Friday, June 29, 2012
Making of a New Rubber Stamp
by Col (Retd) TN Raman
Dr Ambedkar, on 04 November 1948, in the Constitution Assembly, clarified the role of the President of India. He said, "The President of India will be like the King of the British Empire. He will be the leader of the Nation but not the leader of the Executive. He cannot rule the Nation. He will of course be the symbol of the Nation and all the Executive decisions will be proclaimed in his name. This will only be a ceremonial device".
But, our first President, Dr Rajendra Prasad, begged to differ. He said, "as per section 74 of our Constitution, the Central Cabinet of Ministers is there to assist and advice the President. No where it is written that the President is bound by such advice". Accordingly, he wrote to Jawaharlal Nehru, our first Prime Minister, that the President, at times has to take independent decisions. Nehru did not relish this argument. He sent this letter toAlladi Krishnaswamy, who was a member of the Constituent Assembly and the then Attorney General, MC Seetalwad. Both opined that the President is bound to act as per the advice of the Cabinet, always and every time. Though Rajendra Prasad did not agree with this, he kept silent in the larger interest of the Nation.
The Supreme Court had further clarified this point in the Samsher Singh vs Union of India Case. The Court categorically stated that the President is bound by the advice of the PM and his Cabinet. The wording used in the Constitution, "to the satisfaction of the President" does not mean the personal satisfaction of the President but that of the Central Cabinet.
But, the private tussle between the President and the PM was going on. Rajendra Prasad openly took part in the reconstruction of Somnath Temple destroyed by Gazni Mohamed, against the wishes of Nehru. Further, Nehru strongly disapproved the President's conduct of touching the feet of Swamis in Kasi to seek their blessings. Rajendra Prasad also could not agree with the way in which the then Army Chief, Thimayya was treated, the way the Tibet issue was handled and above all the way the first Communist Government in Kerala headed by Namboodripad was dismissed.
Despite all these differences, Rajan Babu was the only President who held the post for 10 consecutive years. Nehru did not agree on giving him the third chance of becoming the President. Instead, he pitted for the Philosopher, S Radhakrishnan to replace him. Nehru was confident that he would not have to face any more dissent from the Philosopher President. But, Radhakrishnan became disillusioned after the debacle in 1962 war. He wrote to Nehru for the immediate sacking of the then Defence Minister Krishna Menon. Radhakrishnan was the President when Nehru, Lal Bahdur Sasthri and Indira Gandhi were the PM, one after the other. He was quite upset the way the politics was being conducted by Indira Gandhi. In his farewell address, he mentioned that the Government lacked political acumen and proper administration.
When Rajan Babu laid down the Office, Radhakrishnan who was the Vice President took over. When Radhakrishnan laid down his Office, the then Vice President Zakhir Hussein became the President. Rajan Babu was an expert in Law. Radhakrishnan was a Philosopher cum Scholar. Zakhir Hussein was a Scholar. All three were stalwarts in their own fields and maintained the decorum of the President's Office.
Once Indira Gandhi became Prime Minister, she made the Office of the President a mere Rubber Stamp. She split the Congress Party in order to make VV Giri the President. In that bargain she defeated the OfficialCongress Party Presidential candidate, Sanjiva Reddy, by calling for voting according to ones conscience. Like Indira Gandhi, who would not support the Philosopher Radhakrishnan for the second term, her daughter in law, today, will not support the candidature of Abdul Kalam for the second term. The credit of converting the position of the President of our country into a Rubber Stamp, should be equally shared by Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi.
VV Giri on assuming the post, was more than eager to please his Political Master. The joke in those days used to be that during his foreign jaunts, he might forget to carry his tooth brush, but not his pen in his pocket. He was literally woken up in the middle of the night some where in Geneva, to sign an ordinance, which he gladly did. Even such a pliable personality could not see eye to eye with his benefactor, when it came to the handling of Railway Strike by Indira Gandhi. Giri's Trade Union blood which by this time had become cold, started warming up. He made a comment that the Government had neglected the welfare of poor and down trodden people.
