Hamid Ansari for President

The Indian public has largely remained disinterested as to who becomes the country’s Rashtrapati


The election of India’s next President is scheduled to be held in July this year. Election to the Indian Presidency is normally not considered to be a politically significant affair since Indian Presidents are only titular heads of the State, not of the executive. The Indian public has largely remained disinterested as to who becomes the country’s Rashtrapati and hence political parties in the country also do not attribute much importance to the selection of an appropriate person to hold the country’s highest constitutional office. However, new India, the ‘post-Hazare’ India, should have a visionary and widely respected person in the Raisina Hill.
Even though the Indian President is not responsible for running the country on a day-to-day basis, there is still a lot that a visionary President can do for the country including in the comity of nations. While the President of India may only have symbolic power, let us not assume that symbolic power does not matter in domestic politics or international relations. A country’s image, stature and influence do not depend only on its hard, material power but also its ideational, soft, and symbolic power. Indeed, sometimes the power of symbols, ideas and visions matter more than the number of tanks and range of missiles. More importantly, states are also often known by the stature of their statesmen. Sometimes even when a state has the material capability to influence developments in world politics, it may not be able to do so primarily due to the lack of statesmen who can convert national power into international outcomes. In other words, in the era of soft power and media diplomacy where visions, norms and values have global presence, a visionary President can make a huge difference to the international standing of India.
India has had many Presidents who were looked upon with admiration for their vision and wisdom. The great Presidency of Dr. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, who was an internationally acclaimed philosopher and statesman, is remembered to this day. The incumbent Vice President of India, Mohammad Hamid Ansari, is a visionary and a true statesman who can bring much glory to this country and the President’s office and hence should be elected as the next President of India. Ansari has the potential of making a great President.

Intellectual and thoughtful
Ansari is not a career politician. He is a retired Indian diplomat who, since his retirement, has been one of the influential intellectuals of the country. Anyone who has ever had an in-depth conversation with the Vice President, as has this author, will realize the greatness of the man and the magnitude of his knowledge and wisdom. Calm, composed and thoughtful, Ansari doesn’t jump to hasty conclusions but nudges his listeners to think rationally and form considered and wise opinions. Clearly, this Vice President could be India’s next ‘wise President’.

Diplomat, academic, strategic thinker, peacemaker…
Ansari is a man of many parts. He has been a distinguished diplomat with a sophisticated understanding of the world and India’s potential role in it (he was Ambassador in UAE, Australia, Afghanistan, Iran and Saudi Arabia) an outstanding academic (Visiting Professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University and Distinguished Fellow at the Observer Research Foundation), able administrator (Vice-Chancellor of Aligarh Muslim University), well-known strategic thinker (member of the National Security Advisory Board, and co-Chairman, India-U.K. Round Table) and a great scholar (author of a number of books). He has also been very active in the India-Pakistan track-two forums and has always put his best foot forward in advocating sustainable peace between the two countries. Ansari was seen as a sincere peacemaker and honest statesman in the Indo-Pak track-two circuits. While he always kept India’s national interest in mind in his interactions at the track-two meetings, he never came across as an irrational jingoist.  Ansari always had a solution whenever the two sides found themselves in a diplomatic impasse. He is a man of great intelligence who has exhibited exceptional skills at consensus building and excellent grasp of complex political debates, domestic and international.  
My own interactions with Ansari were during my stint at the ORF and in the track-two circuits. Though far senior in age and stature, he always showed a sense of egalitarianism in dealing with his younger colleagues. With his intimate knowledge of international affairs especially the West Asian region, he was truly a fountain of wisdom and forward thinking at ORF. As a celebrated author of a number of academic books and scholarly articles, both the academic and the strategic communities hold him in high esteem. His caliber as a great statesman was once again witnessed by the nation in the manner in which he has been chairing the Rajya Sabha sessions with impartiality and great aplomb for the last five years.

The importance of a visionary Rashtrapati
We in India are accustomed to think that whoever becomes the President will not make much of a difference. That is a popular misnomer. At a time when India is passing through an era of political turbulence caused by widespread corruption and mal-governance, and political uncertainty created by weak coalition governments, this country deserves a Rashtrapati who can boost its morale and give it the much needed moral leadership and wise counsel. The people of India are in need of a Rashtrapati who they can look up to for inspiration and guidance. Indeed, it is the absence of such a visionary statesman in the Raisina Hill that drove the multitude of disillusioned Indians to Anna Hazare and the ilk. There is no doubt that Hamid Ansari is someone who can rise to the occasion and restore the lost stature of India’s Presidency and lead the country through these troubled and cynical times with his wisdom and vision. 

There is at the moment no clarity about the positions of various national and regional political parties regarding the Presidential candidate and the nuances of number games. Corridors of power in New Delhi keenly await the several political bargains that are likely to unfold in the days to come. Whatever may be the nature of such games that the political parties are gearing up to play, the need of the hour is for them to realize that they should do everything to restore the lost stature of the President’s office. Political parties should resist the temptation of making ‘rubber-stamp’ Presidents out of non-descript, undeserving and unknown entities so as to suit their petty political agendas. While the President may not be non-political, his/her politics should be of a higher stature. This nation deserves that and Hamid Ansari can bring to the office precisely that.
(Happymon Jacob teaches at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi). 

Lastupdate on : Sat, 5 May 2012 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Sat, 5 May 2012 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Sun, 6 May 2012 00:00:00 IST

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