The Constitution provides for a President who is bound by the advice of the Prime Minister and his Council of Ministers, and yet has the space to take a position on aberrations that s/he sees to be in violation of the document that binds and unites India. It is not a happy occurrence when governments, across the board, look upon this august position as a mere extension of their politics and bring in persons little known for their their scholarly work, their commitment to the people, their contribution to the professions, to the arts and culture. And instead prefer a candidate who has worked under them at some point or the other, and hence remains beholden for the post.

In recent times Congress President Sonia Gandhi shocked even many in her own party by bringing in erstwhile Congress worker Pratibha Patil into the Rashtrapati Bhawan. The argument in her favour was that she was the first woman to be the President of India. That did not give solace to the women of India who had never heard Patil speak for their issues, and who could think of any number of women who could have been nominated by the ruling party, their only disqualification being they were not Congress members.

Current President Pranab Mukherjee also an old Congress hand, has straddled both governments, and worked to keep both on the right side. Not easy, but given the proximity of policies not very difficult either, provided the President shackles her/himself more than the Constitution ever intended.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s choice for his President candidate is currently Bihar Governor and former BJP MP Ram Nath Kovind, 71 that journalists and party members are hailing as a ‘masterstroke’. The first Dalit President is the justification being heard ad nauseum over the past 24 hours. Kovind’s contribution to the Dalit cause that has catapulted him to as the BJP candidate is not known, except that he was orginally from a poor household. He was brought into the Rajya Sabha from Uttar Pradesh. He has been subservient and loyal to the party, and while not originally from the RSS is now close to the organisation. Just as the Congress spoke of Patil’s alleged concern for women, the BJP is eulogising Kovind’s concerns for the “poor and marginalised” in a trajectory that has not highlighted this in real terms.

But just as Patil was credited with being loyal to Sonia Gandhi, Kovind is being seen as close to PM Modi.

Hard political choices as President of India by successive governments have taken away from the institution that was expected to bring in eminent and learned scholars, persons from the grassroots with a history of service, artists and others with a committment to the Constitution; and a record of standing up for the values enshrined therein.

The post of President is not expected to to be lost in politcal tokenism. Muslims appointed by Congress governments earlier did little for the ground realities except provide a fig leaf for the ruling party of the day. The same is true today. ‘Mastersrokes’ are little more than political cunning if these constitute little more than a fig leaf, while the gender or the caste or the community on the ground is kept on the periphery of development through a slew of discriminatory policies. There is little to suggest that the present candidate will be any different.

Unfortunately the earlier governments have so politicised the post of President, that today the issue is being judged not by what the person will bring to an Institution that the Constitution envisaged so differently, but by the political gains for the BJP and PM Modi in the forthcoming elections. It is important for the Opposition at least to try and restore the post of President, and insist on a candidate who can help steer the country away from divisiveness and hate towards the pluralism and diversity that India rests on.