The presidential poll of 2007 will probably be remembered as one of the dirtiest and most political election to Raisina Hill. While choosing India’s first citizen was never a simple process anyway, this year the contest has been reduced to mere political mudslinging. Murder and financial impropriety charges against the next possible first citizen, a people’s president who appears to have political ambitions and a vice-president playing to his own tune - how did it come to all this? In a special show Kaun Banega Rashtrapati CNN-IBN Editor-in-Chief Rajdeep Sardesai conducted a debate on the big questions plaguing the election to India’s highest office. Congress spokesperson Abhishek Manu Singhvi, BJP spokesperson Ravi Shankar Prasad, MP and General Secretary of Samajwadi Party Amar Singh and Tuglaq Editor Cho Ramaswamy were among the panelists to discuss the issue. Pratibha Patil formally entered the race for presidency when she filed her nomination as the UPA-Left candidate on Saturday. And not surprisingly, the entire Cabinet including Congress president Sonia Gandhi was present to cheer the chosen one. Saturday might have been Patil's big day but ironically, it’s only been a time when the past has returned to haunt her. A story broken by CNN-IBN on loan defaults by a co-operative of which she was once a chairperson have raised several embarrassing questions for Patil. Is Pratibha Patil the right choice for President? When Pratibha Patil was chosen by the UPA-Left combined a week ago the Congress said she was a candidate who exemplified honesty and decency in public life. The last 48 hours there is now a question mark on the issue of property. Reacting to the charges against Patil, Singhvi said, “I think there is no question mark at all. If you have a set of facts which are unrelated and do not convert to any conclusion it does not become a question mark. There are three sets of allegations. One of course I leave aside the criminal part. The next two you raised are the bank issues - the co-operative society issue.” “Here is a person who resigned as director and chairman well before she became even governor of Rajasthan. 76 societies of a similar kind are sick in Maharashtra. 26 of them have been issued notices under the securitisation act. No single notice to her no personal guarantee, “ he added. But she was the founder president of that co-operative. She took the loan in 1994, the loan was taken from farmer cultivators its not paid back. Singhvi ran to his party’s candidate defence and said every society and sugar factory in Maharashtra started with a loan and hers was not an exception. He also pointed out that all the 76 factories were sick. “76 of them function. All of them or large numbers of them are sick. 26 of them have notices issued on normal cause. She had nothing to do with the whole issue. She has been associated with an entity that entity is in the process of dealing on a securitisation notice. What is the moral issue here, “ Singhvi questioned. Strongly reacting to Singhvi’s statement, Ravi Shankar Prasad insisted it was indeed a moral issue considering the sanctity of President’s office. “It’s a question of the highest constitutional office in the country something of a constitutional propriety and moral question has come from there. There were 70 or 75 companies but there directors are not in the race to become the president of India that is the most important feature. Here as you rightly pointed out she took the loan she remains the life member of the society. Her brother today is the chairman of that society. All this makes involvement of public money.” Prasad also said that an MLA or MP had to disclose in their affidavit before elections and Pratbha did not do so. “I must explain the CBI has been directed by a writ petition by the Aurangabad bench of Bombay high court on February 23 at the instance of the Congress president’s claim that hold a CBI enquiry where in paragraph four of the petition the brother of Pratibha Patil is named,” he said. But Singhvi wasn’t to be convinced. He insisted the timing of the allegation was suspect considering such allegations never came to fore before Pratibha’s name was floated. “A murder was committed in 2005, the complainant Ms Rajni Patil does not chose to include the name at any point in time even of G N Patil. Remember we are talking about Pratibha Patil. Pratibha Patil is nowhere in picture either as a witness, accuse or anything. Now lets look at her brother. So she is now being visited for the elations of her brother.” He also pointed out that GN Patil was also not named in the FIR. When Rajni Patil filed a petition in the Bombay high court and when rejected they went to Supreme Court, which also rejects the petition. “Bombay high court nevertheless says ‘do a CBI enquiry’. CBI does an enquiry and the enquiry is going on. In the course of the enquiry the original accuse nothing to do with G N Patil. Accused 3 and 4 - one of them - according to CBI had one mobile telephone call between that accused and G N Patil the brother. Those two accused were acquitted. At this moment G N Patil is not anywhere accused, forget Pratibha Patil,” he said, pointing out the manner in which cabinet minister of the NDA convenes a press conference with Rajni Patil at his residence was suspect. It isn’t just the timing of the allegations that has invited debate. The language used in the campaign and counter-campaign has also raised several eyebrows. With AIADMK leader and Third Front member saying selection of Pratibha Patil’s was a national joke, the debate is whether this poll has been reduced to a smear campaign. However, Amar Singh –who is also a part of the Third Front – rushed to Jayalalithaa’s defence sand said it was a matured statement. He put the ball in Congress court, accusing the party