Control over party and government

Harihar Swarup

As expected Ram Nath Kovind is the new President of India, succeeding versatile Pranab Mukherjee but he is not as multi-talented as the outgoing President. The change of guard at Rashtrapati Bhavan will have its consequences. The equation between the President and the Prime Minister has always been subject to considerable modification and negotiation after every of change of  player; and, though Rashtrapati Bhavan is not the rival centre of power, its occupant can be a source of irritation and frustration for any Prime Minister.
It is widely accepted in political circles that Ram Nath Kovind is Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s personal choice; moreover, it is further suggested that in opting for him, the Prime Minister has bypassed the RSS leadership, who had different ideas. Kovind is a hardcore RSS man but he might not have gor nomination by the BJP leadership unless the Prime Minister strongly backed him 
Like Atal Behari Vajpayee before him, Modi too has sought to gain a kind of upper hand in the patron—client relationship that defines the RSS-BJP symbiosis. The heart of the matter is that there is an inherent conflict between a Prime Minister’s constitutional obligations and a swayamsevak’s oath of allegiance to this “cultural body”, with its headquarters in Nagpur. Prime Minister Vajpayee was very clear from the very beginning that his constitutional responsibilities and duties would take precedence over the RSS expectations and demands; but he had to pay a certain price for clarity and conviction.
Modi had played a subtler hand of cultivated ambiguity humouring the RSS once in a while. But then it is in the nature of office that, sooner or later, a Prime Minister has to draw a line--- for himself and for the Nagpur bosses.
In opting for Kovind, Modi has drawn a line. This has not gone unnoticed or un-resented by the present body. For a BJP Prime Minister, the RSS is the elephant in the room and it cannot be ignored. From a different perspective it would be rather ironic that a hope ought to be pinned on a body like the RSS to keep in check a pro active Prime Minister.
Though Pranab Mukherjee was not a difficult President for Prime Minister Modi, nonetheless he could not be called a rubber stamp. PM or his advisors certainly could take Mukherjee for granted—an option now available to the Prime Minister. A vital equation in the national power grid will stand definitely tilted in favour of the Prime Minister.
President Mukherjee repeatedly pleaded for tolerance and communal amity. He questioned the government’s recourse to ordinance route on land acquisition and enemy property bill and took the Opposition to task for frequent disruption of Parliament. The outgoing President has said that he and the Prime Minister had disagreed many times, but kept it to themselves.   
Not only a pocket President, next month the Prime Minister will also be able to get a Vice-President of his choice. Whatever little space the Opposition was able to claim for itself in the Rajya Sabha, would get drastically curtailed. And, all said and done, Hamid Ansari did not deny himself the pulpit, from where he spoke out in defense of republican values and democratic sensibilities. This minor source of irritation would also be over for Modi in less than a month’s time.
And, then, later in August, there will be a change of guard in the Supreme Court. Institutionally, the higher judiciary regains the only power centre that is not easily amenable to the government.  Like any other institution, the judiciary’s strength is vitally dependent upon the moral fortitude of those who come to man the bench. On this count, there are apprehensions. Those who believe that a robust and vibrant democracy remains a necessary condition for a functioning democracy do not feel all that sanguine. The ruling coterie will have less and less reason to worry about a judicial disapproval or rebuff.
Of course, there is ruling party itself. For its appearance as a modern political party, the BJP remains a closed door affair. Since 2013, when Narendra Modi  got  his way to dominance with the BJP and then went on to  acquire  democratic legitimacy over his leadership by winning the 2014 Lok Sabha poll, the party has allowed itself to be content with very subordinate voice.
The BJP President Amit Shah has no political persona outside Narendra Modi’s shadow. There is no leader left who can be remotely thought of any political challenger to the Prime Minister Modi’s hegemonic stewardship. Neither Vajpayee nor L K Advani ever enjoyed this kind of sway over the BJP. (IPA)

Friday, 28 July, 2017