Homilies from people in high places are a ritual every democracy faithfully observes and presidential speeches belong to this group. Rituals have their role in every system, for they make people remember their past, help them measure the quality and quantity of the distance they have travelled over a period of time and ponder whether they need to change course.
So when Ram Nath Kovind, the 14th President, delivered his parting speech in Parliament and when he delivered his last address to the nation as the first citizen, reminding his fellow citizens of the need to uphold democracy and its methodology, he played the role of an elder statesman. The President, who was never an active politician, nor a parliamentarian, but worked closely with people of both descriptions, has reiterated that democracy works through the party system but that he would want politicians to rise above their partisan considerations for the good of the nation.
Mr Kovind obliquely agreed with political historians who would complain that the quality of parliamentary debates has degraded over time. While admitting that people and their representatives have a right to pressure the government on issues, he advised them to adopt the Gandhian style.
The ideals around which the Constitution is structured — liberty, equality and fraternity — should not be seen in isolation but are inseparably intertwined. Mr Kovind warned the people that to attempt to see them separately would result in the end of each of them. Democracy and socialism are the ideals towards we move, and the governments are working towards making basic necessities like safe drinking water and electricity available to all, he assured them.
A President takes the oath to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution, which Mr Kovind called the eternal lamp of the Indian people. Mr Kovind’s time saw the government at the Centre taking measures which a lot of people thought undermined its basic principles. There were instances when governments even used legal routes to smother voices of dissent and the courts refused to intervene when fundamental rights were questioned.
While referring to the Constitution and saying he was part of Parliament and “as with any family, there are bound to be differences within this parliamentary family too; there would be diverging views about how to proceed further,” he would have been referring to the different perspectives the people had towards such acts.
Mr Kovind was a President who went by the rulebook. At a time when governors in many states engage themselves with the elected government on a daily basis, Mr Kovind chose to go by the advice of the Union council of ministers, as it has been envisaged.
He proved that the preservation, defence and protection of the Constitution is not a job of the President alone, but it essentially lay with the people who elect their representatives and it is they who make the Constitution work. In that sense, Mr Kovind practised what he professed — upholding the values of the Constitution.