Why BJP Chooses Kalam As India's New President

Category: World Affairs Topics: Government And Politics, India Views: 1642

India's top most atomic scientist Abdul Kalam is poised to be soon elected as the next President of India. The government has chosen an eminent scientist from minority Muslim community for the highest office in the country. In making the unique choice, the BJP-led coalition government has demonstrated its shrewd sense of political judgment that will have impact both within and outside India.

The question is: why did BJP-Coalition government choose a Muslim scientist as the President of India? There appears to be many possible reasons.

First, the recent Gujarat riots and the demolition of Babri mosque in 1992 have tainted the BJP's image. They lost popularity in the country for their extreme right wing views. The fact that riots in Gujarat took place under the BJP Chief Minister provided a sharp focus on the perceived complicity of the BJP party in the pogrom. The campaign by right wing organizations, such as Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangstha (RSS), to build a temple on the site of the 464-year old mosque does not go well with liberal image of the BJP party. The selection of a Muslim candidate is likely to resuscitate BJP's non-communal image both inside and outside the country.

Second, constitutionally India is a secular country. However, the only Muslim- majority state within India is Kashmir. India's claim on Kashmir is tenuous because in terms of the UN resolutions of 1948 and 1949, it is a disputed territory. Furthermore when the Muslim ruler of Hindu-majority Junagardh princely state acceded to Pakistan (Junagardh's Prime Minister/Dewan was Shahnawaz Bhutto, father of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto) India grabbed it on grounds that the accession went against the will of the people of Junagardh. However the same logic did not apply to Kashmir. The nomination of a Muslim President will demonstrate to the outside world that India remains committed to secularism, thus boosting its 'rightful' claim on Kashmir.

Third, the nomination of a nuclear scientist to the Presidency appears to reflect government's deep appreciation publicly to the Indian nuclear scientist community for their determination, competence and ability to match India's nuclear capability with the rest of the world. This will provide incentives to them to continue to work to achieve to a greater height in the nuclear field. It sends a strong message to the professional class in India that if they excel in their fields, the country will express gratitude and honor them in an appropriate manner.

Fourth, the appointment of a Muslim President in India will sharply contrast with the current political climate in Pakistan. It will accentuate democratic and secular values of India as against Pakistan's rule by a military President coupled with an arguable conflict between moderation and extreme Islamic fundamentalism in the country.

A relevant curiosity is, who is this scientist Abdul Kalam?

Presidential candidate A.P.J. Abdul Kalam hails from Kerala (his initials like all Kerala names indicate his village name). He is 70 years old, a bachelor, famed for his shoulder-length hair, casual manner and heavy Tamil accent. He is known as "Missile Man" in the country. He is self-effacing, lives very modestly in a university apartment in Chennai (Madras) where he is an emeritus professor. He is a strict vegetarian and teetotaller. He loves playing sitar during his leisure time. It is believed that he has been liberal in his attitude towards religions and reads every day Hindu holy book Bhagavad Gita along with his Muslim prayers.

As a child he had a very modest upbringing in a southern fishing village in Kerala and has been all along a brilliant student and is proud that he is a product of India's universities. It is reported that he takes strong exception to media referring to him as US-trained, after a four-month visit he made to various US space facilities in the 60s.

He presided over the underground nuclear tests in May 1998. He began India's integrated guided missile program which developed short, medium and long range conventional and nuclear-capable missiles. In recent months it is reported that he launched an ambitious program for self-sufficiency in all military equipment by 2005. He has been a firm believer of indigenous nuclear and missile program and is reported to have said: " Do not indulge in short cuts by importing equipment. Do things yourself".

Although the office of the President under the constitution is a ceremonial one, the President may play a crucial role in forming coalition governments. He retains his discretionary powers as to who forms a government in situations when no political party commands a majority in the Parliament.

Barrister Harun ur Rashid is a former Bangladesh Ambassador to the UN, Geneva.

The article was originally published in Bangladeshi newspaper The Daily Star on June 28, 2002

Source: www.dailystarnews.com

  Category: World Affairs
  Topics: Government And Politics, India
Views: 1642

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