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Amitabh Bachchan for President? No way!

By Sudhir Bisht
April 01, 2016 14:23 IST
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With Rajendra Prasad, S Radhakrishnan, K R Narayanan, V V Giri and A P J Abdul Kalam on my mind, the image of my beloved hero dancing ungainly to Merey angney main tumharra kya kaam hai, doesn't make for a smooth transition, says Sudhir Bisht.

Amar Singh is back with a bang. He has been itching for some time to get back into the news and when the protest march against those returning the awards, alongside Anupam Kher, didn't work out, he went back to using the name of his former 'elder brother,' the one and only Amitabh Bachchan.

Singh claims to have inside information about Prime Minister Narendra Modi thinking of 'nominating' Bachchan as the next President of India.

We all recall that Amar Singh had conducted a similar campaign in 2007, but those were different times. Amar Singh was genuinely rooting for Bachchan to be nominated as the Presidential candidate by all parties. He was still a member of the kingmaker circle of politicians and he was still friends with Big B and his wife.

Life has since taken several twists and turns. Amar Singh no longer enjoys even a fraction of the power that he once enjoyed nor is he a close friend of Bollywood's first family anymore.

But Amar Singh has once again hogged the limelight by telling the world that Big B could be our next President when the incumbent retires next year.

When my wife, a diehard Bachchan fan, heard this, she jumped with joy. I thought she was taking her adulation for Big B a bit too far. I agree that the man is a phenomenal talent when it comes to acting and that his baritone remains unmatched. I also agree that he is seen as one superstar who makes all the right noises, endorses all the right social causes and even waives off his stupendous per-minute fees for lending support to developmental campaigns.

I tell my wife that while I agree that there hasn't been an artist as loved and worshipped across India as Amitabh Bachchan, I can't see him fitting into the role of the President of India.

'Whenever the name Amitabh Bachchan comes up, I think of a young Amitabh dancing to the raunchy number Merey angney mein, tumhara kya kaam hai,' I tell her.

'That's the problem with you and not with Amitabh. Change your mindset. If Arnold Schwarzenegger could become a multiple term governor of California and if Ronald Reagan could become president of America for two terms, why can't Mr Bachchan be the President of India?' she asks angrily

'Is it because he is a movie star and hence his contribution to India's progress is considered less than that of a scientist or a banker or an industrialist? I believe that he is quite an educated person. Even though it may not matter in our country where someone without a basic degree could become a HRD minister! And weren't two other movie stars, Vinod Khanna and Shatrughan Sinha, ministers in Vajpayee's government? Then why can't Mr Bachchan become President?'

The lady wasn't giving up easily but my mind refuses to let go of that image of Bachchan etched in my mind. I can never imagine him in the seat that was once occupied by President A P J Abdul Kalam.

I may concede that in recent times Amitabh may have contributed to the development of brand India more than anyone else. He may even be the best-known Indian after Bapu. He is more popular than even Modi on Twitter and that's awesome.

Amitabh is arguably one of the greatest entertainers and his contribution to cinema is great but is it greater than that of Satyajit Ray or Bimal Roy or Raj Kapoor or V Shantaram? Amitabh has been an immensely popular actor, but does he have the versatility of a Sanjeev Kumar or the intensity of an Om Puri or even the histrionic abilities of a Rajnikanth? He has given several hits, but what about the number of flops he churned out?

And even if his contribution to Indian cinema is the greatest, does it make him suitable for the post of President of India? A position that eluded Mohammed Hidayatullah and may well elude Lal Krishna Advani?

Our first President Dr Rajendra Prasad spent his lifetime fighting the British occupation of India and his life was an example of sacrifice and simplicity. It is on record that he didn't allow his children and grandchildren to leverage his name in their day-to-day lives. He believed that becoming the President, the first of free India, was not reward for the sacrifices he made for his country.<?p>

He believed that becoming the President was a responsibility that was given to him to serve the nation. He represented the common man; he may have lived in the vast presidential palace, but his heart still beat for the poor peasants, skinny workers and the malnourished children of India. Dr Prasad was a true Head of India.

