Prime Minister Narendra Modi with N R Narayana Murthy (Photo courtesy: PIB)
Recently, Amar Singh, a once-flamboyant politician who is now lying low, dropped a bomb in his usual style, saying, "Prime Minister Narendra Modi is planning to propose Bollywood superstar Amitabh Bachchan's name for the next President of India."
In an exclusive interview given to Zee News, Singh went on about how he introduced Bachchan to the then Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi and how it led to the grand old man of Bollywood becoming the brand ambassador of the state.
It must be said that no one in political or social circles takes Singh's words seriously nowadays. Nevertheless, he has opened a Pandora's Box at the perfect time.
The current President of India Pranab Mukherjee's term will end on 25 July, 2017. And it is almost certain that the Modi-led NDA government will not back him for another term. So, who will be the NDA nominee for the post of President of India? Amitabh Bachchan? Really? While Modi and Bachchan may go back a long way and the star's contribution to Hindi cinema is unparalleled, he may not be suitable for the post of the President of India.
Some Prime Ministers of India, including Jawaharlal Nehru and Atal Bihari Vajpayee, made wise choices during the presidential election and nominated deserving candidates.
Since Independence, from Rajendra Prasad to Pranab Mukherjee, India has had 13 presidents. Barring four (one of whom was totally unfit for the position), nine truly deserved the position and were all stalwarts in their own ways.
India's first President, Rajendra Prasad, was a freedom fighter. He served two terms in the office with virtue and wisdom. The man who followed him was Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, an eminent academician who was honoured with the Bharat Ratna before he occupied Rashtrapati Bhavan. Interestingly, his successor Zakir Husain was also from the academic world and a Bharat Ratna awardee. Then followed V V Giri, Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed, R Venkataraman, K R Narayanan, A P J Abdul Kalam and Pranab Mukherjee.
I deliberately left out four names here -- all of them ascended to the top post just because of pure politics or chamchagiri. As it happens, those four aberrations took office during Congress and Janata Party regimes at the Centre. The tradition of aberrations started with late PM Indira Gandhi and ended with her daughter-in-law, current Congress president Sonia Gandhi.
Though the President of India is a ceremonial position, it has got its own sanctity and importance. Only when democracy is in crisis, does the invisible power of the President surface to salvage the nation with his or her constitutional powers. Some Prime Ministers of India, including Jawaharlal Nehru and Atal Bihari Vajpayee, made wise choices during the presidential election and nominated deserving candidates. In fact, the choice of Kalam from the Vajpayee-led NDA government was a masterstroke. The Missile Man of India spearheaded great change in Rashtrapati Bhavan. It's because of him that the ceremonial post won a place in the people's heart. Kalam was affectionately called the "People's President" and everyone loved him.
Then President A P J Abdul Kalam with Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee (Photo courtesy: PIB)
In early 2007, when Kalam's tenure was about to end, one name propped up as his successor. The name was none other than that of Infosys founder N R Narayana Murthy, a man who has made a significant contribution in transforming India into its new avatar, and who was a pioneer in giving shape to the Indian IT industry. During Manmohan Singh's first tenure as PM, there was a buzz at Lutyens Delhi that the UPA government may nominate Murthy for the President's post. Sources that were privy to the Congress's inner circles said as much to me.
If Modi and the BJP propose Bachchan's name, they will be laying the foundation for one more disaster... Modi will become Sonia and Bachchan will become Pratibha!
At the same time, I got an opportunity to meet Murthy at his Catamaran office in Bangalore. During the interview, I asked him, "If given a chance, would you be ready to take up the job?" With a gentle smile on his face, India's IT czar told me, "Up to now, no one has officially approached me with any such proposal. If I get a call, I will think and decide." Thanks to Madam Sonia, that official communication never came and what happened next was a disaster.
Subsequently, the UPA politically pushed Pranab Mukherjee out into the Lutyens hill. Though it was a big internal loss to the Congress party, it was a gain for Indian democracy. A seasoned politician and a great scholar, Mukherjee somehow revived the lost glory of Rashtrapati Bhavan. Now it seems quite unambiguous that he will exit next year.
The most interesting question now is whether Prime Minister Narendra Modi will propose his friend Bachchan's name for the coveted post. Another pertinent question is: Does the "shahenshah of Bollywood" match any of the nine stalwarts who have decorated Rashtrapati Bhavan? No, not all. If Modi, BJP, NDA and team propose Bachchan's name, they will be laying the foundation for one more disaster. If that happens, Modi will become Sonia and Bachchan will become Pratibha!
Keeping Bachchan aside, what other options do Modi and his team have at the moment? Do they have any other politically motivated names in their mind? Is it the best time to pay "guru dakshina" to the grand old man of BJP, Lal Krishna Advani, and make him President?
Is it the best time to pay "guru dakshina" to the grand old man of BJP, Lal Krishna Advani, and make him President?
No doubt the former deputy prime minister and BJP veteran truly deserves it. But will Modi back him? On the other hand, the 88-year old Advani may not enjoy his stay at Rashtrapati Bhavan, because as a head of state, he has to be very active during his tenure and be part of a number of ceremonial events. I don't think Modi and his team have many more options at this moment.
Here is a great opportunity for Modi to become Vajpayee! If he can propose N R Narayana Murthy's name for the next President of India race, it will be a masterstroke. The 69-year old Chairman Emeritus of Infosys is well respected across India and the world. He could be the right person to claim the post which, not very long ago was owned by Kalam.
Murthy has immense credibility and acceptance across the board. He is a very well known international personality, and the whole world takes note of him when he speaks. Sans Infosys also, the contribution of Murthy to society -- as a philanthropist, director of many boards and advisor of a number of international organizations -- is immense.
Here is a great opportunity for Modi to become Vajpayee! If he can propose N R Narayana Murthy's name for the next President of India race, it will be a masterstroke.
Like Kalam, Murthy is also a treasure trove of knowledge, an epitome of ethics and an amazing character. In his four decades of corporate and public life, Murthy has emerged spotless and as a well-cut diamond in the public sphere. He can either match or surpass Kalam and become the real "People's President."
In the past two years as Prime Minister, Narendra Modi has etched his own imprint on the Indian government with his unique work ethic, modern thinking, far-sighted vision and aggressive administration.
Now that he is dreaming about Make in India, Startup India and Skilling India, Modi needs a President who can understand his vision and cooperate with him. In terms of wavelength, work ethics, commitment, only a person like Murthy can match Modi. Will Modi and his team find a way to rejuvenate the respect associated with the post of President of India? I think so.