The President has stood his ground on issues such as the Padmavat controversy, the Tipu Sultan row and the Kathua rape case.
In a democracy, power is wielded by those who hold the numbers, Constitutional heads, with some luck, can hope to wield some influence. While statistics on President Ram Nath Kovind’s first year in office are easy to come by, the 53 visits he made across the country in 52 weeks or the number of countries he has visited as Head of State (10 at the last count), how he squares up against other Presidents, or more specifically his image among opposition parties in a single party majority parliament tells its own story.
His predecessor in Rashtrapati Bhavan, Pranab Mukherjee, was a political colossus with over six decades at the peak of public life , President Kovind came to the job more under the radar. In his first year in office, however, there have been at least four occasions where he has stood his ground on issues.
During his address to the nation on January 25, 2018, at the height of not just the controversy over the film Padmavat and rising attack on Dalits, he called for a more civic-minded society that adheres to the building of a civic-minded nation. “Where we respect the next door person’s space, privacy, and rights. Where we do not inconvenience our neighbours while celebrating a festival or while resorting to a protest or on any other occasion. Where one can disagree with another viewpoint — or even with a historical context — without mocking a fellow citizen’s dignity and personal space. This is fraternity in action,” he said in his speech.
At another occasion, in poll-bound Karnataka, despite his own party’s views, he spoke of Tipu Sultan he said that the late rule of Mysore died “a historic death fighting the British” and that his adoption of technology was to be emulated. At the height of the controversy over the Kathua rape and murder, he spoke in Jammu: “After 70 years of independence such an incident occurring in any part of the country is shameful. We have to think what kind of society are we developing. It is our responsibility to ensure such a thing does not happen to any girl or woman.”
Again, in his address on Republic Day and before that in November 2017, on Constitution Day, he alluded to the differences between various institutions of democracy and asked individuals serving them rise above individuality, and be true trustees of these for the people, in a year when tensions in the Supreme Court were made public.
President Kovind’s achievement in his first year in office is the quiet surprise of emerging above the fray.
Calling President Kovind a “gentleman president”, Leader of the Trinamool Congress in the Rajya Sabha, Derek O Brien told The Hindu,“We wish him well on completing one year as a gentleman President. We are confident that in the years ahead he will uphold his responsibility as the guardian of the Constitutition.” This despite the fact that at a civic reception hosted by the West Bengal government in Kolkata, he had spoken out about the specific role of a border State in curbing extremist elements.
The Congress, watching carefully the first President who had been a part of the BJP also acknowledged the anniversary. “The President has upheld the dignity of his office and we expect him to speak his mind as the Head of the Republic particularly and the Custodian of the Constitution. He should speak particularly on issues which require him to caution the government or to intervene,” said Anand Sharma, Deputy Leader of the Congress in the Rajya Sabha. “It has been a year which has seen many a challenges. The counter has been confronted with intolerance, rising violence and disrespect towards law and Constitution. And the most outrageous trend of organised mob lynching,” he added.
With the General Elections, next year is a political year where the reins have to be held with bipartisanship.
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