The president of India is, after all, a figure head. The problem is that while many of our presidents have had impressive heads, with brains practically oozing out of them, they have had no figures worth speaking about. Think S Radhakrishnan, Zakir Husain and Abdul Kalam. Perhaps the only president who could lay claim to a figure of some sort was Zail Singh, who was indubitably a figure of fun. And in very recent times, the figurehead seems to have neither figure nor head.
The emphasis on brains is uncalled for. Do we want the president to do rocket science? Being a president requires sitting or standing glassy-eyed for long periods during ceremonial parades, smiling vacuously at dignitaries and making inane speeches. Stamina, rather than brains, is important. Shankar Dayal Sharma is remembered not for his erudition, but for his wobble. Consider French president Nicolas Sarkozy. Why does he always take along Carla Bruni for official functions? Because while he has the head, although there's some dispute about that, she certainly has the figure.
When it comes to figures, Salman Khan's six pack could do the trick. Shahrukh Khan is perhaps more popular and becoming president will ease the issues he has with the US immigration authorities. But are these people really presidential material? Consider the pre-requisites for being a president. You should be willing to talk interminably and pointlessly with foreign bigwigs without succumbing to the urge to ask, "What time is lunch?" You should preside over mind-numbingly boring events without blurting out, "Hey, how about taking the speeches as read, the prizes as given and let's have the cocktails and the music?" You must not nod off at official functions. You must not be scared of ghosts in Rashtrapati Bhavan. And you must be old, really ancient. Amitabh Bachchan satisfies all these requirements: he's old, he doesn't crack silly jokes, he cuts a dashing figure and he's a superb actor, easily able to pretend he's enjoying a stultifyingly dull official reception. Unfortunately, Bachchan has no hope of becoming president.
What are the other presidential qualities? The two most recent presidents have long hair and long sleeves in common. President Kalam wrote poetry, while President Pratibha Patil was a table tennis champion. Kalam also has other advantages. For instance, if Pakistan President Asif Zardari was to visit him, Kalam could entertain him by reading out loud his collected poetic works. After a few hours of intense agony, Zardari would have no option but to fall weeping at his feet and offer to give up his claim on Kashmir if Kalam stopped the torture. But please also spare a thought for the wear and tear on Indians exposed to the toxic versification.
At present, Vice-President Ansari and finance minister Pranab Mukherjee seem to be the frontrunners. Sadly, none of them has long hair or can play table tennis.
Presidents are often chosen to show the world that people from minority creeds or communities can make it to the country's top job. Patil was selected to show we hold the female sex in high regard, at least those that survive being throttled in the womb. This year, it's time to signal that we love the people of the North-east. It would be best to select someone from Arunachal Pradesh, as it would not only show we care deeply for our tribal brothers, but also put China in its place. All we have to do now is find a healthy venerable old Arunachali with long hair who plays ping-pong and, voila, we have our next president.
Manas Chakravarty is Consulting Editor, Mint
Views expressed by the author are personal