While participating in a TV debate last fortnight on the forthcoming Rashtrapati election,I was shocked to hear one of the participants say that the President of India is nothing more than a nominal head of state occupying a huge real estate in the capital. The person obviously had poor knowledge of the architecture of the Indian Constitution,whose custodian the Rashtrapati is.
The ignorance and cynicism about the high office needs to be dispelled by electing worthy persons who embody the ideals of the Constitution and have both the commitment and the competence to protect it. Nevertheless,I have felt for a long time that the Presidents office itself needs to be further empowered to promote certain broader and long-term interests of the Republic. This can be done without disturbing the fine constitutional balance between the President and the Prime Minister.
A specific idea to empower the President is to create a new constitutionally sanctified council,which may be called the Acharya Sabha (Guidance Council) advising him (or her) and indirectly advising Parliament,executive and the judiciary on the one hand,and also the civil society on the other.
Acharya in the Indian tradition connotes a teacher or a highly learned person. It is a perfectly secular term. However,if political and societal consensus requires a more acceptable term for the proposed council,so be it. What matters is the essential idea,which is that the present system of democratic governance sorely lacks guidance from learned individuals of eminence and moral character. Such much-needed guidance can come from those social leaders who have no political affiliationsand hence,sadly,cannot get elected to either the Lok Sabha or the Rajya Sabha in the prevailing systembut who nonetheless have the potential to show the right path to the nation with their knowledge,experience and wisdom.
India,which is blessed with a priceless and unbroken civilisational heritage,has produced a large number of such learned persons in every generation,including in the post-Independence era. However,the present constitutional scheme of things doesnt recognise them at all. Plato and Socrates had advanced the idea of Philosopher-Kings. In our own tradition of Dharma Rajya (ethically guided governance),the Raj Gurus had a higher status than kings themselves. Sadly,our essentially western model of democracy has left the fate of our Republic entirely in the hands of elected politicians and largely unaccountable career bureaucrats/judges. The result of doing so is in front of our eyes.
All of us know what it takes these days to get elected to Parliament or to the state legislatures. Even the concept of the Council of Elders (Rajya Sabha) has been debased by almost all political parties. The doors of the legislature are today open mostly to political personalities. Bureaucracy and the judiciary are even more exclusionary in nature. The moot question is: does all the knowledge and wisdom necessary to guide the Republic reside only in the small community of MPs,MLAs,ministers,judges and IAS officers? Where is the place in our Constitutional design for philosophers,educationists,scientists,writers,artists,cultural lights,and spiritual leaders outside the sphere of politics?
The idea being proposed by this columnist is not to undermine the existing institutions of democracy. Our efforts to reform Parliament,state legislatures,panchayati raj institutions,judiciary,administration,police,etc.,must be intensified. However,it is no democracy that ignores thought-and-action leaders who are a part of demos (population) but not a part of cracy (machinery of governance).
Wouldnt our nation benefit from a certain constitutionally structured form of guidance from the likes of Acharya Mahapragya (the great soul passed away in 2010),Maulana Wahiduddin Khan,Cardinal Oswald Gracias,Dr Kireet Joshi (a scholar on Sri Aurobindos philosophy of education),Guruji Ravindra Sharma (of Kala Ashram in Adilabad,AP,a living encyclopedia on the lofty philosophy that enlivens Indias traditional arts and crafts),N R Narayana Murthy and Ratan Tata (both of whom after their retirement can be great assets to the nation),Anupam Mishra (a widely respected Gandhian expert on traditional water conservation),Namdeo Dhasal (a Dalit poet in Marathi who has not only experienced social injustice but also fought against it),Dr Abhay Bang and his wife Rani Bang whose work in rural health service and research is truly inspiring,and the anti-corruption crusader Anna Hazare?
The Acharya Sabha should be attached to the office of Rashtrapati,who is an integral part of both the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha. Similar councils should also be formed at the state and district levels. Their members will,of course,have neither legislative nor executive powers. Nevertheless,suitable ways should be evolved to make their advisory role truly effective in law-making,policy formulation,justice delivery and long-term goal-setting. Since we live in the age of the internet,which has both facilitated participative democracy and also immensely increased the demand for it,the Acharya Sabha(s) should use the online platform to tap the large reservoir of wisdom and activism that lies with citizen-philosophers in our civil society.
True,several problems will be encountered in implementing any such new idea. However,if the idea itself is sound,both our state and society will become mature through its sincere implementation. In the process,the office of Rashtrapati will grow both in prestige and purposiveness.