BJP is within striking distance of getting a President elected who will be completely of non-Congress stock. For the first time in post-independent India, BJP will be electing a President, with or without the help of parties opposed to it ideologically. To cut a long story short, the three-member Committee formed by the BJP to form consensus is a ruse to see what the Opposition has in mind since the BJP has the numbers.
So, it brings us to the question as what the Presidential candidate would look like? History proves that largely Presidential candidates are either backed by the Prime Minister or the person calling the shots in the party, which in the case of UPA 1 and 2 was Congress President Sonia Gandhi.
The early years of the republic saw the office of the President being occupied by the doyens of the freedom struggle who were held in high esteem by the Congress party.
Nehru with Dr Rajendra Prasad and Vice President Dr Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan (http://rashtrapatisachivalaya.gov.in)
The list of the ‘firsts’ includes Dr Rajendra Prasad, Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan and Dr Zakir Hussain. Dr Prasad was a volunteer with Mahatma Gandhi during the Champaran movement in 1916. Despite a difference of opinion between Nehru and Rajendra Prasad, two co-existed because of shared respect and acknowledgment for each other borne out of a shared struggle.
Radhakrishnan who went on to become President in 1962 was an educationist and a politician in the shadows. He became Vice President of the country in 1952 but wasn’t overtly part of the freedom struggle or Congress Party. He was an educationist whose birthday is celebrated as Teacher’s Day in India.
Dr Zakir Hussain was an educationist and co-founder of Jamia Millia Islamia and served as the second Vice President of India. Interestingly both were academicians and reflected Nehru’s complete domination of the Congress post 50s. They were the compatriots, achievers, authors and visionaries of the new Indian republic, the first amongst the equals.
Post 1969, all the Presidents till KR Narayanan also came from active Congress stable. Most of them had the opportunity to interact with MK Gandhi and subsequently made a smooth transition to various spheres of government at Centre and states after 1952.
Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi greeting President R. Venkataraman on his 77th birthday (http://rashtrapatisachivalaya.gov.in)
They were insiders who served as MPs, Ministers and Chief Ministers under Nehru, Shastri and Indira Gandhi. But for the selection to high office, loyalty became an important parameter.
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VV Giri became the President defeating the official candidate of the Congress, Neelam Sanjeeva Reddy when Indira Gandhi called for a conscience vote opposing syndicates within the ruling party.
All the former presidents till the nineties, including Shankar Dayal Sharma were dyed-in-wool Congressmen. Fakhruddin Ali Ahmad shamed the country by signing the proclamation of the Emergency demonstrating his commitment towards an individual rather than the republic. Zail Singh openly sang paeans for Indira Gandhi though he later fell out with her son Rajiv Gandhi. Both were lifelong Indira loyalists.
But even when the Congress wasn't in power, they could still pick their candidates.
When Janata Party came to power in 1977, Neelam Sanjeeva Reddy was elected unopposed as the President. Morarji Desai was the PM and ironically both were ex-Congressmen. It didn’t matter much in 1977 but did become an issue in 2002 when Atal Bihari Vajpayee was interested in getting Krishan Kant elected as the President and couldn’t. The message was “Vipakash kee Sarkar mein bhi Congress ka hee raj hota hai (Even during an Opposition government, the president will still be a Congress man).”
An emaciated Congress in 1991 elected Shankar Dayal Sharma as President who Sonia Gandhi wanted as PM after Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination. However, he refused and PV Narsimha Rao became PM instead and an year later Shankar Dayal Sharma became the President.
Lastly, APJ Abdul Kalam went on to become the President because BJP did not have numbers in the electoral college but sailed because of the Congress support which didn’t back the Left-supported candidature of Captain Lakshmi Sehgal. On the other hand, Pratibha Patil was a result of larger alliance built by Congress to push a non-controversial Congress candidate on the basis of loyalty and gender.
It would be noteworthy that even Left had its say in the election of the Vice President when Hamid Ansari occupied the office.
The last in the long line of Congress-aligned presidents was Dr Pranab Mukherjee who was elected because of his will and his ability to influence players across the spectrum.
President Mukherjee participating in the Silver Trumpet Banner Presentation Ceremony (http://rashtrapatisachivalaya.gov.in)
It is against this backdrop Prime Minister Narendra Modi will nominate BJP’s candidate who will truly belong to his ecosystem.
This brings us back again to the question on the type of person Narendra Modi would like to ascend to Raisina Hill? To put it simply, he will be a person of complete non-Congress stock. He or she would have either worked with or come up through the ranks of the RSS. The person’s ideological loyalty to the RSS-BJP will be unquestioned and would showcase the autonomy of the government in electing their own man.
Despite being short of numbers in Lok Sabha, Congress was able to elect Presidents of its choosing because it dominated the ideological ecosystem of the country. Only compromise that the Congress made was that for the position of the Vice President because it required the support of Left to survive in 2007.
The issue is whether BJP would fall into the trap of sectional representation like South, tribal, gender or Dalit categories? Congress though never overtly acknowledged but partook the claim to have nominated first Dalit as the President in KR Narayanan. Sonia Gandhi got lackluster Pratibha Patel as the President for the reason she is a woman. Vajpayee had to make do with Kalam because Congress couldn’t say no to a candidate of minority dispensation. His name was suggested by Mulayam Singh Yadav and brokered by V Naidu.
In 2017, none of the aforementioned constraints exist for BJP. Once the party has talked shop with other political parties, it is expected to announce one of their own who would come from their cultural and ideological ecosystem which would diametrically be opposed to the Left-Congress idea of the India. Whether it comes in the shape of Sushma Swaraj, Sumitra Mahajan or Draupadi Murmu, she will owe her nomination to Prime Minister Narendra Modi. She will bear Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s signature, who in Vajpayee’s absence has become the ‘pratham purush’ of government, party and ideology.