Three union ministers representing different constituents of the UPA on Thursday publicly urged APJ Abdul Kalam not to enter the presidential race, even as the Left parties rejected the Third Front’s call to support his re-election.
Parliamentary Affairs Minister PR Dasmunsi (Congress), Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar (NCP) and Railway Minister Lalu Prasad (RJD) sought to dissuade Kalam, while Chandrababu Naidu (TDP) and Mulayam Singh Yadav (SP) continued to lobby for him.
Pawar declared that the “match is over” for Kalam. “In a democracy, anyone can contest elections,” he said. “But one cannot say that he will contest only if he wins.”
Lalu said the president should “retire gracefully” as it was too late for a “rethink” by the UPA.
Dasmunsi told reporters that it was up to the president to decide whether he wanted to entertain the Third Front after being formally informed by the prime minister of Pratibha Patil’s candidature. Patil submitted her resignation as Rajasthan’s governor to Kalam on Friday, preparatory to entering the presidential contest.
The Left’s argument against Kalam was based on the convention that no president — barring Rajendra Prasad — had been re-elected for a second term.
The Left and the UPA’s position was further strengthened by expressions of support for Patil’s nomination by, among others, BSP chief Mayawati, DMK boss M Karunanidhi and the RLD’s Ajit Singh. The Shiv Sena’s decision to stay away from the meeting called by the NDA to discuss the Third Front’s proposal for supporting Kalam, made Naidu’s and Yadav’s task of assuring Kalam’s victory if he contested, doubly difficult.
With the UPA having a clear majority in the electoral college and the Sena playing truant, only considerable cross-voting can win Kalam a second term.
Little surprise, therefore, that the NDA-Third Front meeting on Thursday remained inconclusive, with the former promising its support only if Kalam took a firm decision to contest. Otherwise, the NDA expected the Third Front’s support for Vice-President Bhairon Singh Shekhawat.
Experts whom HT spoke to felt the face-off between Kalam and the government run in his name had no constitutional implications — since the Constitution does not place any bar on a sitting president seeking re-election. They, however, acknowledged the “oddity” of a situation where Kalam’s re-election against the ruling combine’s official nominee would erode the political credibility and authority of the government to govern.
Professor MP Singh of Delhi University said, “There could be implications if a president not backed by the ruling coalition is re-elected. But the present episode in itself does not have any constitutional implication.”
Jawaharlal Nehru University’s Anand Kumar said cross-voting was not necessarily a denial of democracy. “But the price of cross-voting at this stage of Indian politics will be very high and Kalam, while making up his mind, would have to factor that in, besides the charge of denying a woman the top constitutional office,” said Kumar.
Jurist LM Singhvi came down heavily on the ministers. “They are members of the ministerial council that collectively aid and advise the president,” he said. “I’m sure the PM will not approve of their comments that lack the sense of constitutional propriety and respect they owe to the president.”
Singhvi said Kalam was “perfectly free” to do what he considered right and proper for his candidature. “Constitutionally there is no restriction on an incumbent to offer himself for a second term,” he said. Constitutional expert KTS Tulsi, however, differed. He said the ministers were critical of Kalam the candidate, not Kalam the president. “He has put himself in this situation,” said Tulsi. “Neither the majority party nor the principal opposition has shown readiness to field him. Kalam has to bear with criticism if he wants to be a candidate.”
(With inputs from Shekhar Iyer, Satya Prakash and Sutirtho Patranobis)