People's Democracy(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
July 22, 2007
The CPI(M)’s Stand And BJP’s Utter Failure
THE presidential elections will be over by the time this issue of People’s Democracy comes out. A number of issues were thrown up in the run up to the election of the 13th President of India. Now that the election is over, it is necessary to deal with some of these questions and explain how the CPI(M) views them.
The CPI(M) and the Left parties were criticised for stating that the candidate for president should have a political background. Some critics have termed this as the root cause for the controversy and charges being leveled during the presidential campaign.
The CPI(M) and the Left parties were of the definite view, given the record of the Kalam presidency, that it was necessary to have a person with a political background as president. Setting out such a requirement is not an “absurd stipulation” as characterised by a senior journalist in a leading daily. What is missed is that the person occupying the post of president has to take decisions which will be generally political in nature. The judgment that he or she brings to bear on many issues will also have a political dimension. When president Abdul Kalam extolled the two-party system recently, he was essentially expressing a political opinion shared by the dominant classes in our society including much of the big bourgeois media. What is objectionable is not that he expressed such views but the façade put up by some that he is a non-political person.
The choice of a candidate for president is a political one. When Abdul Kalam was chosen as a candidate in 2002, it was through a political decision initiated by the BJP and the NDA that got the support of the Samajwadi Party, the TDP and the eventual endorsement of the Congress and other parties. The Left parties opposed this candidature on political grounds, not on the basis of any personal profile of the candidate. Similarly, the choice of Bhairon Singh Shekhawat as the NDA’s candidate is a political choice, just as that of Pratibha Patil by the UPA in consultation with the Left parties. The CPI(M) has always stated its political position with regard to the choice and support of a presidential candidate.
In the past, in the years of one party dominance of the Congress, the CPI(M) had cooperated with other opposition parties to put up a common candidate for the president.
The exception was the 1969 presidential election. In the background of the developing split in the Congress party, the CPI(M) and the Left parties declared their support for V V Giri, the candidate put up by a section of the Congress headed by Indira Gandhi. This decision was taken as the Indira Gandhi wing of the Congress at that time stood for bank nationalisation, abolition of privy purses and similar measures, in contrast to the rightwing platform of the “syndicate” which backed Sanjeeva Reddy.
It is in this period from 1967 to 1987 that the CPI(M) supported the candidature of Tridib Chaudhury, Justice Khanna and Justice V R Krishna Iyer. Even in this period, the CPI(M) was clear that the role of the president cannot be such as to override the prime minister and the cabinet. That is why in 1987, the Party opposed the move to make Zail Singh stand for election again by some of the opposition parties. It is at the instance of the CPI(M) that Justice V R Krishna Iyer was put up as the opposition candidate.
The situation changed by the time of the 10th presidential elections in 1992. The Congress had failed to get a majority in 1989 and the 1992 general elections. The BJP emerged as the largest opposition party in the 1992 elections. This was in the background of the rise of the communal forces and the Ram temple movement. The CPI(M) assessing the political situation decided that the next president should be a person with a firm commitment to secular values. That is why it decided to support Dr Shankar Dayal Sharma’s candidature though he belonged to the Congress party. The CPI(M) and the Left parties were also in favour of K R Narayanan as the vice presidential candidate with the implicit understanding that he would succeed as the next president. It is this approach, which ensured that for two successive terms from 1992 to 2002 the BJP and the communal forces had no say on who should be the president.
Many of those who were critical of the CPI(M)’s forthright support to Dr Shankar Dayal Sharma’s election realised the wisdom of the move when five months later the president came out openly criticising the Narasimha Rao government for its failure to protect the Babri Masjid from demolition on December 6, 1992.
The CPI(M) has also not advocated the principle that a president should not get a second term. In fact, it is well known that our Party wanted a second term for K R Narayanan. It was the BJP, in government then, that argued that a second term should not be given to any president, a fact confirmed by Atal Behari Vajpayee himself during the recent presidential election. The BJP’s refusal to consider a second term for K R Narayanan was also due to the disapproval he conveyed of the pogroms in Gujarat and his request for firm action to deal with the situation.
The CPI(M)’s approach has been therefore always a political one as far as the presidential election is concerned. It is the BJP and some ill-informed media commentators who seek to camouflage the real nature of the Presidential election.
