By all accounts, Bharatiya Janata Party leader Sushma Swaraj spoke out of turn when she voiced her views on electing the next President. While opposing Vice-President Hamid Ansari for the post, Ms Swaraj, quite shockingly, claimed he did not have the “stature” to be Rashtrapati. In framing its opposition to Mr. Ansari in this fashion, the BJP has not only showed its hand too soon, but also lowered the level of public discourse on an important issue. Saying Mr. Ansari does not have the stature to become the President is both an insult to the office of the Vice-President and to its incumbent, a diplomat and scholar widely regarded as one of the finest India has ever had. To acknowledge and state this is not necessarily to root for his elevation, for India is a vast country and there are any number of able and wise women and men who, like Mr. Ansari, can bring stature and dignity to the office of the President. The BJP is, of course, entitled to announce its support for, or opposition to, individual candidates, and to make it difficult for the government to have its way. But in doing so, a sense of proportion and balance is essential, for once the contestation is over, the President and the Opposition need to be able to look each other in the eye and work together. By failing to articulate her opposition to Mr. Ansari in political terms, Ms Swaraj has done a disservice to herself and her party.
That the BJP had not done adequate groundwork before laying its cards on the table became clear when other constituents of the National Democratic Alliance distanced themselves from Ms Swaraj's statement. Sharad Yadav, president of the Janata Dal (United), a key ally of the BJP, was quick to note that the views of Ms Swaraj were not those of the NDA as a whole. The Shiromani Akali Dal, another NDA ally, which would like its leader, Parkash Singh Badal, elected Vice-President, evidently wants the doors for negotiations with the Congress kept open. In the absence of an agreement with the Congress, Mr. Badal's chances would not be particularly bright. Even as parties weigh the merits and demerits of various candidates, they should be careful in their public pronouncements. The office of the President is political, but only in the wider sense of the term. The role of the President in the Indian constitutional system is such that her or his political affiliation or inclination confers little substantive advantage to a ruling party. The Opposition has a right to make the ruling party sweat a bit in the run up to the Presidential election. But it shouldn't forget that the only political battle which truly matters comes two years later, in 2014.