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The final nail in the coffin of meritocracy—when Modi proves that he is no different from Indira.

How the trajectory of presidency which began with such stalwarts like Dr Rajendra Prasad and Sarvapalli Radhakrishnan, was tragically sought to be reduced to such mediocre rubber stamps like Fakhruddin Ali Ahmad, Pratibha Patil, Ramnath Kovind and now Draupadi Murmu. This is another benchmark of the pulverisation of the institution of ‘meritocracy’ ostensibly trumpeted publicly by Narendra Modi, in the sign and symbol of debilitating the institution further, Modi steps into the shoes of Indira Gandhi to disdainfully degrade it further by camouflaging it in fanciful costumes to publicly sell his populism on the one hand, and cunningly institutionalising the ‘yes men’ system in the Rashtrapati Bhavan, on the other. Unequivocally, this is another cynical attempt on the part of prime minister to reduce the gravity of Rashtrapati Bhavan, as any other constitutional office in the country today. Small wonder then, Modi has vindicated that he is no different from Nehru and Indira when it came to writing off the obituary of credibility of constitutionally mandated institutions in the country.

Vivekanand Jha Ranchi: In the wake of Pranab Mukherjee, taking the oath of the 13th President of India, he had tried to impress upon the nation that, notwithstanding his long term political affiliation with any political party, he would uphold the gravity of the constitution in the manner the first President of India, Dr Rajendra Prasad, did. Paying the glowing tributes to the first president of an independent India, Pranab Mukherjee, despite maintaining a cordial relations with prime minister Modi, spectacularly stuck to his irrevocable stand: ‘ I will stand by the constitution in letter and spirit’. Pranab Mukherjee had remarkably stuck to his stand throughout his tenure. His significant contribution which ought to have set the plausible precedent in the polity, regrettably failed to do so, was his daring public declaration of the abolition of ‘His Excellency’ tag against his name, during the tenure of his presidency. But then, Pranab Mukherjee was striving hard to restore the gravity of the highest constitutional office of the land, when he had taken oath to uphold the constitution in letter and spirit which, as the situation stood then, had fallen a severe casualty to the prime ministerial whims and fancy, purportedly was hijacked by the first Congress family when, Sonia Gandhi had subjugated the nation’s raison d’etre and summum bonum which Indian constitution magnificently envisages and legally mandated to uphold in all its gravity. However, Sonia Gandhi was only duplicating what her family icons had done in the past: both Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi had subverted the letter and spirit of constitution, time and time again. And, Sonia was only following in the footsteps of her family icons.

Dr Rajendra Prasad, the first president of India, was definitively not the choice of the first prime minister of India. It was C. Rajgopalachari, famously known as Rajajee, whom Nehru intended to make India’s first president. Rajajee had a close affinity with Jawaharlal Nehru, as both shared the common interest in literature, science and other subjects. No wonder, Rajjajee was the choice of Jawaharlal. However when Sardar Patel came to have some sort of whiff of an idea of what Nehru was upto, he threw the cold water in Nehru’s grand plan: He suggested the name of Dr Rajendra Prasad, at the last moment, to the wide applause of Congress leaders and to the utmost consternation of Jawaharlal. Consequently Dr Rajendra Prasad, with the blessings of Sardar Patel, ascended to the highest position of constitution which Nehru distastefully resented. Small wonder then, the elevation of Dr Rajendra Prasad to the Rashtrapati Bhavan, triggered an inner conflict and serious disagreement between the president and the prime minister. Significantly, the first serious disagreement came to the fore when Jawaharlal had dissuaded Dr Rajendra Prasad from attending the inaugural session of the revival of Somnath, the Sanctum Sanctorum in Saurashtra, the monument of India’s vacillating fortune since over millennium, if not more. In fact, ever since Mahmood of Ghazni had invaded Somnath multiple times and desecrated the sanctity of this great Jyotirlinga, the historical and civilisational significance of the Sanctum Sanctorum had increased manifold. Nonetheless the president, brushing aside prime ministerial advice, went ahead to inaugurate the revival of Somnath, resulting in Nehru unleashing his vengeance: he had scuttled Dr Rajendra Prasad’s speech from being broadcast to the nation. Moreover, the strict disciplinarian that Dr Rajendra Prasad was, he would take Nehru to task for his various omissions and commissions in the office of prime minister. Besides, Nehru’s attending parliament too was being kept tab of by the president, and therefore, Jawaharlal had to be serious in attending the parliamentary proceedings, in order to avoid the presidential reprimand.

