Describing himself as an apolitical candidate, Gopalkrishna Gandhi, the vice-presidential nominee of the Opposition, has called upon MPs across party lines to vote for him without fear or favour with no whip over their decision. “Independent vote for an independent candidate,” he told The Hindu in an interview on Friday and revealed that in Tamil Nadu he had written to both Chief Minister Edappadi K. Palaniswami and former Chief Minister O. Panneerselvam to support his candidature. Excerpts:
Given the political situation in the country, the presidential election is seen as an ideological contest between the BJP and its friends on one side and the Congress and other “secular” political parties on the other. Do you think the vice-president’s election is also an extension of the contest?
For several decades now the presidential and vice-presidential polls are clubbed together and they have become a twin poll. This is for the good. Both are constitutional offices with their roots in Parliament. It is not often remembered that the President is also part of Parliament and he in fact is supposed to be the head of Parliament. He inaugurates the session of the House and the Vice-President is the chairman of the Rajya Sabha.
But the political question?
You mentioned the ideological import of these elections. I would say until the election of President V.V. Giri, the elections of the President and Vice-President were a ceremonial celebration of these offices. But President Giri, by striking out on his own in his individual capacity as an independent candidate, gave the process an ideological charge and drew attention to a crucial fact which has somehow been overlooked.
Every MP who has come from a political party in the House is subject to the party whip in the matter of the conduct of the MP in the House. But in the election to the President and Vice-President, it is clear that the whip is not to be issued. Every MP irrespective of party affiliation votes as a sovereign independent decision-maker.
In other words, the MPs voting for the V-P and the MPs and MLAs for the President do not vote robotically, but reflectively. It is to [Late] President V.V. Giri’s credit, he made the privilege of legislators so important. He won the election with (then) Prime Minister Indira Gandhi mid-scheme changing her own mind and appealing to the MPs and MLAs to vote according to their conscience…You are absolutely right that it has since become an ideological matter. But the sovereign prerogative of the legislator-elector has not obscured. I think it is time it is excavated from our collective forgetfulness.
What about the argument that the vice-presidential election is just an extension of the presidential polls?
The concept ‘Thunai Thalaivar’ (a reference to V-P but the word ‘Thunai’ means “supportive”) as it is known in Tamil does full justice to the position. He is actually a support to the President and Parliament.
The V-P is elected only by the Electoral College consisting of MPs from both the Houses and in the present political situation the odds are against the Opposition candidate. How do you see yourself in this situation?
It is an important question and it helps me to clarify my own thinking. I regard myself as a citizen candidate who has been asked by a large number of political parties to contest the election. I am a non-party individual. I may even say I am an apolitical person who has been asked (to contest) by Opposition parties with great divergences between them. They want an independent and objective voice speaking for the values of the Constitution and I think it is the sign of India’s democratic resilience. In a simplistic way I can be called the Opposition’s candidate. But I think it is an oversimplification. Just as I believe MPs are going to vote independent of whatever may be their party affiliation, I see myself as an Independent asking MPs to vote independently.
Whether you like it or not you will be certainly drawn into a clear political contest and will be seen as an anti-BJP candidate…
It is time for us to see issues in the larger perspective. We are prisoners of myopia. We have to take a larger view of the issues. It is not a matter of party politics…The ability to introspect and self-criticise seems to have been lost by all parties.
That is where I say President, Vice-President and Governors who are not in the political race and are outside are important. They can save we as a nation going wrong; we as a nation correct ourselves. Presidents, Vice-Presidents and Governors have only their inner monitors to go by. They have nothing to lose except their self-respect.