From a purely technical point of view it would be a comparatively trivial violation of the Model Code of Conduct by the Governor of Rajasthan that the President has been asked by the Election Commission to “pass sentence” upon. Yet the entire nation, or at least those who still cling to the hope that tradition-honoured values of the democratic system have not been totally discarded will be anxiously waiting Mr Ram Nath Kovind’s verdict. Rashtrapati Bhawan now has a rare opportunity to restore a degree of grace and dignity to the electoral system, to try and rescue it from the viciousness that has already ensured that Indian political practices have hit an all-time low. It is in times of such national distress that the people of the Republic look towards the President for elevating leadership: so the action he takes on the EC’s indictment of Mr Kalyan Singh could possibly serve as a benchmark, set out the yardstick against which the sanctity of the parliamentary polls of 2019 will be assessed.
It might, perhaps, be unfair to expect Mr Kovind to cut a host of heavyweights down to size, yet occupation of the “palace on the hill” is no ceremonial appointment. The custodian of all that the Constitution of India prescribes and represents has as many onerous duties as those which devolve upon the Chief Justice of India: but while the CJI has the statute book to back him when “cracking the whip”, the President has to rely upon his moral authority and track-record. Mr Kovind’s functioning in Rashtrapati Bhawan has been blemish-free: now, alas he has to impart lessons in propriety to those who helped propel him to the highest office in the land. The nation must wish him well in that lofty endeavour.
It would require no special acumen to perceive that, cutting across all party lines, there has been a sustained assault on principles. The polity has been polarised to the point of disintegration, the actions of the military and the scientific communities have been so politicised that every word they speak is scrutinised for a political under-pinning, even the objectivity and neutrality of the judiciary comes under the scanner. Ministers at all levels, political leaders of all persuasions, a compromised civil service and even corporate sector leaders now subscribe to a vote-dominated value system. The language favoured on the campaign trial is near-invective, personal allegations are cheered not jeered. And a new dimension of being accused of antinationalism, or being pro-Pakistan, for asking uncomfortable questions has been legitimised. This is the mess into which the office of the President of India has been plunged, even by one of his representatives in the states who made an election-related plea. The burden on Mr Kovind’s shoulders is indeed heavy. Yet to duck duty would be only to further fray the once-acclaimed fabric of India that the Mahatma had woven.