Is Modi big enough to give India a non-Hindutva icon as President?

SS Dhawan
SS DhawanMay 26, 2017 | 14:32

Is Modi big enough to give India a non-Hindutva icon as President?

This is Prime Minister Narendra Modi's moment of truth. History has presented him on the platter with a saffron opportunity.

Now, he has to determine whether or not he wants to play the political nanny to the RSS and give to the nation a president grounded in saffron ideology.

Or, if he so desires, he can play the statesman, abandon his ideological baggage and go down in history as the man who had an instinctive feel for the pulse of the nation.


For the RSS, too, this would be a cathartic moment for which it has waited since Independence — to see its foot soldiers in Khaki trousers trooping down Raisina Hill; to hear the R-Day Beating Retreat ceremony resonate to the sound of saffron hoofs; to hear the lilting melody of Vande Mataram filter out of the majestic Mughal Gardens.

And not just that. The RSS cannot yet fathom its good luck: By end of August, Mohammed Hamid Ansari, too, would be stepping down as vice-president. So, there is a distinct possibility that there will be a saffron Trimurti at the Centre — Modi himself, the head of the state and the obvious replacement for Ansari.

pranab-on-kalam__052617022107.jpgIf Modi chooses, he can look through the saffron confusion and pick the right apolitical candidate, someone like APJ Abdul Kalam, to succeed Pranab Mukherjee.

The RSS must have faced an existential dilemma before Independence: To participate in the freedom struggle or not? It must not have been easy — to grapple all these years with the public perception of having stayed out of this watershed moment, whatever the raison d'être?

Now, it can finally banish that nagging ache and reconcile with its deep seated angst by leaving its imprint on Pranab Mukherjee's chair. It can also, given the political will and the electoral college arithmetic, chaperone a Dalit or a woman or a tribal into the President's office, so that the charge of having overplayed its hand does not arise.


But the only man who can make this possible for his mentor is the proud swayamsewak Narendra Damodar Modi. In a way this is now Modi's existential dilemma!

Of course, there is no denying that if the PM indeed tries hard to look for one, he will surely find a person will intellectual virtue even within the saffron brotherhood — someone who can uphold the dignity of the august office as well as be the custodian of the BJP's political heirlooms well beyond 2019.

The electoral arithmetic is clearly in BJP's favour and two people are surely out of contention — Murli Manohar Joshi and LK Advani. Both have been mothballed and lodged in the RSS attic in Nagpur.

Of course, there were a number of greying patriarchs in the saffron closet, but they have already been given gubernatorial posts, unless a call is taken to elevate one of them. Again, given the lack of gender diversity there are very few women who can fit the bill, though a Sumitra Mahajan would be as good a bet as a Pratibha Patil. Again, finding a tribal with an acceptable social profile would be a little difficult.


Yet, if Modi chooses, he can look through the saffron confusion and pick the right apolitical candidate, someone like APJ Abdul Kalam — another people's president, so to speak — who would by default also become the Opposition's choice.

Of course, if there was a politician of the stature of even Bhairon Singh Shekhawat, whose appeal transcends political fault lines, it would make PM Modi's job that much easier. (Shekhawat, of course, lost to Pratibha Patil.)

With Pranab Mukherjee having excused himself from a contest — unless he is a government nominee — and the Opposition unable to find a "sutradhar" like Harkishen Singh Surjeet or AB Bardhan, who could have hammered a consensus, there is a bleak chance of even a semblance of contest.

Though the BJP is short of majority by a fraction, it does not need sizeable crutches and its poll managers should have no problem making up the deficit despite the murmurs of dissent in the TRS; even the mercurial Shiv Sena should play along.

But this time the contest is not about individuals or about the optics of an institution, but about changing the national narrative, about giving direction to a nation, about giving hope to a section of the population that is beginning to find the Hindutva atmospherics too stifling.

The only person who can redeem the situation and fill the nation with hope is PM Modi.

Last updated: May 27, 2017 | 14:18
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