It is difficult to say if Indians loved their first President more or their first prime minister more. The common man's President was always seen at par in terms of the love earned and respect commanded, with the hugely popular and princely Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru.

Rajendra Babu was succeeded by Dr S Radhakrishnan, an acclaimed teacher and a keen scholar, much in the mould of a revered saint who represented the spiritual and philosophical contribution of India to the world civilisation.

Our third President, Dr Zakir Hussain, was an educator and social reformer who founded the Jamia Millia Islamia, one of the best universities in India.

We also had Presidents like V V Giri, the great labour leader whose life's mission was to accord dignity and ensure payment of fair wages to the workers in the largely unorganised labour sector.

India had Presidents like Neelam Sanjeeva Reddy who spent several years in jail fighting the British regime.

Even the much mocked Giani Zail Singh, who made some very subservient statements when nominated by his party to the post of President, had a very distinguished service record in the service of the nation.

As a young freedom fighter he suffered extreme torture at the hands of dictatorial regimes in Punjab during the freedom struggle. He was incarcerated by the rulers of Faridkot for five years. One of the images that comes to my mind is that of Zail Singh tied to a giant wheel by the despot of Faridkot. Such sufferings can break an ordinary mortal, but Zail Singh suffered all punishments courageously for the sake of his country.

We were lucky to have Ramaswamy Venkataraman as our President. His entire life was devoted to public service and in the service of the nation.

The illustrious K R Narayanan was born in a Dalit family and suffered insults and ignominy throughout his life. I once read in The Hindu that at the University of Travancore, Narayanan was denied a permanent teaching job that was the norm for toppers at the time.

Hurt and agitated, the young Narayanan boycotted the convocation ceremony and refused to accept his degree certificate.

Fifty years later, when he was President, his certificate was handed over to him at a special function. This kind of struggle is something that gives me goose flesh. How fortunate were we to have such a man as our President!

President Kalam was a national hero, a true idol, a man like us but worthy of emulation. Kalam's contribution to India's missile programme was something that made him a super achiever in his chosen field. And his spartan lifestyle, even when he became President, inspired us to give precedence to simplicity over superfluous things.

With the images of Rajendra Babu, Radhakrishnan, K R Narayanan, V V Giri and Kalam in my mind, I then think of my beloved hero dancing ungainly to Merey angney main tumharra kya kaam hai. It somehow doesn't make for a smooth transition.

I visualise Amitabh collecting crores of rupees for the roles that he essayed on screen. I also see him signing cheques for the winners of Kaun Banega Crorepati and in the process making his own millions. But can I recall any sacrifice that my favourite matinee idol has made for the nation?

I think Amitabh has done well for himself. He has entertained us, but we too have given him whatever was his due. We still line up outside his homes in Mumbai to wish him a long life on his birthday. And I daresay that we sometimes suffer him gladly just for old times' sake.

I see him endorsing a cement brand, trying to convince us to buy a product that he knows nothing of. I also think of Amitabh selling us maida noodles that our kids should have only sparingly. I also see him selling us that cola, a bottle of which contains nearly seven teaspoons of sugar. I also see him selling an incense stick here, an expensive basmati rice variety there and some real estate somewhere.

In between he also entreats you to stay in Gujarat and not to miss the polio drops. But that's the part of preserving the image of a good man so that the brand can last longer and longer.

I think the President should not be someone who while dancing in Mumbai's studios claimed to be a farmer just to be able to buy a plot of land.

We may have had buffoons as MPs and powerbrokers as ministers, but if there is one elected office in our country which is extremely sacrosanct, it is that of the President of the Republic of India. It may be a decorative position mostly, but is the nation's top position none the less.

And frankly, Amitabh Bachchan doesn't measure up to any of our past Presidents. So here's wishing Mr Bachchan a long and healthy life, but sans the Presidency, please.

Sudhir Bisht, who lives in New Delhi, is an author and columnist.

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