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Why political parties do not want Kalam

The Indian political class says Kalam lacks political acumen, is not familiar with the Constitution and is not able to handle critical issues.

india Updated: Jun 13, 2007 17:43 IST
Liz Mathew

Lack of political acumen, unfamiliarity with the Constitution and even his thinking on critical issues: The Indian political class is citing these and more reasons why they do not want APJ Abdul Kalam as President for another term although he clearly seems to enjoy overwhelming public support.

A number of public surveys, including one purported to have been conducted among the electoral college comprising MPs and MLAs, have revealed that most Indians want aero scientist Kalam, 76, a bachelor who brought a whiff of fresh air to Rashtrpati Bhavan with his unconventional ways, as the head of state for another five years. His term ends in July.

But politicians question the credibility of the straw polls and aver they are not representative of the popular mood.

IANS spoke to several leaders of political parties, including from the ruling Congress, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Communist Party of India-Marxist, Shiv Sena and Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD). And they came up with a universal 'no' to Kalam's candidature for a second term.

While some of them cited "conventions" against giving a President a second term, others pointed out that he lacked knowledge in political and constitutional affairs. This, they felt, could be disastrous in an era of coalition politics.

"Kalam may be a good person, he may be a good scientist, an intellect and a person of patriotism and integrity," Kishore Chandra Deo, a senior Congress MP, told IANS. "But the post of President needs someone who has thorough knowledge in constitutional affairs and somebody who knows political nuances. Political acumen is very essential for the post."

But Deo admitted that there was no rule that a President could not get a second term although, historically, no one but Rajendra Prasad, the first head of state, got the privilege.

For Congress and Left leaders, who insist that a President should be a person of impeccable secular credentials, Kalam's eligibility is nullified by the very fact that he was the Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP) choice five years ago.

"One should not forget that he was wholeheartedly supported by BJP when (Samajwadi Party leader) Mulayam Singh mooted his name in 2002. And nobody can overlook the fact that the BJP has kept on rushing to the Rashtrapati Bhavan at every opportunity," complained an RJD leader on the condition of anonymity.

Surprisingly, both Congress and BJP leaders complain privately that Kalam's lack knowledge of the Constitution is a major stumbling block.

They point out that he had fumbled during the Bihar crisis - when he gave his assent to imposition of President's Rule in 2005 though the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) was the single largest group in the assembly - and by sending back to the government the Office of Profit Bill that named posts MPs could hold without getting disqualified from Parliament. Even constitutional experts had criticized Kalam on the Office of Profit Bill.

Although the BJP initially wanted Kalam to continue as President, former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee said last week that his party had conveyed to the President that it would not be in a position to muster support for him.

The BJP's close ally, Shiv Sena, has publicly come out against Kalam.

The Left, which had fielded Lakshmi Sehgal against Kalam in 2002, have their reasons in opposing a second term for him.

"The Left has been consistently opposing Kalam. We do not agree with his stance on nuclear policy and his advocacy of a two-party system," Communist Party of India leader D Raja said.

The communists had found Kalam's views on nuclear and strategic issues as "technocratic and hawkish" and more in tune with BJP's thinking.

Even the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), which holds the critical votes for a presidential election, seems to have no great love for Kalam. Even the Samajwadi Party, his original backer, is quiet and would prefer to go with the Left.

In any case, political leaders are questioning the very basis of the opinion polls that are loaded in favour of Kalam.

"The (opinion poll) results depend on who are you approaching. As far as I remember, no survey predicted a clear majority for the BSP (Bahujan Samaj Party) in Uttar Pradesh. Everybody projected a hung assembly," pointed out Deo.