July 25, 2020
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Delhi Diary

The political class appears united in demanding a ‘political’ president. Alas, that is not what the country wants.

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Delhi Diary

A Weighted Chair

So, what kind of a president does India want? The political class appears united in demanding a ‘political’ president. The consensus is that we live in tricky and complex constitutional times in which only someone who has lived through the dirt and partisanship of our system can operate. Alas, that is not what the country wants. Thus, once again, we’ve a disconnect between the rulers and the ruled.

Political presidents come in various shapes and sizes. From Zail Singh to Pratibha Patil, they have not left us with a record which can be described as exemplary. The idea of the scholar-intellectual has been quietly buried. The non-political presidents, from K.R. Narayanan to A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, have emerged with some dignity. Lack of political experience was an asset, not a handicap, for them.

A loyal and obedient career politician is kicked upstairs as a reward for unwavering mediocrity. Such an appointee would be a misfit in the India of 2012. The anti-politician mood raging in the country would get a fillip if a safe, colourless choice is made. Of course, the poor aam admi has no option but to accept Pranab Mukherjee or Meira Kumar or Manmohan Singh since there’s nothing he or she can do about it. On the other hand, the elevation of an individual like Gopal Gandhi or S.Y. Qureshi or Hamid Ansari or Narayana Murthy would be loudly lauded. Such a person, besides carrying no party baggage, would bring a fresh mindset to the post. India wants a people’s president not a party hack. If there’s one career politician with the capacity to bring lustre to Rashtrapati Bhawan, it is the unavailable A. B. Vajpayee.

I’m sure mine is not a minority view, but I’d like to see an all-party convention to keep Rashtrapati Bhawan away from the politicians’ clutches. They have more than enough jobs to squabble over!

The Paper Mache Moguls

The likely media demise of Rupert Murdoch has many lessons for our paper tigers who have modelled themselves in his image. He’s been publicly humiliated and crushed by the system he so expertly manipulated. What stunned Murdoch and his gang was one sentence in the House of Commons parliamentary committee report. It stated that Murdoch “is not a fit person to run an international company”. The Conservative and Labour members of the committee fought furiously on this one sentence. Murdoch could live with the other strictures but not a judgement of this nature. The Conservative members in the committee were bitterly opposed to the sentence being part of the report while Labour members were determined to see it included. Finally, the sole Liberal committee member threw his lot in with Labour.

Murdoch could conceivably hold on to his empire, but his moral authority and blackmailing potential is now zero. The man who boasted making and unmaking PMs and presidents might find calls to Downing Street and the White House going unreturned. How the mighty have fallen.

The Text Bleeds

Better late than never. At long last it seems we are going to get an honest, proper and full debate on how the press functions in India. Given its awesome clout, the press naturally has numerous enemies keen to see journalists/editors taken down a peg or two. That is not my worry. More worrying are the enemies within the profession desperate to retain the free-for-all prevailing now. They have a vested interest in the status-quo. The principal argument of the status-quoists, besides dog doesn’t eat dog, is that any form of regulation (whether internal or external) poses a grave danger to our hard won press freedoms. This bogey is being raised to kill the debate.

Self-regulation is necessary because without it the credibility of the press is seriously threatened. To exercise the freedoms we rightly cherish, we must ensure the aforementioned privileges aren’t misused. A free press can’t go rogue; accountable to no one. The overwhelming majority of journalists pushing for some form of self-regulation realise that the best way to protect and strengthen the freedoms we currently enjoy is to show transparency and accountability. Those who oppose this agenda must be marginalised and exposed.

Stuff That Crust

A lively debate in the letters column of The Daily Telegraph revolves around a suitable cheese with which to compare Prime Minister David Cameron. One reader believes Cameron is like the square, flat, processed plastic stuff. “We are told it is a cheese, indeed it looks a little like cheese, but it is pretending to be cheese, tastes nothing like cheese and is a big disappointment.” Another reader compares Cameron to Camembert cheese, “Runs all over the place, is by no means universally liked and does not keep well.”

Last Week, On A Flight...

I got talking with a smart lady about the possibility of a so-called celeb being elected president. “As long as it is not Shobhaa De, I’ve no problem,” she said.

Vinod Mehta is editorial chairman, Outlook, and its founding editor-in-chief; E-mail your diarist: vmehta AT outlookindia.com

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