With the benefits of hindsight, the degree and magnitude of Nehru’s disgust over Rajendra Prasad’s election twice to the office of presidency, was of such degree and magnitude that he introduced an amendment to the constitution to prevent anyone from holding the office thrice, thereby strangling the prospect of Prasad’s appointment thrice to the office of presidency. As was the case with the father, so was with the daughter too, even with greater elan: she sabotaged the prospect of the official candidate of the Congress Party, Neelam Sanjiv Reddy and voted for an independent candidate, V V. Giri, when the latter became the president. Besides, she elevated a man of little consequence, Fakhruddin Ali Ahmad, who was so much grateful and indebted to her, that he had seldom developed any qualms to sign the presidential proclamation to declare emergency in the country. Later she floated another man, Giani Zail Singh, who would unfailingly swear his loyalty to her, so much so that he had anointed her son Rajiv as the next prime minister without the least of moral inhibition–Rajiv then was a mere general secretary of Congress party. Later nation had witnessed Pratibha Patil, another family loyalist being sworn in as India’s president. Significantly, the post of president, even though ceremonial, nonetheless had assumed its overwhelming importance in the wake of Dr Shankar Dayal Sharma inviting Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the leader of the single largest party, BJP to form the government. Ever since then, the post of president has assumed the monumental importance for both the ruling party as well as the opposition.

With the advent of Narendra Modi in Delhi Durbar in 2014, the nation had a huge expectations from him: He would bring substantive reforms to upend the age old, decrepit system, and bring about the radical change in the mindset of the people. Moreover, the constitutional institutions which were sufficiently weakened during Congress regime, would be toned up. Lo and behold! Modi, far from improving the system, contributed immensely to emasculate the credibility of institutions further. Ironically, even where Indira drastically failed, Modi succeeded with aplomb. For instance, Keshvanand Bharti versus State of Kerala, the famous verdict of the apex court, remains the formidable example of justice remaining steadfastly committed to its cause, even though Indira had disgracefully sought to purchase the judges. However, the Indian judicial system, along with the apex court, never showed such debilitation as it is manifest today. No wonder, the office of presidency too was skillfully subjugated to make its occupant sing prime minister’s panegyrics. Ramnath Kovind, the incumbent president remains the best exemplification of the same. Remaining beholden to the prime minister for making him president, Kovind could never sum up the courage to rise above that act of gratification. Interestingly, the prime minister played the game to the perfection: on the one hand, he got all the milleage of elevating a Dalit to the highest position of the land, on the other he had the obliged and indebted man in Rashtrapati Bhavan to kowtow to his whims and fancy. Kovind, so much grateful he was, that he seldom sought any explanation from Modi government on its various omissions and commissions. Worse still, his representatives in states, were openly siding with BJP leaders of the state, making mockery of the constitution, failed to stir him even once, is the vindication of Ramnath Kovind reducing the gravity of presidential position to nadir. As is the case with Ramnath Kovind, so is the case with Draupadi Murmu: an Adivasi woman of little consequence, is sought to be elevated to the Rashtrapati Bhavan, will ever remain beholden to the prime minister for making her what she had never imagined. Small wonder then, the meritocracy, about which prime minister had spoken so eloquently, time and time again, is sought to be strangled in the name of promoting loyalty and obedience to the power that be. Worse still, the Uniform Civil Code, which appears to be on the anvil, stands absolutely irrelevant against the backdrop of so called Dalit and Adivasi edification, which is nothing short of mirage in the desert. After all, making an individual the president of the country does not result in the elevation and the edification of that community per se, other than winning some brownie political points. However what definitively comes out of this sordid episode is the complete erosion of the meritocratic structure of the society, especially when the man like Dr Kalam had graced such highest position of presidency, elevating far lesser mortals to the highest position amounts to making a mockery of both meritocracy and the upcoming Uniform Civil Code, along with questioning the wisdom of our constitution makers. It is the time Narendra Modi should ponder: Where Indira Gandhi is today, he too will reach there tomorrow; although today is his, tomorrow will belong to historians who will not show him any mercy in equating him with Indira Gandhi in destroying the gravity of presidential position in the republic and putting to shreds the credibility of institutions.

Vivekanand Jha, author of Delhi Beckons: RaGa for NaMo, 56 Inches and The Making of Narendra Modi, Unmaking of Jawaharlal.

Vivekanand Jha, Author, Academician and a Public Intellectual.

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