INTERVIEW: Gopalkrishna Gandhi ‘President, V-P position doesn’t belong to party politics… no whip applies’

The Opposition’s Vice-Presidential candidate Gopalkrishna Gandhi speaks to The Indian Express about the significance of his nomination and how he plans to canvass for the election.

Written by Nirupama Subramanian | Published: July 15, 2017 4:25 am
Gopalkrishna Gandhi Interview, Opposition’s Vice-Presidential candidate Gopalkrishna Gandhi , Prime Minister Modi, Indian Express News ‘I see myself as a citizen candidate who has been asked by a large spectrum of Opposition parties to contest without party bias’. Anil Sharma/file

After you quit as chairman of IIAS, you wrote a scathing open letter to Prime Minister Modi asking him to be mindful that 69 per cent did not vote for him. You will need to canvass votes from the NDA for this election. How do you propose to go about that?

I put it to the new Prime Minister that although the vast majority of the people of India had not voted for him, now that he has become Prime Minister he should never forget the fact that he is Prime Minister of the whole of India, which includes persons holding views and perspectives completely different from his and his party’s. The position of the President and Vice-President is also, likewise, one that reflects the entirety of India’s polity and society, in fact, even more because the President and Vice-President are positioned in that part of the State’s architecture which does not belong to the politics of political parties. My asking for the support of all MPs, irrespective of their party affiliations, comes from another factor as well: No whip applies in these elections. The vote is by secret ballot for the reason that the MPs are asked to vote according to their own independent judgement, reflectively, and not through an automated process.

The outcome of the election is almost a foregone conclusion. Do you see your nomination as the joint candidate of the Opposition more as a move by the Opposition to build its own solidarity?

I see myself as a citizen candidate who has been asked by a large spectrum of Opposition parties to contest without party bias but with an unambiguous commitment to the cardinal tenets of the Constitution of India, and especially its guarantees in the matter of freedom of conscience, speech and expression, and respect towards the rule of law and our judiciary. This does, in my opinion, reflect a desire on the part of these parties, very divergent in their backgrounds and far-flung geo-politically, to have some foundational, commonly shared denominators in Parliament. And that is only to be welcomed.

Are you worried that some of these 18 parties will switch sides once the NDA announces its candidate?

If the NDA’s candidate is one that inspires national confidence and deserves, on all hands, to be in that office, why should not any elector vote for her or him? India needs a good Vice-President. That does not have to be me.

Among the most important hats the V-P wears is that of the Chairman of Rajya Sabha. If you were to be elected, what do you see as your role?

Exactly the role that Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan and all his successors have played: a flagstaff of objectivity, patience and faith.

How should a defeat for you in this election be read?

The arithmetical residue of a philosophical interface.

How much of your candidature has been influenced by the fact that you are the grandson of Mahatma Gandhi?

I see him not as a grandson might but as a citizen of India should: the nation’s searing conscience. He beckons us in what may be called in ‘racy’ English to ‘get real’. Terror faces India. The State will, as only the State can, fight the fire. But we, as a people, need to fight the embers that radiate from the fire, namely, communal suspicion, hatred and bigotry. Who tells us how to do that better than Gandhi? War may face India. Our defence forces will fight the war as only they can. But we as a people will have to see that no war casts a shadow on the mutual trust that binds us together as a multi-faith, mature society. Who can tell us to do that better than Gandhi, who knew four wars in his life? Environmental degradation stares us in the face. Can there be a greater ecological guide on the use, overuse, abuse, misuse of our natural resources than Gandhi? My being a grandson is a matter of zero value. My being one among his many ideological, non-faddist students means much more to me.

You said you had been sounded out for the Presidential election. Do you think you had more of a fighting chance in that election?

Soundings are standard and, in the final analysis, unimportant. What is important is that if and when a responsibility like this comes one’s way, it is taken up seriously but egolessly and without rancour, resentment or a frenzy to win.

Your good friend, historian and writer Ramachandra Guha recently suggested that the Congress should invite Nitish Kumar to lead it. What do you think of that suggestion?

The Congress and Nitish Kumar are on the same page of commitment to democracy, social justice and pluralism.

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  1. S
    Jul 15, 2017 at 4:04 pm
    Mr.Gandhi your comments seem to be mouthed by the commies and the dynastic politicos. History of Indian elections has always shown the discrepancy of percentage of votes garnered by a party and the seats won by it. If you are above politics you shouldn't have accepted the nomination by the bunch of most corrupt parties which have no ideology and have always followed the tenet of 'divide rule' . By accepting their nomination you have given impetus to the dynastic policies being pursued by majority of political parties, so my humble appeal to you is withdraw your candidature to pave a way of election without mean politics
    1. R
      Ramesh Nittoor
      Jul 15, 2017 at 4:47 pm
      Suhas, you have a point here, on corruption, for IG hereself chose to accommodate it as an inevitable at earlier stages of development. But the Left and Congress do have an ideology, and particularly Congress has a sound and time tested ideology, which has secured India. Mr. Gopalkrishna Gandhi can perhaps be questioned on finer details. He uses the word pluralism in a fashion which is diametrically opposite of call for Uniform Civil Code, but this is a questionable premise. Think pluralism should be seen as diametrically opposite to Hindutva. This going soft on Hindutva, and tacitly accepting it as integral to RSS and BJP, is a sign of great weakness. To call an Indian Muslim or an Indian Christian as a Hindu paves way for Hindu Rashtra. UCC on the other hand is treating all citizens equal under law, a basic premise of civil law. The vocabulary of Indian left, as it has evolved over decades, does make sense in their context, but Mr. Gandhi ought to think like a citizen, not leftist!
    2. R
      Ramesh Nittoor
      Jul 15, 2017 at 3:51 pm
      In the referred letter to PM, he hints the divide between two pole polity as one between two clarion calls भारत माता की जय versus जय हिंद. This is a beautiful thought, Bharatiyata is about learning orientation, it is a societal change process which is implicitly future oriented. You drive this humungous change process by looking mostly through the windshield, reference to Akbar and Pratap is like seeing at rear view mirror only. Rightist Leadership of the change process is no less inclusive than the left polity, the सबका साथ सबका विकास is their explicit guiding principle. BJP may have an opportunity to allay citizen mistrust, and identify with Bharatiyata credentials, instead of Hindutva, by extending support to Mr. Gandhi. But, it is not clear whether Mr. Gandhi is willing to acknowledge.
        Jul 15, 2017 at 12:40 pm
        What shameful comments..devoid of any tameez....whether one likes or dislikes a person or party is different but language of communication should be dignified....
        1. D
          Jul 15, 2017 at 12:11 pm
          If Gopal Gandhi becomes the Chairman of Rajya Sabha, by virtue of being Vice President he would be more prejudiced minded against Modi Govt after seeing his past statements against Present Govt.His at ude is like congress Party which has been appeasing Minorities.Therefore he would not be able discharge his duties impartially . No doubt he is not going to win election as NDA has 2/3 mejority.
          1. R
            Rabi Mishra
            Jul 15, 2017 at 11:42 am
            Wake up Mr Gandhi. (Or should I call you by some other name to avoid a confusion with the real one?) Be honest. Don't make pious statements. I am told you were an IAS officer. Don't you know that every Government position including that of the President Vice-President is coloured by politics?
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