The Communists' opposition to Dr A P J Abdul Kalam's candidature, even at the cost of destroying the People's Front, is based, according to Left Front sources, on a fear that the renowned scientist may prove to be a "rubberstamp" President.
Communist Party of India general secretary Ardhendu Bardhan told rediff.com that the country was facing a serious crisis with "violence continuing unabated in Gujarat, tension not receding at the India-Pakistan border and the economic situation deteriorating with each passing day". To top this, the country is passing through an era of coalitions. In this situation, "we need a President who would be capable of applying his own constitutional wisdom to take serious decisions without being guided by anyone," he said.
The sources said senior leftist politicians, who held a series of meetings after parting company with the Samajwadi Party on the Kalam question, also argued that making the missile scientist President at a time of tension on the borders would send a wrong message to the international community.
Veteran CPI-Marxist politician and former West Bengal chief minister Jyoti Basu said, "Kalam is a world-famous scientist. It is better for him to be where he is."
The sources said the Left also has serious reservations about Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee presenting Kalam as a candidate of the ruling National Democratic Front and not the consensual nominee of all parties. "This is a confrontational stance and not a consensual approach," Left Front politicians asserted at their meeting. "What is the guarantee that he [Kalam] will not turn out to be another Hitler," some demanded.
The Left's strategy now, the sources pointed out, is to force an election for the President. Some of the names being tossed around as possible candidates are Lok Sabha Deputy Speaker P M Sayeed, former chief justice of India Aziz Mushabbar Ahmadi and former export council chief Abid Hussain, besides historian Romila Thappar.
Officially, the Left Front maintains that "Kalam is a renowned scientist-administrator and the country has given him due recognition for his contribution. But the post of President should be filled by a person who is familiar with the complexities of the political situation in the country."
It said that with the polity highly fragmented and coalition governments comprising diverse parties coming into office, it would be essential to have a person with sound constitutional knowledge than somebody who has to seek out experts each time a crisis breaks out.
The leftists cited the example of Gujarat, "where the state government has connived in the worst-ever pogrom against the minorities", as a serious warning. "It is necessary that the person occupying the post of President, which is the highest constitutional political office in the country, must be able to grasp and respond to these developments," they argued at their meeting. "As custodian of the Constitution, he or she is expected to safeguard the secular democratic foundations of the Indian Republic."
Asserting that they wanted to take all secular parties along with them, CPI-M general secretary Harkishen Singh Surjeet said, "We are awaiting the decision of the Congress. Since the NDA is going ahead with its candidate, the Left parties are of the view that it must be opposed."
He said that all those concerned with secular, democratic values expected the opposition parties, including the Congress, to join this political contest.
Following the Left's adamant stand, the presidential election may be heading for an interesting showdown. The decision of the Congress will be crucial in this regard. The electoral college comprises members of the Lok Sabha, Rajya Sabha and the lower houses (Vidhan Sabhas) of all state assemblies.
The Left parties argue that their struggle is solely class-based and not caste- or community-based. As proof, they point to their 25-year uninterrupted reign over West Bengal, a state with a large Muslim population, arguing that they do not need to adopt a posture of appeasement. "The minorities are confident about our intentions and feel secure in West Bengal unlike in other states under NDA rule," a senior CPI-M politician said.
Ironically, the Left Front, along with the Congress, was pushing President K R Narayanan to seek a second term -- until he rejected the idea -- to force a contest against any NDA nominee in the hope that the move would disturb the dalit votes of many NDA supporters like the Bahujan Samaj Party, Telugu Desam Party and All-India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam.
The plan was to expose the leaders of these parties while simultaneously causing cross-voting in several state assemblies with strong dalit representation.
Coverage of the election for the 11th President of India
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