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Periscope
A political missile named Kalam 
By Saeed Suhrawardy

Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam kept himself aloof from the national political currents, but his candidature for presidentship of India, has been certainly politicised. For that he cannot be blamed. The blame falls squarely on the shoulders of Indian politicians. According to veteran journalist Kuldip Nayar, Vajpayee had indicated that Kalam was his choice three or four months ago. He shares the general feeling that he has not been selected for his achievements or austere lifestyle. The support for his candidature is prompted by other reasons.

After the shame of Gujarat, which has tarnished India’s image as a secular, tolerant country, his presidentship is likely to send a positive message to the world. The plus point of Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam is that he carries a name that sounds Muslim. In the official records, he may go down as the third Muslim occupant of the highest office of the country.

But Indian Muslims have few reasons to relish this cosmetic touch belatedly given to the tarnished face of secular democracy. Helen of Troy is credited with a face that could launch a thousand ships. Dr. Abdul Kalam may be the person capable of launching a thousand missiles, but we have doubts if he shall be able to wipe a single tear of the victims of the atrocities in Gujarat. He has been cynically indifferent to recent pogrom in Gujarat.

There was no doubt about the antipathy of NDA Establishment to a second term for President K.R. Narayanan. Bhartiya Janata Party, the numerically large partner of NDA was displeased with President Narayanan on two counts. One, he had asked the Vajpayee government to seek a vote of confidence when there was no such motion brought by the Opposition. Two, the president expressed his anguish over Gujarat carnage a day before it was to figure in Parliament.

Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee did not keep President Narayanan, in dark about the stand of NDA. On his part, President K.R. Narayanan made it very clear that he was willing to be a consensus candidate. If that was not possible, he would not offer himself for another term.

However, the candidature of Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam has been launched as a ‘political missile’ that has hit the target. A united front of secular forces that was in offing has been thrown in disarray. The sworn enemies of Sangh Parivar, the Left forces, have been isolated from other opposition groups. There is no clear picture of future political alignments right now. 

There is a mad scramble in the ranks of the Opposition for sharing credit for supporting the candidature of Dr.A.P.J. Abdul Kalam. If Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee had already made up his mind in favour of Dr. Abdul Kalam, three-four months back, Samajwadi leader Mulayam Singh is only a second runner, not the initial sponsor, as he claims to be. Andhra Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu, had all along been in favour of promoting Vice-President as President, citing precedence. Never once did he bring Kalam into the picture. When he failed to get consensus in favour of his candidate, Krishna Kant, he opted in favour of Dr.A.P.J. Abdul Kalam. After initial hesitation Congress too decided to toe the line. 

Although, isolated from other Opposition groups the Left managed to save their credibility. Their political stand is not free from contradictions. During the Second World War, the Communist Party of India had supported the Allies against whom the INA and Captain Lakshmi were fighting with Japanese support. It is strange that the Communists have adopted Captain Lakshmi as a presidential candidate. They are engaged in glorifying her career with Indian National Army. That goes to confirm that politics makes strange bedfellows. However, that does not reduce her stature as a serious presidential candidate and speaks well of her determination to contest, in spite of odds being against her.

It defies logic to comment on a contest when the result appears to be a foregone conclusion. If Muslims are not enthused by the expected elevation Dr.A.P.J. Abdul Kalam to the presidential chair, they have reasons to be indifferent.

According to Dr. Rafiq Zakaria, "Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam who will be our next President, is by all accounts a great scientist; his contribution to India’s defence is of the highest order; he is rightly called the Missile Man; every Indian feels proud of him; he is in every respect a Bharat Ratna. But because he was born a Muslim, he should not be put in the same category as the two former Muslim Presidents, Dr Zakir Husain and Mr. Fakhruddin Ali Ahmad. Both of them were as great a patriot and Indian to the core as Dr Kalam. But they were also Muslims in the real sense of the word; they believed in the tenets of the Quran and faithfully followed the traditions of the Prophet. They worked for the uplift of Muslims as much as for the progress of India." (The Asian Age, Delhi June 19, 2002).

The expectations of Indian Muslims from the high office were belied by the fate of two mammoth petitions that were presented to the President with great fanfare. The first was a petition signed by more than two million persons in support of their demand that Urdu be accorded the status of a regional language or second official language in Uttar Pradesh, Delhi, Punjab and other places in North India. A deputation comprising of distinguished social and political activists led By Dr Zakir Husain presented the petition to President Dr Rajendra Prasad on February 15, 1954.

The petition was the outcome of a mass movement in support of Urdu language. Urdu lovers covered every possible ground for obtaining signatures on the petition. Eventually Dr Zakir Husain rose to the highest office of the country, but there was not a single word indicating the fate of that petition, that was a landmark in the history of Urdu language in post-Independence era. 

Fakhruddin Ali Ahmad, the second Muslim President also, was a great lover of Urdu. His love of Urdu shines through Aiwan-e-Ghalib and Ghalib Institute housed there. However, in spite of his best efforts his dream of having an Urdu Academy in Delhi could not be realized in his lifetime. There was no clue to the fate of the famous petition even during his tenure. 

A high-level delegation of Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind led by its president, Maulana Asad Madani, former MP, called on President K.R. Narayanan on March 8,1999, and presented him a petition signed by 2.1 million persons. The delegation included several parliamentarians, legislators and distinguished public figures from different parts of the country.

The petition invited a reference to the Article 21 of the Constitution of India that endows the Government of India with the responsibility of the protection of life and property of citizens. But so far the government has shirked from that obligation by not enacting a law for that purpose. The experience of half-a-century shows that the failure in discharge of that obligation is the root cause of the unjust treatment of citizens, particularly Muslims. Muslims have been deliberately kept deprived of their just and legitimate place in the System and Establishment. In accordance with the resolution of Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind, we firmly demand:

In view of the decisions of the Supreme Court of India and other courts, a law is enacted to ensure the award of full compensation for loss of life and property of citizens. 

Reservation be provided for Muslims in parliament, assemblies, government and semi-government services as well as educational institutions, according to their ratio in population.

The President gave a patient hearing to the members of the delegation and assured them that he would see what could be done for the underprivileged particularly Muslims according to the constitutional provisions.

In spite of that assurance by the President, the petition seems to have met the same fate, met by the earlier one about the status of Urdu language.

We should not find fault with the office and authority of the President for non-fulfillment of the demands contained in the two well-known petitions. The disappointment in the cases may be due to a misconception about the office and authority of the President. The President is not an appellate authority, nor can he function in an arbitrary manner. His authority is circumscribed by the advisory jurisdiction of the cabinet. He is not expected to issue ordinance, unless advised by the cabinet. Political decisions are not in his domain.

Indian Muslims may not be better or worse if Dr.A.P.J. Kalam is elected President of India. However, a risk is there. He may be touted as the ideal Muslim, meeting the norms advertised by RSS leaders.
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