The more I see this brouhaha about the Presidential election, the more I wonder if we have all got the wrong end of the stick. Of course, as aam aadmi we will always have the wrong end, but that, like the wrong end, is neither here nor there.
I mean, just because they elected someone like APJ Abdul Kalam once, does it mean we are going to be favoured with such a decision each time? But to judge by the number of sms and emails campaigning for him, you would not be mistaken in imagining that this was an election by universal adult franchise. None of these campaigners appears to be aware that Presidents are elected by an electoral college with some fairly complicated mathematics involved and unless one party dominates Centre and a majority of the States, a straightforward election is well-nigh impossible. Every political party will try to get maximum benefits for itself and that is evident in the way in which even the poriborton-prone are coming to negotiate with the capitalist Congress.
Anyway, what everyone is overlooking is that the President must be a man with a wife who can hold her own in official functions and be the perfect hostess. Rashtrapati Bhavan is after all symbolic of all that was ceremonial and grand in India. I use ‘was’ because we are rapidly becoming a functional society and when not that we are tacky in the extreme. This place however, still retains its traditions and though Gandhi wanted it to become a hospital, we neatly managed to save it when he was not looking. And so we need a hostess.
During the Presidential election when Giani Zail Singh was contesting, I remember Khushwant Singh writing an article in which he said we need First Ladies who can propose a toast without belching and not signify the end of dinner by breaking wind. I am being sexist here and assuming that the President will be a man. And that he will have a wife. Given that most world leaders are men, and they have an alarming tendency to come on state visits with consorts, don’t we need someone who can entertain the latter? I don’t know what the present incumbent did. I mean it must have been interesting to meet with Carla Bruni but what did he speak to her? And what notes did he exchange with Michelle Obama? Far better if we did have a First Lady as opposed to a First Gent. In England, this has long been the custom as far as Mayors are concerned. If the town/village mayor is a female, she has to select a female as mayoress. The relationship is of course strictly official.
Each of our Presidents handled this their own way. Rajaji as last Governor General did not have anyone and managed by simply locking up all the state rooms and not entertaining at all. Rajendra Prasad had a secretary Mrs Gnyanvati Darbar who took care of most matters as his wife was essentially a domestic person. I don’t know how Radhakrishnan handled it but then he was a larger than life personality and a bit of a superman anyway. VV Giri had a powerful presence in his wife Saraswathi. I am not so sure of what Begum Zakir Hussain did but the other Begum – Abida Ahmed, wife of Fakruddin Ali Ahmed was an impressive personality, which in many ways he was not. Zailji made his daughter the official hostess. Others got their wives to take care of things, aided by an army of servant of course. Kalam dispensed with a hostess and I am told managed only too well. But then not everyone is Kalam.
I am assuming that we will not have a First Gent in Mr Meira Kumar. So here is to the next First Lady I say – Mrs Sangma or Mrs Pranab Mukherjee or Mrs Gopalkrishna Gandhi. May you bring glamour to our Rashtrapati Bhavan. And can you convince your spouse to ride in state in the horse drawn carriage once more? If the Queen of England can do it, so can he.