The CPI(M) came out against the candidature of Bhairon Singh Shekhawat not on any personal or ethical grounds but due to the politics and ideology that Shekhawat has been upholding as a life long adherent of the RSS and the BJP. No one can overlook the role he played as chief minister of Rajasthan when his government helped the mobilisation of so-called kar sevaks to demolish the Babri Masjid. It is hypocritical and politically dishonest on the part of the BJP and the NDA to have presented such a candidate as an “independent”. There would have been greater credibility for Shekhawat’s candidature if he had stood clearly on the basis of the political platform he has espoused all along.
Instead, the BJP sought to oppose the candidature of Pratibha Patil not on political grounds but took refuge behind allegations of misconduct, nepotism and corruption. Similar charges could be leveled against its own candidate who was the chief minister of an opportunist coalition forged in 1993 and whose strong point has been the distribution of political patronage and other practices which fall far short of the ethical and moral standards which the BJP hypocritically espouses today.
In a party-based system and parliamentary democracy, what one looks for in a president, even if it is a non-party person, is not an apolitical person but someone whose political views and preferences are known. That is why the BJP’s attempt to depict its candidate as an independent is dishonest.
The clamour that political parties should select a “non-political” person as president is not so innocent as it seems. There is a section of the ruling class and the media who wish to get their views accepted by bypassing the political system and the democratic rights. There are many who would be thrilled to have a president who would come out against “caste-based” reservations. There are some who would want the president to chastise political parties and leaders. There are some who also subscribe to what the BJP advocates – a presidential form of government. It should not be forgotten that when the BJP came to government in 1998, led by L K Advani it talked of reviewing the Constitution and for a presidential form of government.
Some of the desperation of the BJP in this presidential election is due to its realisation that the victory of the UPA candidate will deprive it of one avenue which it has consistently sought to use against the elected government. One has only to recall the number of times the BJP-NDA have trooped to Rashtrapati Bhawan to present their grievances against the UPA government.
The talk of a “rubber stamp” president must also be seen in this context. It is amusing to see talk of Pratibha Patil as a “rubber stamp” president ignoring the fact that the opposition candidate would have been a rubber stamp of the RSS if he was ensconced in Rashtrapati Bhawan.
An incidental issue which arose in the presidential election was the speculation that the CPI(M) may propose one of its leaders as the presidential candidate. This stemmed from the view that since the Left is supporting the UPA government, it can therefore legitimately ask for its nominee to be the candidate. As stated earlier, the CPI(M) considers the post of the president in the Constitutional scheme, as one representing the Indian State and the government. The role of the president is circumscribed by the cabinet and parliamentary system in our country. A president has to represent the views of the government. The president’s address to parliament illustrates this relationship. The president has to give assent to legislation passed by parliament or advice tendered by the cabinet, even if he disagrees with them. The CPI(M) at present and in the immediate future can be expected to oppose many policy decisions and legislations initiated by the government. To have a president from the CPI(M), would be to declare that the Party has no basic difference with the bourgeois-landlord policies and governments. So, it is inconceivable for a member of the CPI(M) to be playing this role at the current juncture. That is why the Polit Bureau of the Party when deciding its approach to the presidential election, ruled out considering such a proposition.
The Party’s stand was that the candidate should have a political background with firm secular credentials so that he, or, she can withstand in future the pressures and counter the moves to undermine the secular principle of the State as laid out in the Constitution. It was for the Congress and the UPA to select such a candidate being the ruling combination and the Left to be consulted in the process.
BJP’s UTTER FAILURE
The presidential election has shown up the utter failure of the BJP. Despite its feverish and low-level propaganda, despite its talk of ethics and morality, it stands isolated. The NDA itself could not present a united front in support of Shekhawat. The Shiv Sena and the Trinamul Congress did not fall in line. Inspite of all its efforts to woo the parties of the United National Progressive Alliance, they decided not to support Shekhawat and abstain in the election. The result of the presidential election will send a clear message. The post of president cannot be handed over to a person belonging to a political party which has so openly challenged the secular principle of the Indian State and which has not hesitated to display its contempt for Constitutional values.