President Ram Nath Kovind is turning out to be a true statesman, what a President of India ought to be like. Though he is a former BJP man and BJP made him the President of the country, he seems to have no qualms in expressing his sagacious views which are at variance with, and, often contrary to the position taken by BJP leaders, big or small.
It is true that his tenure began with a controversy. His first speech in the Central Hall of Parliament on July 25, drew the Congress Party’s ire as he mentioned the contributions of Gandhi, Sardar Patel and BR Ambedkar to India’s freedom and consolidation as a nation but omitted the name of Pandit Nehru altogether. Many said that, having been elected on a BJP ticket, President Kovind was merely toeing the line of the party which has made a systematic campaign to undermine the role of India’s first Prime Minister.
But, to everyone’s surprise, President Kovind made amends in the customary address to the nation on the eve of India’s Independence Day on August 14. In this address, he again said about the contribution of Gandhi, Patel and Amedkar (and added Netaji Bose to the list) to the Indian nation, but did not forget to mention Jawaharlal Nehru’s stellar role in independent India’s evolution as well.
Since then, in the last ten weeks, President Kovind has delivered several speeches across the country befitting the respective occasions; there is nothing noteworthy about them. But three of his recent speeches have created the impression that President Kovind is not prepared to gloss over the bigoted and, often, ill-informed, remarks of the BJP leaders; what is praiseworthy is that he has not maintained a studied silence to avoid a controversy; rather he has spoken out candidly to reaffirm his belief and conviction.
Sangeet Som, a BJP MLA from UP, called Taj Mahal a blot on India’s culture, an oppressive Muslim emperor’s dedication to one of his wives, and declared that this monument should be erased. This was not an off-the-cuff remark of an upstart MLA. He was merely repeating what Yogi Adityanath had been saying in election meetings to polarise the electorate.
President Kovind took no names, but he ticked off all those who were taking potshots at Taj Mahal: “They say Shah Jahan dedicated it to his wife but I say he dedicated it to love”. He emphasised the Mughal-era monument as one of the seven wonders of the world. That sent the likes of Som running for cover.
The President stirred the BJP’s nest again on October 25. While addressing the Karnataka Assembly on the occasion of its diamond jubilee celebration, he spoke 30 words that punched a hole in what state BJP leaders have been saying for years. He said: “Tipu Sultan died a heroic death fighting the British. He was also a pioneer in the development and use of Mysore rockets in warfare. The technology was later adopted by Europeans.”
This statement – Tipu as a freedom fighter and an innovator – was in sharp contrast to what BJP leaders of Karnataka had been saying. Anant Kumar Hegde, a Union minister, had recently told the state government not to invite him to Tipu Jayanti celebrations as he considered the ruler a “brutal killer, wretched fanatic and mass rapist.” In fact, BJP leaders of the state had decided to boycott the Tipu Jayanti programmes. The President could have maintained silence on the Tipu issue as he was addressing the Karnataka assembly where the BJP MLAs were also present. But it was obvious that the President wanted to send out a message loud and clear that though he is a former BJP man, he does not share the bigoted and communal perspective of the Karnataka BJP leaders.
The President created a bigger stir in Kerala last week. There he took cudgels with two stalwarts of the BJP, Amit Shah and Yogi Adityanath, without naming them. Both leaders, during their recent visits to Kerala, had belittled the state. Amit Shah had repeatedly pointed out the failure of the state on all fronts – healthcare, education, sanitation, etc under the successive Congress and the Communist rule. He had berated the state as a hotbed of communal polarisation. Adityanath had advised Kerala government to take healthcare lessons from UP and the PM himself had compared Kerala with Somalia.
President Kovind, in his address in Thiruvanthapuram, said: “Kerala’s traditions, and your very thinking have been humanistic, people-oriented and democratic. The emphasis on human development and on health-care and education here has set an example for the rest of the country. In sanitation, your achievements are praiseworthy. In local self-government and panchayati raj, again Kerala has deepened our democracy.”
The President contradicted each allegation made by two top BJP leaders, without naming them. Again, the President could have maintained silence if he did not want to cross swords with the top BJP leaders. But the President refused to shy away from calling a spade a spade, irrespective of who was left red-faced on that count.
It is heartening to see the new President upholding the high standard of his august office.