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Let the inner voice speak

Business Standard  |  New Delhi 

Little would Pratibha Patil have thought when she was suddenly nominated as the UPA candidate to become the President of India that those who would wear the crown first have to make sure that there are no skeletons rattling around in their cupboards. Two have already tumbled out of hers, and who knows how many more will pop out in the next few days! One expects Heads of State of this country to, at the very least, have wiped their traces clean. Indeed, if the 1990s was permissive, this decade has been positively licentious. The Government of the Clean""with those uplifting symbols of purity, sacrifice and virtue, Sonia Gandhi, Manmohan Singh and, of course, the Yudhishtir-like Left""has forgotten the meaning of the simpler requirements of governance, such as moral authority, propriety, dharma and the like. So deaf is its conscience and so mute its inner voice that it wants to foist a person with a rather spotty reputation as President. But it is not too late even now. Perhaps Mrs Patil could and should save her patrons further embarrassment. After all, she too may have an inner voice urging her to renounce such worldly things as being the President of India.
Whether she does so or not, India will have to grapple with a problem that those who gave us our Constitution would never have envisaged, namely, questionable backgrounds of individuals being overlooked, forgiven and, perhaps, even encouraged by those who have to appoint the people who will govern us. Most well-run countries, and India used to count among those until recently, follow some simple rules. Chief among these is the "trust but verify" rule. That is, before putting someone into a job that entails great responsibility, a background check is always done. This is more a matter of precaution than suspicion. After all, who'd want to wake up one day and find that the Cabinet Secretary or the Army Chief or someone in a similarly high office was not quite what everyone took him or her to be? Unfortunately, this simple precaution is not taken when it comes to political appointments. That is why all sorts of people become ministers and governors and perhaps, now, even President. So what should be done?
Ideally, the verification of a politician's antecedents should be done by the party before he or she is allowed to contest an election. But, given the present circumstances, this might be asking for too much. Parties value the candidate's ability to win far more than an unblemished record. However, even if that applies to the vast majority of the elections to municipalities, state legislatures and Parliament, surely when it comes to electing the President of India, a little care is necessary. That care was not taken this time largely on account of a combination of hubris and low cunning. The results are there for all to see. Given how terrible a fiasco this is turning out to be, perhaps a formal rule compulsorily requiring background checks for persons being elevated to the highest offices should be made.

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First Published: Tue, June 26 2007. 00:00 IST
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