of double standards. “She must be having her own reason for saying this. It’s a shocking case of selecting morality. Mulayam Singh Yadav - barely on a complaint of a Congress petitioner whose audio tape is caught and aired - is being ordered to be probed and the judge who gives that order and cries in the court subsequently proclaiming that he will not become chairman of law commission he becomes. It’s a case of selective morality. In Congress leadership the morality’s definition has found new dimension.” Cho Ramaswamy gave a different spin to the issue when he said Pratibha Patil was a nominee chosen only through error and not by trial. “It has to be a stature and Jayalalithaa was absolutely justified in calling it a joke. If these qualifications are sufficient for a president post there will be thousands of candidates available. The why choose this woman as she is going to be rubberstamp,” he said. Ramaswamy also argued that Pratibha Patil wasn’t UPA’s natural first choice. She was a distant fifth when Shivraj Patil’s nomination was finally rejected by the Communists. It’s a joke no doubt about it. If things are proved she will be convicted. She will be punished. Now she is in a position where she has to answer allegations, “ he added. PAGE_BREAK However, the fact also remains that Pratibha Patil has not reacted to the allegations and the veil of controversy shrouds her nomination. Singhvi said, “in a middle of a campaign a party which is trying to set a cat among the peasant create uncertainty for its own present current vice-presidential candidate has a press conference and make something resembling allegations which does not become an allegations which the presidential candidate has to answer.” Has the people’s President Kalam also become a politician? Another controversial angle to the tale has been the conduct of outgoing President APJ Adbdul Kalam. The Third Front virtually pushed Kalam into the presidential race. As if the tokenism of having a Muslim president wasn’t enough, Kalam was pushed into making statements that didn’t quite speak too well for him – all of this to achieve political ends. PAGE_BREAK However, Amar Singh denied there was any malafide intention behind backing Kalam and said the question of his being a Muslim didn’t arise. “Is it criminal to be a Muslim and secular and is it crime to propagate? Kalam was people’s president and entire country wanted Kalam. We thought it prudent to propose to him and he was kind enough to accept. Three cabinet ministers used foul language against him and he was hurt. Even Abhishek Manu Singhvi’s father L M Singhvi objected to that statement.” However, Singhvi reacted violently to Amar Singh’s allegation and denied a Congress leader foul-mouthed him. “Priyaranjan Dasmunshi said that we had conveyed to Kalam that he is not our choice. Is that derogatory?” Prasad insisted Kalam was a non-party President who agreed to run for a second term if there was unanimity on his name. However, Prasad alleged Left and Congress categorically stated they wanted Congressman as President. “Left said we want a political leader as a president. Thereafter they completely rejected him. Then they came with a proposal. Even though Shekhawat was a candidate he himself offered even there is consensus of name I will withdraw,” he said. So was it Kalam who miscalculated by asking for a certain win? Did he prove to be an amateur and ended up behaving naïve? “Not only naïve, but also desiring of the president’s position. He pledged his hard-earned reputation and there’s no point criticising people who commented on him. He invited these comments,” Ramaswamy opined. Does Bhairon Singh Shekhawat have a chance of occupying Rashtrapati Bhavan? It’s certain now that Vice President Shekhawat will take on Pratibha Patil in the race for Rashtrapati Bhavan. He will file his nomination papers as an independent candidate with the backing of NDA. Though he does not have the numbers in his favour, his supporters are positive the Congress detractors will come around and support his candidature. But considering how fortunes are tilted in UPA’s favour, the going seems tough – as of now - for Shekhawat. So is it fair to say that NDA miscalculated presidential stakes by floating Shekhawat’s name? However, Prasad denied that BJP was trying to embarrass Shekhawat in the autumn of his career by floating his name – knowing fully well that he will never make it to the top. “Kindly appreciate that Shekhawat has been an administrator with an impeccable record and has been the Governor of Rajasthan twice. His record as the Member of Rajya Sabha is impeccable and he has secular credentials. ‘Cannot win’ is too early a statement. A week is a long time in politics,” he said. Prasad also ruled out a consensus with Congress alleging the party was only keen on putting its man on the President’s chair. “Till date, all Presidential polls – save one – have been through elections. Should we have a captive prime minister – with all due respect – and also a president who is also a Congress candidate?” There is also an allegation that the Congress is taking India to the “Zail Singh era of rubber stamp presidency” by pitching for its own candidate The oft-repeated charge of Congress wanting to put a “rubber stamp” on India’s highest position of power annoyed Singhvi who denied it outright. “I find it amusing when someone uses the term Congress President. I must say the Congress and the UPA will not agree to having a BJP President. If the ruling coalition has an aspiration to promote its own president, is it absurd? Would the ruling coalition say, ‘Honourable Opposition, give us a name, we will wait?’ Please go back to 2002, they proposed Kalam’s name, he wasn’t our choice either. We did not set up a candidate,” he said, alleging it was NDA that was queering the pitch by setting up a candidate when the odds are stacked against them. Considering how Shekhawat’s chances might improve if the Third Front supports his candidature, Rajdeep asked Amar Singh if this could be a possibility. However Amar Singh remained politically vague on the issue. “Between Mr Shekhawat and Pratibha Patil, there’s no comparison. Mr Shekhawat is a man of great stature and his behaviour is impeccable. But it’s a cruelty of politics, it is very difficult for Samajwadi Party to support a BJP candidate,” he said. PAGE_BREAK But why is it that the Third front was okay with Kalam – also an NDA candidate – and not with Shekhawat? Amar Singh said while he wanted to break bread with Congress President Sonia Gandhi and Third Front member Chandrababu Naidu phoned her – but she was not willing to talk. “We went to Left parties who were courteous enough to tell us we were late. We went to every doorstep and Sonia banged the door on us,” he said. However, Singhvi retorted to the allegation and said banging doors on someone was not the tradition of someone (Sonia Gandhi) who phoned Naidu in the first place. He also accused the Third Front of hypocrisy of distance and said they couldn’t have their cake and eat it too. Who will ultimately occupy Rashtrapati Bhavn Despite all political lobbying, the fact remains if UPA and Left stay together they have an advantage of over one lakh votes over their rivals. So is it a token fight - a fight more about principles and not numbers? Should NDA concede defeat considering how by sheer number their defeat is certain? Prasad reacted violently and said the party will not accept defeat without giving Congress a fight. “Should we pack up or bags and say Madam Sonia Gandi, you appoint anyone as President and we will accept? That’s not our way. The whole ide a of women president was a good idea had it started off with the idea of having a woman president. This was a last choice,” he said and appealed Amar Singh to support NDA if he had “genuine appreciation” for Pratibha Patil. Amar Singh maintained his stand and said while he had great affection for Shekhawat, he had “greater affection for his political ethos.” Singhvi maintained an objective stand and said it wasn’t game, set and match for Pratibha Patil. “I don’t have a problem with any party projecting its candidate. That’s their right and they must fight clean and straight. But while politics and situations change, arithmetic doesn’t change,” he said. The neutral voice in the show – Cho Ramaswamy – had an interesting take on the issue. He said he hoped it wasn’t game set and match for Patil else India would get a president who would have not answered several pressing questions. “The Constitution gives some immunity to all presidents and I would not like this to happen. Let’s remember what happened when Giri contested against Sanjeeva Reddy and Congress appealed for a conscience vote If Shekhawat appeals for a conscience vote as Indira Gandhi then, the Congress cant complain. There may be a chance of some UPA members having a rethink about Pratibha Patil’s candidature because of the allegations against her,” he said. Should we change the way President is elected? For all the political to’s and fro’s surrounding the presidential polls, the common man is left to wonder if he should have a role to play in the process. In the present system, the president’s office can never be neutral as the ruling party will foist its candidate. Should this system be changed and a conscience vote be introduced? “I think this statement is overstated and misleading. Unless you structurally change the Constitution, this is not possible. We are a parliamentary democracy and the first principle is that in such system, the president reigns but not rules,” Singhvi said. The entire concept of Presidnet was supposed to be about men of stature. It has now been reduced to mere symbolism with tokenism ruling the process. Be it a Dalit president in K R Narayanan, a Muslim one in APJ Abdul Kalam or a possible woman candidate in Pratibha Patil – has the dignity of chair been reduced to mere symbolism? Prasad agreed with the statement and cited Congress as an example of a prty promoting it. “I wish Indira Gandhi were alive to hear what Manu (Singhvi) said. She made an open offer for that in 1969, but that’s besides the point. We have had Congress presidents like Radhakrishnan, Rajdendra Prasad and Zakir Hussain and also the likes of Fakhruddin Ali Ahmad and Zail Singh. Ultimately what kind of a person you bring up there is what matters. Our relationship rests on that. So, the biggest objection today is the manner in which Pratibha Patil is being foisted there. They had a bigger candidate,” he said. Amar Singh chose to restart the blame game and said considering how India’s top positions of power – CEC Navin Chawla, PM Manmohan Singh and President Pratibha – were being chosen by one person (indicating Sonia Gandhi), he would prefer a people’s president. “I go by janta janardhan,” he said. However, Ramaswamy disagreed and said there was no need for the system to change as the provision of conscience vote was already present. “The MPs and MLAs are free to vote and it’s a secret ballot. I don’t think power should be given to people else cash would come into play and a lot of money will be spent on the campaign,” he said. Howevre, the show concluded on a rather violent note when Singhvi said the phrase conscience vote was as misleading as the phrase “people’s President.” Whoever occupies the coveted seat, the fact remains that the events of the past week have eroded the moral and the political authority of presidency. Undoubtedly, the office of the first citizen of India has been reduced to a football field where politicians play Machiavellian games. Write in with your feedback.