The battle for the presidency is descending to the level of present-day parliamentary or legislative debates distinguished by subjective, personalised onslaughts on political opponents and the murky trading of charges during election campaigns. The manner in which the UPA-Left’s nominee for the office of the President, the first women candidate for the post, is being subjected to attacks by interested quarters trying to bring out skeletons from her cupboard is indeed quite unprecedented.
Public memory is proverbially short, but it is not so short as to be oblivious of the image of the Congress nominee to succeed Neelam Sanjiva Reddy in Rashtrapati Bhavan. Of course, when his candidature was announced many expressed disbelief; yet the criticisms against that personality did not sink to the low we are witnessing now. (Was it because we had then an extraordinarily strong Prime Minister?) And what is most intriguing is the timing of the charges that are being levelled. Moreover convincing rebuttals from persons well aware of the happenings in Maharashtra, like Sharad Pawar, do not seem to carry conviction with the media leave aside the Opposition.
That does not mean that the person seeking to occupy the highest constitutional office of the land should not be subjected to public scrutiny. In the interest of transparency, which is an essential attribute of parliamentary democracy, his/her activities should definitely come into the public domain. And needless to underline, Pratibha Patil’s statement on the origin of the purdah in Rajasthan and her frank admission of the indications she received from the other world have caused much embarrassment to the Congress leaders. There is nothing improper if she is cornered on such utterances as she should be. But hurling such charges as shielding a relative accused of murder and defaulting on a massive bank loan amounts to what PM Manmohan Singh has aptly termed “mud-slinging”. The point to underscore here is that if the elements in the Opposition think that by so doing they would be able to bring down the UPA-Left nominee’s stature before the public they may or may not be mistaken but in the bargain they would also be devaluing themselves. Here one may add another point, brought into focus by none else than the Union I&B Minister: perhaps the charges are flowing thick and fast because the candidate concerned is a woman. Of course, she does not give the appearance of being a woman with a difference—as Indira Gandhi was or as Mayawati is. Is that the reason for the spate of attacks on her? In the run-up to the presidential election such crude assaults may intensify. That, to say the least, would be most unfortunate. By the way, what right has the AIADMK supremo to describe Pratibha Patil as a “joke on the public enacted by Sonia Gandhi”? When she herself faces the serious charge of making false declarations during election-time, who is she to make such a snide remark?
No doubt going by the numbers game Pratibha Patil has much more than an edge over Bhairon Singh Shekhawat. But if the Opposition feels that this can be made up by sullying the image of the UPA-Left nominee by hurling serious charges on her, it is adopting a pernicious course. Already both the BJP and the newly-formed UNPA have degraded themselves by (i) attempting to drag the name of the incumbent President in their political game (thankfully he eventually declined to go along with them), and (ii) launching wanton attacks on Pratibha Patil. These also reflect the utter desperation of the BJP and some of the UNPA stalwarts like the Samajwadi Party for having suffered massive setbacks in the UP Assembly election in particular. They should not vent their frustration in this way—by this they are only demeaning themselves.
The country needs to be spared of such acrobatics around the presidential poll. For these would ultimately end up weakening our parliamentary democracy which—despite all its deficiencies and the manifold attacks from every quarter it is being forced to endure to this day—still retains its basic robust character.
- Mainstream,Edit, Vol XLV, No 28
June 28 S.C.