India desperately needs you, Mr. Mukherjee, to start a national conversation on energy, environment and education
As the nation celebrates the journey of a village boy to the highest office in the land, there is a thrill of recognition that Indian democracy is still alive and walking. We hope now you will not only walk around the sprawling lawns of Rashtrapati Bhavan with abandon but also along the length and breadth of India — particularly small towns and villages where India pulsates with pain and possibility. Our nation cannot afford to let a President fade away from such a luminous life in politics into the haze of post-retirement nostalgia. India will move ahead when you are walking and awake. At a time when a nation finds itself edgy and on the brink of intense political and economic mood swings, making peace with the status quo is tantamount to giving up when your best is yet to come.
I fondly wish that your first official visit as the new President is to a school in a remote corner of North India. Your visit will likely draw the nation’s attention to a brick and mortar ghetto where girl children do not show up because there are no toilets for them. If the destiny of India is being crafted in such classrooms — you have to be a part of that karma as well. How about an unannounced visit to a village that has no access to electricity but has leapfrogged to solar power? One would also hope that you will show up in a stadium for an obscure sports event such as hockey or athletics so that the less privileged sports in India get at least some footage on television if not a boost from your presence. I dream that you will send a hand-written note of appreciation to a doctor in a public hospital who has saved precious lives working round the clock beyond the call of duty. I hope you will stand by a farmer with suicidal tendencies just as you would by a soldier who has found post-mortem glory. Perhaps you will surprise everyone by calling some of the homeless children who survive by scavenging leftover food from the Rajdhani Express for a once in a lifetime dinner at the presidential palace. You may agree that leading India is about connecting the best of India to the rest of India.
Who knows better than you that the President of India is not necessarily limited by his constituency and cramped by coalition politics. He need not remain a shatranj ka khilari confined to chessboard manoeuvres inside the durbar. I hope you will inspire politics of conviction that has been usurped by the politics of convenience. By virtue of being a representative of one-sixth of the planet you now embody the concerns and vision of a large part of our planet. India’s planetary concerns include the watershed crisis around water itself. Water has an economic value and can be used with greater foresight for all its competing purposes such as agriculture, industry and mere survival. India should think of its water resources not just as an economic good but as a sacred lifeline of our civilization. India tops the global groundwater consumption ahead of China and the United States. Yet, the quality of water consumed leaves more than 21 per cent of our country with crippling communicable diseases. The inter-state and inter-nation war over water will be the theme for the next decade and it requires no less than a presidential engagement to avert that crisis.
We have had a plethora of leaders in India who behave more like statues than statues themselves. Even statues are demolished when regimes change. However, it is difficult to demolish the statuesque inertia in dealing with corruption. I trust you will reflect on how a land of opportunity for all does not degenerate into the big bazaar of a few opportunists. The real threat to India comes not so much from external sources — it is from our inherent inconsistencies in dealing with issues critical to the nation. India desperately needs a President who will start a national conversation on energy, environment and education — on not just the right but also the relevance of education. We want a President who will close the credibility gap between rhetoric and reality about the state of the Indian economy.
Your true victory will be when the nation wins in spite of extraordinary odds that it is pitched against. Do take those dusty roads not travelled before and dare to walk alone! All said and done, this nation has preferred a committed walker over a distinguished Speaker! So, walk ahead and show us the way. Jai Ho and Jai Hind!
(Professor Debashis Chatterjee is Director, IIM Kozhikode.)