With the oncoming of an era of transparency, the run up to the 13th presidential polls throws some light on what was otherwise dark and spooky corners of the room. The process of getting a new president was historically a close door affair to the common man, more of a mutually agreed understanding between the major political parties to find a ‘harmless’ person among them who would not disturb the government or poke his nose. But things have changed today. Thanks to the widespread reach of media and television, bachcha-bachcha of the country is aware of the candidates, the political preferences and bias, partisian ideologies emerging from various political units etc. So when I was going through some related news articles about some of these candidates, I felt they had a bigger picture to present than what they would put together.
Before we move on to the new presidential candidates, let us for a moment reflect on what I would call the futile presidential tenure of Mrs. Pratibha Patil. It is well known, thanks to media again, that she was herself a compromise candidate for the UPA (after pitching for former minister Mr. Shivraj Patil and Mr. Pranab Mukherjee, whose name seems to go around this time too) standing out for her loyalty to the Nehru-Gandhi family and the UPA’s deep interest in doing something different to bolster its image among the people by nominating India’s first woman President. Multiple demands and ambitions caved the way for Mrs. Patil from Jaipur to Delhi, and the loyalty that powered her to the highest office was also showing no signs of bowing to presidential prudence.
As her tenure is coming to an end, like it always happens in India, Mrs. Patil also came under the scanner for all the wrong reasons. Her palatial post-retirement home in the military area became a serious issue before it was amicably settled before the people of the country.
But what, according to me, is more serious an observation is that she
has undertaken thirteen (an ominous number?) foreign trips in her tenure and spent over Rs.200,00,00,000 (just to show the magnitude of that figure) on it! What makes it more alarming and embarassing is that these were family outings, with anywhere from 3 to 11 family members accompanying her on these trips!
While we were still mulling over these numbers (rather, coming out of its shock), here comes another one. Meira Kumar, our soft-spoken speaker, who reminds each one of us of our kindergarten teachers in her inimitable style of aap baith jayie, kripya baith jaiye… aap shaant rahen… emerges as a potential candidate for the post of President. And with such announcement, comes the shocker that I mentioned earlier. Madam Speaker has also made almost 30 ‘official’ foreign trips in her 35 month tenure, and more importantly spent over Rs.10,00,00,000 on it! According to news revelations, the maximum number of visits she has visited abroad was in Switzerland. (Hmmm…)
Well now that we know how our Madam President has indeed outplayed Madam Speaker in the foreign travel expenses game (Rs. 200,00,00,000 vs Rs. 10,00,00,000) it is quite justified of Ms. Kumar to wish to perform better, from a better (read: more advantageous) position. Good luck to her for that! (and that translates as bad luck to the taxpayer. Sigh! )
We move on to the next person, Mr. P. A. Sangma. Actually, he is a familiar name from my childhood. In those days of GK and quiz competitions, it was indeed important to know him well. However, in retrospect, I can see that he was the speaker for barely 2 years! A congressman, who parted from the party over Mrs. Sonia Gandhi’s foreign origin alongwith Mr. Sharad Pawar to form NCP and subsequently left him to join Ms. Mamta Banerjee over NCP’s reconcilation with Mrs.Gandhi. Impressive, you might feel, as a tall politician sticking to his ideologies and convictions.
When Mr. Pawar returned to be a UPA minister, Mr. Sangma’s daughter (a second time MP) became the youngest Minister of State in the UPA goverment. Oops! I am sure he is now trusting the ‘Foreigner (Italian) Mrs. Gandhi’s’ Hindi skills to understand and appreciate the old saying Subah ka bhoola shaam ko ghar aa jaye to usey bhoola nahin kahte! Never mind, like they say in Tamil ‘arasiyal-la ithellam sahajam appa‘ (These things are common in politics).
But wait, we are not done with Mr. Sangma yet. Recently there were articles that Ex-Speakers were about to be granted post-retirement benefits similiar to that of retired Presidents, Vice-presidents and Prime Ministers. ‘Who’ took the initiative to ‘whom’ about the state of Ex-Speakers? Voila! What a coincidence? Mr. Sangma to Ms. Meira Kumar!
So Mr. Sangma, who abdicated his constituency seat to make a minister out of his daughter and presently functioning in the Meghalaya State Assembly of which his son is the Leader of Opposition, is fighting for the post-retirement benefits of a position he held for less than two years. Not bad, but don’t you see another happy-retirement plan in the making after happily seeing off his children in good positions?
Sad! But we all know what humiliation does the President have to face when he decides to go against the ruling party in favour of his conscience. No? Please ask Dr. Kalam about the Office of Profit Bill. At this juncture, where do we stand?
President no doubt, like Ms. India and Ms. World, is an ambassadorial position. But an ambassador must be a messenger of the good and bad of the entire country and not just its population explosion or joint-family system! 😛 People look up to the President as the kulapati of this rashtra and it is needless to remind that opulence is certainly not a tolerated trait in this country of aam admis. Again, ask our youth icon NRI MP Dr. Tharoor and his tennis-loving senior Mr. S. M. Krishna for their hotel bills and you know what I mean!
I am not a fan of austerity myself (Hehe!) and believe foreign trips of Presidents are justified, but they MUST achieve the objectives of the country. Treating the highest civilian office in the country as a paid family vacation or post-retirement fun time would be an insult to the people of the country and the hard-earned taxpayer’s money.
Anyways, this attitude of ‘Post pe aao aur phoren foriegn ghoomo‘ (Get a position of responsibility and immediately go on foreign tour) is certainly not a healthy, morale-boosting one for public offices in our country; And with citizens becoming more powerful (literally) by the day and the goverment weaker, I believe there is something here for the candidates for Indian Presidency to make a note of.