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EDITORIAL: Aura Of Raisina Hill

It is not very often that the President of India visits Manipur and at the snap of the finger we can only recall the visit of former President Dr APJ Abdul Kalam in 2002 and now we have the scheduled visit of Pratibha Patil in the next couple of days. The President of India does not really wield any administrative power and the post is purely ornamental, yet this has not taken away the aura from the post of Presidentship and many a distinguished personality, such as Rajendra Prasad, Dr Radhakrishnan, Zakir Hussain, Abdul Kalam etc have occupied the chair of the President, adding that little bit more of an aura, save for some embarrassments like the late Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed, who gave a new dimension to sycophancy, with his ‘India is Indira, Indira is India.’ The low intensity standoff that the country witnessed between Zail Singh the then President of India and Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in the mid and late 80s is now a closed chapter.

Save for some of these embarrassments, the institution of the Presidentship has in fact earned more respect and has conducted itself with a dignity that is conspicuously absent in the royal family of England. No scandals, no smuggling in of some sweethearts in the middle of the night to the Rashtrapati Bhawan, no butler or private secretary out to mint money by going  public with some of the worst kept secrets as in the case of Buckingham Palace. This is how the institution of the President of India has been understood since the days of Rajendra Prasad, the first and only President to get a two term at the office.

A degree of comparison has been made with the royal family of England and the institution of the Presidentship in India, for there are quite a number of similarities which cannot be brushed aside that easily. Both of them are nothing more than ornamental heads, but which nevertheless commands respect and awe from the general public. Most of the legislation that India follows till today, starting from the Parliamentary form of democracy is a gift of the British rulers.

There are many other similarities but there are significant differences which can be seen the demographic composition of England and India, the failure of India as a Union to sink into the consciousness of all citizens of the land, its vast population not to speak of the big differences that one finds in each region. The  scheduled visit of Pratibha Patil to Manipur has come at a crucial time for the State, for though there is no trouble brewing on the National Highways and the voice of Nagalim has been maintaining a low profile, the politics of ethnicity, the pressure cooker like pressure building up inside, the more than ten year fast of Irom Sharmila Chanu to demand the repeal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act etc are all issues which be brought before her, never mind the fact that she is not endorsed to deal with any of these subjects.

Then why is so much importance attached to her visit, is the natural question that follows and the answer lies in learning to respect and understanding what official protocol signifies. This is more crucial in a country like India where the bureaucracy has come to mean the backbone of governance and in executing any policies framed by the political leaders. As we see it, the importance of the visit of the President should be understood more symbolically and the message that it sends out. For all that matter, Manipur has seen a number of high profile visits from some of the top political leaders of the country including the Prime Minister and you guessed it, all these personalities went on a foundation stone laying spree and verbally crisis crossed the entire North East region with rail heads and dollops of so and so package.

Remember the Pillai package in Tamenglong at the fag end of the last century or the beginning of the 21st century. During his visit to Manipur in 2002, Kalam struck a practical approach and did not allow his position to be dragged down to the level of politics. The lunch hosted by the then Governor, Ved Marwah in his honor, at Raj Bhawan had quite a number of well known personalities, including a representative from The Sangai Express and not once  was the President caught on the wrong feet. He did not address the press, for there was no press conference in the pipeline and anyway, it is not usual for the President of India to interact directly with the fourth estate. So what did the visit of Kalam mean after nearly ten years now?

Apart from the shambolic inauguration of the Heavy Power Project at Leimakhong, he did not have anything to say or promise, which in any way was far better than the false and misleading information that professional politicians drawn to by instinct. So no tall promises mean no bitter thoughts later. What Kalam managed was to leave a feel good factor and give fresh insights to the school children who were also invited for the lunch. It is this humane touch that we associate with the visit of the President of India and we are more than convinced that Mrs. Patil with her somber and gentle demeanor will be able to strike a right chord with the people. She is not an Indira Gandhi or a Sonia Gandhi or even an Angela Merkel, but behind those deglamourized figure lies a personality who has the ability to leave a place in a better shape. This is what the primary duty of any Constitutional head, who is only an ornamental head that is expected from the President of India. That the State level version of the President, the Governor, have it in them to make an impact was amply demonstrated by ON Srivastava for his sincere concern for the people and more recently Governor Dr SS Sidhu who in a way added to the changing climate of the insurgency movement when he departed from the earlier practice and addressed the insurgents as “Dissatisfied brethren.” What followed was history with the UNLF now voicing the demand of a plebiscite.

(Courtesy: The Sangai Express)

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*The Sangai Express- Largest Circulated News Paper In Manipur
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