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.