India Insight

Who wants to be India’s next president?


It’s probably easier for actor Amitabh Bachchan to become India’s president than your average politician.

The ruling Congress party coalition looks like it will at best limp its way to general elections in 2014, stung by a rash of corruption scandals that have tarnished Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s second term in office and led to a dismal performance in state assembly elections earlier this year.

Now the political establishment is abuzz about who will be the next president, a largely ceremonial post that comes open in July.

The incumbent by all accounts bears the hallmarks of the government she represents — ineffectual and damaged by accusations of corruption. Pratibha Devisingh Patil, whose tenure ends in July, was controversially allotted defence land to build a cosy retirement nest. With 12 trips overseas since taking over, she’s also racked up foreign travel bills that cost India more than 2 billion rupees ($39 million), the most by any Indian head of state.

Such lavishness has even led some to question the whole presidential institution within a parliamentary democracy. The president is the constitutional head but has limited powers, similar to that of the monarch in the United Kingdom, despite living in a 340-room palace that was once the British viceroy’s residence.

Barack Obama — it seems he’s India’s choice too

It’s not hard to see why Indians would be interested in an election thousands of miles away. Many see Barack Obama’s victory in the presidential poll as a sign that America has finally transcended the question of race and changed the course of history.

Obama may have won by a landslide in the U.S. but going by the number of Indians rooting for him at New Delhi’s American Center on Wednesday, it seemed a useless exercise to gauge his support base in India.

I was hard-pressed to find a John McCain supporter among the many students and guests thronging the lawns of the Center as election results trickled in.

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