­am­ines the pres­i­dency in a his­tor­i­cal per­spec­tive and high­lights the fact that it can be­come a po­lit­i­cal con­flict zone if the re­la­tion­ship be­tween the prime min­is­ter and pres­i­dent is mis­man­aged, or gets politi­cised. None of the can­di­dates whose names are do­ing the rounds, whether Vice- Pres­i­dent Hamid An­sari or Fi­nance Min­is­ter Pranab Mukher­jee or for­mer Pres­i­dent Ab­dul Kalam, fit the pli­ant bill. They also have con­sid­er­able pop­u­lar ap­peal. To gauge pop­u­lar per­cep­tion, the In­dia To­day Group has launched the “Pick your Pres­i­dent” cam­paign. The cam­paign will run across our print, dig­i­tal and tele­vi­sion prop­er­ties and we in­vite all In­di­ans to ex­press his or her choice for the next pres­i­dent. Our first opin­ion poll for the mag­a­zine shows that Kalam comes out on top. Mukher­jee, Anna Hazare and An­sari also re­ceive pop­u­lar en­dorse­ment.

It’s still early days in the race. I only hope that we get a pres­i­dent who makes us proud.

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