Gopalkrishna Gandhi: The 'citizen candidate' who is more than just the Mahatma's grandson

Last Updated: Wed, Jul 12, 2017 18:00 hrs
Gopalkrishna Gandhi

With the Presidential elections approaching , the opposition has filled its ticket, with Meira Kumar earlier announced as the Presidential candidate, yesterday it was announced that Gopalkrishna Gandhi will be the Vice Presidential nominee.

The announcement was made by Congress President Sonai Gandhi. The proposers of his name were the Trinamool Congress (TMC) and the Left parties. He was once floated as a possible Presidential nominee.

As the Indian Express reports, one of the factors that helped in drawing consensus among 18 parties was the fact that he has never been in active politics and another surprising reason is that his current residence is Chennai, the report said.

On possible hiccup in the decision could have been Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar of the JD-U, since he had already signaled his support for NDA Presidential candidate Ram Nath Kovind. Ties between the JD-U and Lalu Prasad Yadhav’s RJD are not at their best but Indian Today reports that Nitish Kumar assured Rahul Gandhi of his support for the Vice Presidential candidate.

He has very notable and famous lineage. Gopalkrishna Gandhi is the grandson of Mahatma Gandhi. That’s not where his famous lineage ends; his maternal grandfather was India's last Governor- General C. Rajagopalachari.

Amongst those who signed on to his candidacy was the Left, who had come under criticism from Gandhi during his time as Governor of West Bengal from 2004 to 2009. During his tenure, he broke from protocol of incumbent governors not criticizing state governors; he was vocal against an incident where police fired on protestors agitating against alleged forcible acquisition of land by the then Left Front government of West Bengal.

When asked about his comments criticizing the Left government in the wake of the incident, he said, “It is not only natural but desirable that society should have as many views as its thinking members are capable of having. If there had been silence or zero discussion, I would have been extremely disappointed.”

He is seen as a person of authority who parties could turn to in times of crisis. This was evident when the Left was losing its grip on the state in the wake of the land crisis in Singur and Nandigram, and Mamata Banarjee was gaining popularity. With the Singur crisis, he is credited in bringing to the negotiation table two of the leaders of Bengal who did not particularly like each other - Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, who was the chief minister at that time and Mamata Banerjee, the challenger.

With his criticism of the Left government when he was Governor as precedent, he is seen as someone who is not shy from voicing his opinions and one who has not rested on his family name. After Narendra Modi led BJP victory in the 2014 elections, Gandhi wrote to him in which he stated that he was not one of those who wanted to see would be Prime Minister at the time reach the high office.

He joined the Indian Administrative Service in 1968 as a Tamil Nadu cadre officer. He has held diplomatic posts in the past; in 1996 he was appointed High Commissioner for India in South Africa and Lesotho, appointed High Commissioner for India in Sri Lanka in 2000 and in 2002, was made Ambassador of India to Norway and Iceland.

Gandhi is currently working as a Professor of Political Science, History and Indian Civilizations at the Ashoka University in Haryana. Widely regarded as an independent thinker, he is also a prolific columnist writing on religious intolerance, cow vigilantism and free speech among others.

His latest column for The Wire criticized the Prime Minster for visiting Israel, saying it was ill- advised. His column criticises Modi for not mentioning the two-state solution to the Israel – Palestine conflict. –  

I believe Prime Minister Narendra Modi was ill-advised to make his just-concluded trip, worse, to make it a love fest. I would not raise objections to Prime Minister Modi’s visit per se. But what I find surprising, even shocking, is that the visit should have taken place as if the Arabs do not exist, the Palestine state is a myth and that the only reality of that Holy Land is Israel, Israel, and more Israel.

Gandhi wrote an op-ed in the Hindustan Times stating that the country needs a President who will speak ‘bitter truths’ to the country. In this regard, he writes about a former President KR Narayanan, his former boss –

It was no party, working for that intellectual powerhouse. But, in reality, the head of State was also in control of his secretariat which became his disembodied mind, his thought-vessel. And he posed questions to his staff, to his government.

A president who can speak bitter truths like that is the president India needs, be he or she Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Dalit, OBC, Brahmin, political or non-political.

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