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A whiff of the Manchurian Candidate

By Rajeev Srinivasan
July 23, 2007 18:45 IST
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Part I of Rajeev Srinivasan's column: Presidential peccadilloes: Obama's macaca and the UPA's chutzpah

It is a fair question as to whether there is a whiff of a Manchurian Candidate in the Indian Presidential election. However, Hindus do not have freedom of religion or political or civil rights in India (it is official now: See The Economist's chart on freedom in various countries. In India, it clearly shows the oppression of Hindus). Therefore it is not prudent to speculate, or to consider who the shadowy Svengalis in the background might be. But it is certainly interesting to consider the implications of the stands taken by various parties in regards to the Presidency and the candidates that were on offer.

First, the outgoing President is a man of integrity, and his conduct in office has been largely impeccable despite one or two acts that one might possibly quibble with. His personal demeanour, his humility, simplicity and uncorruptedness have been exemplary. He has manfully attempted to inspire the youth in the country with his patriotic and nationalistic views. All of this would, in sane nations, be considered good reasons to extend President Kalam's tenure for another term. But not in India, of course.

The animosity exhibited against Kalam is so deep and so vicious that it suggests personal vendettas on the one hand and external influences on the other. The President was humiliated, quite unnecessarily, through the refusal to extend his tenure for another term.

The Congress apparently could not stand Kalam; this is almost certainly because he told Sonia Gandhi that she shouldn't bid to become prime minister due to the controversy over her citizenship. This was, you recall, just before Sonia Gandhi's 'Inner Voice Moment', when she suddenly discovered that she didn't want to be prime minister, after all. (We note in passing that that was quite a change from her previous '272 Moment' when a more pliant President K R Narayanan, following the expected custom, bent over backwards to accommodate the Dynasty aspirant-du-jour).

The Communists have always been allergic to Kalam, going so far as to run the hapless Captain Lakshmi Sehgal against him the last time around. This is a little surprising, because Kalam, being apolitical, has done nothing that should upset the Communists: Other than the fact that he was involved in defence and nuclear R&D.

There have been complaints that the defence labs that Kalam used to work with has not produced any breakthrough equipment or weapons. The failures of the Arjun Main Battle Tank, the Light Combat Aircraft, etc are legendary. But here is indirect proof that the DRDO and other defence labs have actually done some good: The Communists are very concerned, which means that the Chinese are very concerned!

The indigenous efforts at creating a nuclear and missile armoury (recent estimates are that India has around fifty bombs, and the Agni has been at least a partial success) apparently have succeeded to the extent that the Chinese take it seriously, and seek every possible avenue to cap, rollback and eliminate India's arsenal. This is a good, sincere back-handed compliment to Kalam.

All this leads to the general question of what kind of person the President should be. The ceremonial leader of the country, which the President is, should really not be a politician. So far as I can tell, none of the politicians who held the position particularly distinguished himself. Kalam, on the other hand, certainly stood out. This is quite possibly because he was a working engineer, not a politician, and he was a leader unafraid to roll up his shirtsleeves. I remember photographs of Kalam and others sitting on the ground in Thumba forty years ago, assembling a sounding rocket to be fired into space, and carting the thing around on the pannier of a bicycle.

What India needs are leaders, intellectuals and others who can inspire the citizenry to dream and to aspire to greatness. Perhaps the scholar Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan was a good President, for he was a towering intellect. But there has been a succession of relatively unremarkable politicians who have held the post.

It is time to revisit this. There are men and women of consequence all over the country who should be sought out by political parties, and they should be exceptional in some way: Perhaps a great writer, a great businessperson, an inspiring leader who has shown results, maybe a soldier.

I can think of several people who would have made wonderful Presidents. My sentimental favourite would have been the late O V Vijayan, a formidable intellect who was arguably India's greatest writer in the 20th century, not to mention an insightful political cartoonist. Another choice would be E Sreedharan, the man behind the Konkan Railway and the Delhi Metro, who accomplished what were deemed impossible engineering feats. N R Narayana Murthy or Ratan Tata or Lakshmi Mittal or Azim Premji, tycoons all. K P S Gill, one of the most thoughtful men analysing national security. Jagdish Bhagwati, the globalisation guru, or C K Prahalad, the 'fortune the bottom of the pyramid' strategy guru. The list of outstanding candidates is endless, so we can ignore the ideologically metastasised ones who simply mouth party lines.

Then there was Manmohan Singh's suggestion that 'a woman should become the President in the 60th year of the Indian Republic'. If it had to be a woman, I can think of a few candidates: The diplomat Arundhati Ghose, who stoutly defended India's right to be a nuclear power as representative to the UN; Fathima Beevi, formerly Justice of the Supreme Court; Vandana Shiva, a respected environmentalist; and so forth.

The problem is that neither the Congress -- which cannot think beyond the interests of the Nehru Dynasty -- nor the Communists -- who cannot think beyond the interests of the Chinese -- are particularly thrilled at the prospect of an activist President. They would much rather have someone who will do what they are told. This may well be a reason for choosing Pratibha Patil despite (or perhaps because of) the accusations against her. Interestingly enough, the Economist magazine says: 'Then came the bad news, planted no doubt by the opposition.' Planted, really?

Furthermore, Manmohan Singh's cryptic statement about wanting a woman President can be deciphered as follows: He is really saying that Sonia Gandhi should be made President. Yes, there is a Dream Team from the Congress and here is my conjecture as to what it is:

  • Rahul Gandhi as prime minister, now that Manmohan Singh has kept the seat warm long enough
  • Priyanka Gandhi as defence minister, all the better to ensure that good family friend Uncle Q is not harassed
  • Priyanka's child as home minister.

Manmohan Singh can then proudly note that India has become the first country in the world to appoint a toddler as home minister, which is appropriate since the job is child's play.

And oh, please note that these appointments will be for life. The voice of NATO, the Economist magazine, noted with approval: 'For evidence that there may, after all, be some virtue in dynastic succession, monarchists need look no further than the muddle India is making of choosing its president.' Naturally, the Economist would be delighted at white people ruling India.

Also delirious with joy would be the Communist hacks known as the 'eminent historians', who have long disseminated a flat-earth theory known as the 'Aryan Invasion Fantasy', recently upgraded to the 'Aryan Migration Mythology'. They would reason that if white people are running India just a mere sixty years after independence, why, it must be true that white people invaded India a few thousand years ago. QED. Evidence? Who needs evidence? You just have to believe!

The office of the President has so far retained a certain amount of dignity. But with the current mess, the UPA + Communists are destroying yet another pillar of the Establishment. This, of course, fits into their long-term plan of keeping India backward and exploitable forever. 'Barefoot, pregnant, and in the kitchen' is their prescription for Mother India, echoing the views of the West Asian desert.

Comments welcome at my blog at

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Rajeev Srinivasan