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Will President Kalam get a second term?

For the record, only India's first President, Rajendra Prasad, enjoyed two terms.

india Updated: Jun 05, 2006 16:16 IST
Indo-Asian News Service
Indo-Asian News Service

The controversy over President APJ Abdul Kalam returning the office of profit bill to parliament has raised questions if he will get an extension when his term expires in July next year.

This is assuming, of course, that Kalam would like to be considered for a second five-year tenure or if a section of the country's political spectrum would push for it.

One assumption being made is that the political class as a whole wants the office or profit bill passed and has reason to be unhappy with Kalam's action. The onus is on the Congress-led coalition government to see it through parliament although the "beneficiaries" are from almost all major parties.

It is a delicate situation wherein Kalam's intentions are not in doubt but his line of argument is a matter of debate.

That the bill has been held up is a matter of embarrassment to the United Progressive Alliance government, which would not like to be seen in confrontation with the presidency.

More so because the points raised by the President on the office of profit bill are valid in the eyes of a section of legal and constitutional experts and, presumably, the middle class that views political actors, whether in the government or the opposition, with a high measure of cynicism.

Kalam has told students, his favourite audience, that once he completes his term in the presidency, he would like to go back to teaching and research. But this a political office and there is no bar on the incumbent getting a second term.

For the record, only India's first President, Rajendra Prasad, enjoyed two terms.

A fellow-freedom fighter and a contemporary of the all-powerful Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, he got a second term in an era when the role in the freedom movement mattered.

But thereafter, no President has got a second term. It has become an unwritten convention followed by each government of the day.

Among the latter-day Presidents, by the time Neelam Sanjiva Reddy, elected during the Janata Party era, bid goodbye to the Rashtrapati Bhavan, Jawaharlal Nehru's daughter Indira Gandhi had the casting vote on the choice of his successor.

Giani Zail Singh, however, developed differences with Rajiv Gandhi. When his successor R Venkataraman retired, PV Narasimha Rao chose to elevate Shankar Dayal Sharma to the presidency.

Indeed, the Prime Minister has the key role in the choice of the President. As eminent lawyer LM Singhvi once said: "When it comes to choosing the President, ours is essentially a Prime Minister-o-cracy."

There was animated debate whether Sharma's successor, KR Narayanan, would get a second term.

A Nehruvian, Narayanan was elected during the United Front era and had differences with the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government. He was critical of the government's handling of the 2002 communal violence in Gujarat, both by the Atal Bihari Vajpayee and the Narendra Modi governments.

Kalam's surprise choice was the result of Vajpayee accepting a suggestion from Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister and Samajwadi leader Mulayam Singh Yadav.

There was a formidable political line-up in favour of the eminent scientist who had been conferred Bharat Ratna, the nation's highest civilian award. That he is a Muslim was a point that weighed with Vajpayee and the NDA leadership smarting under criticism of the Gujarat riots.

Kalam has 13 months in office. Unless something unforeseeable occurs, the "Prime Minister-o-cracy" would prevail.

First Published: Jun 05, 2006 15:34 IST