President Kovind’s style: Sticking to script

Amulya Ganguli

Three of President Ramnath Kovind’s speeches since he assumed office have shown him to be an ideal head of state.
In a parliamentary democracy, the President or the governor have no more than a ceremonial function in accordance with the Westminster model. Although the government is run in their name, they take no part in decision making. Their functions are limited to cutting ribbons to open a school or hospital or delivering speeches which are vetted by the government.
If they have personal views which contradict the ruling party’s position, they have no option but to remain silent. A President or a governor has to be ideologically neutral, leaving the party affiliation behind when taking the oath of office.
Since they have little to do, the exalted positions are often given to elderly party faithfuls either because they are no longer fit for an active political career, or because the party wants to marginalize them – or in other words, kick them upstairs - so that they cannot pose a threat to rising stars in the organization.
But even if the Rashtrapati Bhavan or the Raj Bhavans have been likened to old age homes, their occupants have almost invariably acted with dignity even when their elevations were associated with political gamesmanship as in the cases of V.V. Giri and Sanjeeva Reddy.
Although someone like Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed was accused of blindly signing on the dotted line to snuff out democracy on June 25/26 midnight in 1975, he had no option because the President (or the governor) cannot but ditto what the government tells them to do.
Ramnath Kovind can be said to have followed this golden rule when he praised Tipu Sultan in his speech to the Karnataka legislature and also when he referred to Kerala as a model state in his speeches in Thiruvananthapuram.
In both the cases, his views were in tune with those of the Congress government in Karnataka and the CPI(M)-led government in Kerala presumably because the drafts had the approval of the ruling parties.
In any event, the President could hardly be expected to deviate from the lines of the two state governments even if they were diametrically opposed to the BJP’s views.
There has been only one occasion when a governor had refused to read out a portion of the script prepared by the state government. This was in West Bengal in 1969 when the governor, Dharma Vira, was expected to condemn his own role a year earlier in the imposition of President’s rule in the state when the Leftists were in power.
When the communists returned to power in 1969, their draft of the governor’s address to the assembly was critical of the use of Article 356 of the Constitution to dismiss an elected government. But Dharma Vira declined to read the self-incriminating lines, resulting in an uproar in the House.
It is just as well that no such incident took place in Karnataka and Kerala since the BJP chose to overlook what the President had said in praise of a medieval king whom a Union minister called a mass rapist, and about the satisfactory performance of a state where the BJP president Amit Shah had gone on a yatra in protest against the deaths of RSS workers.
The possible reasons why the BJP did not want to make an issue of what the President had said were, first, that it could hardly criticize someone whom the party had elevated only recently to the topmost position in the country and, secondly, because the party might not have expected the President to say what he did and was, therefore, caught off-guard.
Besides, the BJP could hardly take umbrage about the President’s adherence to the script considering that he had followed the same routine when delivering his first address to the nation, which had left out the name of India’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru.
The omission had seemed strange considering that the First Citizen named Gandhi, Vallabhbhai Patel, B.R. Ambedkar and Deen Dayal Upadhyay – the BJP’s latest icon – but not Nehru, whom even the Prasar Bharati chairman, a saffronite himself, recently called the architect of modern India.
The President’s silence was odd considering that none other than Atal Behari Vajpayee described Nehru as the “favourite prince” of Bharat Mata. Condoling Nehru’s death in parliament, Vajpayee said: “A curtain has come down. The leading actor on the stage of the world played his final role and took the bow… In the Ramayana, Maharshi Valmiki had said of Lord Rama that he brought the impossible together. In Panditji’s life we see a glimpse of what the great poet said.”
This is not the BJP’s opinion of Nehru today, for he is held responsible for everything that went wrong from the reference of the Kashmir dispute to the UN in 1948 to the humiliation at the hands of the Chinese in 1962 to the flawed economic policies leading to the licence-permit-control raj.
It is understandable, therefore, why Ramnath Kovind did not find any mention of Nehru in the script given to him by his speech-writers. Similarly, he had no option but to extol Tipu Sultan and Kerala’s performance in Bengaluru and Thiruvananthapuram where he again played the role of a copybook President. (IPA)

Monday, 6 November, 2017