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Top four posts sealed

Top four posts sealed

When the NDA announced the name of Ram Nath Kovind as its Presidential nominee it was the West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee who asked: "Kovind who?" But his certain victory following July 17 elections was not a surprise as the NDA had the magic number to defeat the UPA candidate Meira Kumar. After the results are officially announced on July 20, Kovind is going to be the second Dalit President after KR Narayanan (1997 -2002.)

What does one expect from a President? He/she should be presentable, impartial, with an impeccable track record, acceptable to all sections, an able communicator who would not hesitate to speak his mind, while possessing Constitutional and legal acumen. The low profile Kovind fulfils most of these.
Who is Kovind? He is a lawyer by profession, a believer of Hindutva ideology and BJP's Dalit face who has been a Rajya Sabha member twice. He also worked as an aide to Morarji Desai. Coming from Kanpur, he had worked in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar and is backed by the RSS. Kovind had also been the BJP Scheduled Caste Morcha chief (1998-2002) and President of the All-India Koli Samaj.
Why Kovind? Prime Minister Narendra Modi's emotional statement, "Shoot me if you want but don't endanger Dalits" at a function some time ago shows the BJP's outreach to the Dalits. The BJP expects that Kovind's elevation might counter the BSP's influence in UP and also neutralise the opposition and Dalits elsewhere so that they cannot brand the BJP as anti-Dalit especially after the recent atrocities on Dalits. It could arrest the disenchantment and alienation of Dalits with the BJP though they voted for Modi.
Now that Kovind is to be the new tenant of the Rashtrapathi Bhavan, what would be his challenges? Will he emulate KR Narayanan who faced politically turbulent times under the two different regimes of United Front and the Vajpayee-led NDA government, upheld Constitutional value, twice asking the government of the day to reconsider its advice on the use of Article 356 of the Constitution. In October 1987, he asked the UF government to reconsider its decision to dismiss the Kalyan Singh government and in October 1998 he returned a Vajpayee Cabinet's resolution seeking the imposition of President's rule in Bihar. If such a situation arises will Kovind do the same? He has begun well by promising that he would protect the Constitution when he was nominated.
KR Narayanan said on assuming charge, "The President's role has to be within the limits of the Constitution but the Constitution does give some strictly limited discretions to the President in certain circumstances. I do not know how these special circumstances will arise or whether they would arise at all. There might be a role for the President to reflect upon a critical situation and choose the right thinking according to the letter and spirit of the Constitution." It equally applies to Kovind because we do not know what situation will arise in the next five years.
Secondly, after the 2019 polls, if the NDA has the adequate majority, there will be no problem but in the case of a fractured verdict, the President's role is crucial and he may have to take a difficult decision, as did some of his predecessors like Sanjiva Reddy. As of now, the projection is that Modi is expected to come back after the 2019 polls, as there is no real challenge for him.
The third is to maintain a harmonious relationship with the executive. There have been instances of friction between the Raisina Hills and the Race Course Road during the time of Sanjiva Reddy, Giani Zail Singh, KR Narayanan and even Dr Rajendra Prasad. On the other hand, Presidents like Pranab Mukherji, Fakruddin Ali Ahmed, Dr Radhakrishnan, and Pratibha Patil signed on the dotted lines. Kovind, being a disciplined party man, is expected to have a harmonious relationship with Modi.
Fourthly, how will he deal with the Presidential pardons? Under Article 72 of the Indian Constitution, a President can grant pardon, and suspend, remit or commute a sentence of death but he should act on the advice of the Council of Ministers. President S Radhakrishnan commuted the death sentences in all the 57 mercy petitions decided by him. President Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed and President N Sanjeeva Reddy did not get to deal with any mercy petitions in their tenures. Giani Zail Singh rejected 30 of the 32 mercy petitions while R Venkataraman rejected 45 of the 50 cases. Shankar Dayal Sharma rejected the mercy petitions in all 14 cases while Kalam rejected mercy petition in one case and commuted a death sentence in another and did not decide on 23 other cases. Pratibha Patil granted clemency to 34 convicts while rejecting three pleas. Fortunately, for Kovind, Pranab Mukherji had cleared his desk and rejected 30 cases and commuted to life the death sentences of four convicts, the last being in January.
His fifth challenge is diplomatic, as he will be hosting Presidents and Prime Ministers as the Head of the State. He has had no diplomatic experience but this could be overcome by having a good team to advise him.
With the elevation of Kovind, the BJP-control of the top four Constitutional posts is complete. This will be the first time BJP will be having its own President and perhaps Vice President while it already has the Prime Minister and Speaker from the Lotus stable. IPA
(The views are personal.)

Kalyani Shankar

Kalyani Shankar

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