N.R. Narayana Murthy is being spoken of as a strong contender for the post of the first citizen of the largest democracy of the world. The suggestion has been going around for some time. Recently President Kalam himself beamed “fantastic, fantastic, fantastic” when asked, during his recent visit to the Infosys campus in Bangalore, to share his views on this. Since then, there has been much excitement, with the polls suggesting that the majority of Indian citizens want Murthy as President. But I would say it is a bad idea. And I am not running any anti-Murthy or anti-Kalam campaign here.
First let us know Murthy in a better way (though I know you know a lot about him). He founded Infosys in 1981 along with six software professionals. Thanks to the relentless efforts of the “Infosians” under his able guidance, Infosys is a leading global IT company. Murthy is also the chairman of the governing body of the Indian Institute of Information Technology, Bangalore. He is a member of the Board of Overseers of the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, Cornell University Board of Trustees, among others. He is similarly involved with various well-known international universities. Murthy serves as a member of the board of directors of the United Nations Foundation. He is an IT adviser to several Asian countries. The Economist ranked him eighth among the top 15 most admired global leaders (2005). He was ranked 28th among the world’s most-respected business leaders by The Financial Times (2005). In 2006, Time magazine voted him as one of the Asian heroes who have brought about revolutionary changes in Asia in the last 60 years. He was the first recipient of the Indo-French Forum Medal (2003) in recognition of his role in promoting Indo-French ties. In 2001, he was named by Time/CNN as one of the 25 most influential global executives, with lasting influence in creating new industries and reshaping markets. He won the Max Schmidheiny Liberty 2001 prize (Switzerland) for his promotion of individual responsibility and liberty.
So, why should we not have Narayana Murthy as the President of this country? Laws as well history suggest that President’s office is the “most ineffective” political chair in our system. The powers of the President are largely ceremonial and real national executive powers are centred in the council of ministers led by the Prime Minister. Simply put, the President is merely a stamp on the deeds of politicians with no effective say. During the tenure of President Kalam, too, there have been many occasions when this “ineffectiveness” was clearly visible. Be it the dissolution of the Bihar assembly or the controversial (rather forced) signing of the Office of Profit Bill, the President had to bow before Parliament and the politicians.
This is not to conclude that Kalam is an “ineffective” President. He is another iconic and intelligent personality. But his unwillingness to continue in office for a second term reflects the ineffectiveness and frustrations of the President’s post (one can argue that he is a “victim” of an ill-founded system). Since we already have the experience of an able individual being ineffective, why waste another amazing talent? Either we should modify the Constitution to make the President’s role more effective, or Murthy should use his intelligence and skills for other relevant developmental causes, where he can make a difference. Murthy’s election as President would be a case of the most-deserving player not being selected to play and, instead, made to sit on the fence, or of a “non-executive” director on the board of a family-run business. President Kalam should say “fantastic” to this idea.
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