M A I N   N E W S

Editor's Column
Ethics must count
By H. K. Dua

Choosing a President for the nation ought to have been a noble exercise, but the people whose job it is to select one have mucked it up.

Their narrow outlook and petty considerations have demeaned the highest office of the land. It now stands shorn of the dignity and aura it should normally exude. And no actor in the power play is coming out with reputation unblemished.

Mrs Sonia Gandhi rejected the Left’s suggestion on the plea that Mr Pranab Mukherjee was too competent a minister to be spared for Presidency. Mr Shivraj Patil was rejected by the Left on the ground that he was an incompetent minister. Mrs Gandhi took revenge on the Left by coming forward with the name of Mrs Pratibha Patil.

Normally, the government makes inquiries about a candidate’s antecedents before recruiting even a lower division clerk. No one cared to study Mrs Patil’s record in Maharashtra’s sugar politics and cooperative banking.

Her CV, which is now coming out bit by bit, has given the BJP some ammunition for firing salvos at the UPA’s nominee. The presidential election is getting vitiated by accusations and acrimony.

Stories on the TV channels and in the newspapers – true or otherwise — are worrying many in the Congress party and their allies in the UPA. Not many outside Maharashtra know of Mrs Patil’s cooperative sugar mill, the bank loans that her relatives had not paid back and the working girls’ hostels that had been set up by her with government money, but were being run by her family members.

At this stage we can’t say whether the charges are right, or wrong. Quite likely she is innocent and is not personally culpable of much the BJP’s spokesmen are accusing her of, but she has been keeping silent all these days when a severe attack on her credentials has been building up. A sort of omnibus denial, which came in the weekly “Hindi Outlook” last evening, is bland and does not answer several questions being asked about her.

The Prime Minister has described the charges against Mrs Pratibha Patil as “mudslinging”. Maybe no mud will stick on Mrs Patil ultimately, but it was the duty of the Congress party and its allies to choose a candidate whose past does not attract any unsavoury comment.

Leave aside the charges of misuse of power being flaunted by the BJP in the thick of the battle – which apparently is not a morality play – no one knows what Mrs Patil stands for, what values she adheres to and what causes she intends to espouse when she reaches Rashtrapati Bhawan.

Judging from the way she spoke about purdah the other day, her elementary knowledge of history seems to be limited. For a person who can be President of a secular country the remarks were politically incorrect, and can be misunderstood by the minorities.

And then comes the shocking confession she made on the television channels at Mount Abu that she had a conversation with her guru who had died 38 years ago! This from a person who is to be head of the state of a nation of billion people poised to emerge as a major power in the 21st century! It is quite likely that she has not read what Jawaharlal Nehru wrote about evolving a scientific temper.

How would the Congress explain their nominee’s belief in superstition? How will the Left square up this with their own faith in Marxist rationalism, or dialectics?

It is not the Congress party alone which has grievously faulted. President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam who tried to ignite the minds of a nation was last week open to accepting another term if he could get it through consensus or through a guaranteed victory. Maybe President Kalam got carried away by smart mails and opinion polls of questionable validity. He should have told the Third Front leaders who called on him that there is indeed a life even out of office.

Short of numbers, the BJP-led NDA also has not come out well. It had made known to Mr Kalam that it did not want to put him up as a candidate for a second term. Having announced his candidature, Mr Bhairon Singh Shekhawat ought not to have offered to stand down in case President Kalam chose to contest. His offer served no purpose, but added to the confusion created by the so-called Third Front.

That the politicians have taken the task of electing President rather casually has become secondary; of crucial importance now is how Mrs Patil comes out of the jam she is caught in. Those who are manning her campaign say she will come clean and reply to the BJP’s charges on Sunday.

If the charges turn out to be false, the BJP will have done a great disservice to the country and might have to apologise to her. In case even a bit of the mud sticks on Mrs Pratibha Patil, it will be a sad commentary on those who put her up for Rashtrapati Bhawan.

Maybe, a majority in the electoral college is still with Mrs Pratibha Patil, but what ultimately matters is not arithmetic, but the importance of ethics and moral values in public life. It is these values that really nurture the idea of democracy.



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