So, when Indira Gandhi decided to enforce National Emergency, she required an even more pliable character. Sure enough he was there in the form of Fakhrudhin Ali Ahamed. When she required an even more dedicated President, her eyes focused on Zail Singh. But, fate decided otherwise. Indira Gandhi was assassinated. Rajiv became the PM. The relations between them soured. Rajiv openly told the Press that some Presidents have problems due to PMs and some PMs have problems due to Presidents. That was the time the Bofors scandal erupted. Zail Singh took on the Government headlong and declared that the Government was steep in corruption. Not only that. He sought legal advice about dismissing the PM, Rajiv Gandhi, under the Prevention of Corruption Act. This act of revenge on the part of the President against the PM is well narrated by Venkat Raman, in his book "My Presidential Years". He should be knowing better. Because, as per Zail Singh's plan, Venkat Raman would be taking over as the PM, if Rajiv was dismissed. However, good sense prevailed over Zail Singh, after he got his legal advice from some stalwarts. He was categorically told that he could be easily impeached by the Parliament, since Rajiv had two thirds majority, at that time.
The defeated Presidential candidate, Sanjiva Reddy got his break during the Janatha Party Rule. He showed his true colours, once he became the President. Due to inherent confusion in such weak coalitions headed by loose alliances which Morarji Deasai headed, he was forced to resign within two years as the PM. Chandra Sekhar, headed to the Rashtrapathi Bhavan with a list of MPs who rendered support to Jagjivan Ram as the new PM. Sanjiva Reddy did not agree. Chandra Sekhar met the Press Reporters in front of the Rashtrapathi Bhavan and threatened that he would move "No Confidence Motion against the President".
The next Parliamentary Election may turn out to be a damp squib for all the National Parties. In case the Congress does not win a majority, the patronage of the President may prove to be crucial. He may accept a coalition Government headed by the Congress. Will Pranab Mukerjee be so pliable? Does he have a choice? After all, he deserves a break, in the royal comfort of the Rashtrpathi Bahvan. After all the Nation has reached its nadir. Only way it can now move is up and forward.
Contrary to the popular belief, Pranab was not an automatic choice of Sonia. He was an enforced option by Mamatha, Mayavathi and to some extent Jayalalitha. The natural choice would have been Ansari and Meira Kumar as the Vice President.
In Pranab Mukerjee, can we see the resurrection of the culture of Rubber Stamp, of the calibre of VV Giri, Zail Singh and Fakhrudhin Ahamed?
Some where down the line we had a President in Kalam, who was an inspiration to the youth of our country. Unfortunately, that itself became a disqualification for his candidature, not only by the Ruling alliance but also by the Opposition parties. Though as per our Constitution, the President is to be elected by the Electoral College consisting of all MLAs and MPs, by secret ballot and no political party can issue a whip on the preference of the candidate and the Anti-defection Law will not be applicable in this case, seldom the voting is done beyond the diktat of the respective Political Parties. That is why even Sangma, who held Seminars and Road shows explaining these intricacies to the public, hardly approached the individual members but only the leaders of the parties. Reality really bites. As an ex speaker of the Lok Saba, he knew better.
We have seen 12 Presidents so far. But, the present one has crossed all the limits. I am sorry that she could not even get "Do Bhiga Zameen" in her favourite place of Pune. Cdr Ravi also must be feeling sorry. The selection of Pratibha Devi, itself has ushered an era of women's empowerment. I meant that of Sonia Gandhi, Mayawathi, Mamatha Bannerjee and Jayalalitha. Unfortunately the BJP is not kind enough to Sushma. The purpose of Pranab being made as a President is more to ensure that BJP does not form a Government after the 2014 General Election, than to ensure the congress back to power. Pranab is a born trouble shooter. Even becoming a Rubber Stamp is a method of trouble shooting.
Considering all these aspects, one really wonders as to the requirement of a beard for the goat and a President for our Country. Both are waste. So are the Governors of the States. Anna may as well take up this issue also, to clean up the administration.
The views expressed by the author are his own and left to public to judge and rationalise for themselves.