Subhas Chandra Pattanayak
It is good that Bhairon Singh Shekhawat has been defeated in the fray for the post of President of India. He was a candidate of the communalists, that too, their hesitant choice! Communalist BJP and its abettors in NDA had not put their preference on Shekhawat when nomination of candidates for the top most post of Indian Republic was called for. As no person known and acceptable to India was available to them, they set Shekhawat as their candidate and vitiated the seriousness of the election to the highest office with rabidly raw attempts to assassin the rival candidate’s character. This was so disgusting that many a member of NDA decided to reject Shekhawat and, even though clandestinely, put their electoral value in the accounts of his rival. It is good therefore that Shekhawat has been defeated and whatever semblance of democracy we still possess has been saved from getting demeaned with a communalist overhang.
But this does not mean that the people who love their Motherland and cherish democracy would say that their choice should have been Pratibha Patil.
She is an education merchant with her flagship Vidya Bharati Shikshan Prasarak Mandal, which operates a chain of schools and colleges in Jalgaon and Mumbai including an engineering college for rural youths as well as an Industrial Training School for the blind in Jalgaon. She has also set up hostels for workingwomen in New Delhi and Mumbai and is also the founder chairperson of a sugar factory in Jalgaon.
In power politics since 1962, when she was first elected to the Maharastra Assembly, she has worked as a minister in various capacities and has hold many important portfolios like parliamentary affairs, public health and social welfare, urban development and housing, education, tourism and cultural affairs in Maharastra till 1985. Drafted into national politics by being elected to Rajyasabha in 1985, she has made a mark as its Deputy Chairperson from November 18, 1986, to November 5, 1988 after which serving the Congress party as PCC Chief of Maharastra from 1988 to 1990, she had entered the Loksabha in 1991. This shows that she has enough experience in legislative politics in all the parliamentary forums like the Assembly, the Rajyasbha and the Loksabha. By working as Governor of Rajsthan from 2004, she has also acquired experience in constitutional politics. Taking all this into view, it can be safely said that she has adequate experience in applied politics to justify her election to the highest position in India.
But notwithstanding this, her being a Congress Party candidate for the top most post is perhaps the reason for concern to them, who would never have been happy to see Shekhawat elected.
Why this concern?
What else could happen taking into consideration the message Congress has given to Pratibha Patil?
The message manifested first in refusal of another term to President Kalam, the most popular President the Country has ever had so far. Had there been a direct election, no less than 99 plus percent votes would have gone in his favor. In him, for the first time the people of this betrayed country had felt that there was a President, who could be their own, who could be trusted upon, who could be relied upon, who could be nearest to their hearts. Love, love and love. There was only love of the people for their President in Kalam. Faith, faith and faith. There was absolute faith of the people in their President, because he was Dr. Kalam. No President had ever been so near to the ‘ordinary’ citizen. Eager to learn from every episode of life, he was eager to teach whatever best was under his command to every one on every occasion. Monster of missiles, he was the deity of dreams. Soft and simple like a child in character, he was strong like the Himalayas in manners. Detached to the splendor of Rashtrapati Bhawan, he was attached to the common man in soul and in spirit and in nature. He was, as if, whole of India in a single form. It is baffling that the Congress that rules over the country refused to nominate such a man for second term in office!
It should have been proper for the ruling alliance and the Prime Minister to explain to the nation as to what deficiency they saw in Dr. Kalam that made them seek a substitute. But they have not dared to speak out. In fact, they have no explanation to offer. They had wanted Dr. Kalam to function as a rubber stamp. But Dr. Kalam functioned as the President as was seen in the matter of the Office of Profit Bill. The Sonia-Singh combine in power, USA is sure of India succumbing to its hegemony. But an individual like Dr. Kalam continuing as President, this evil design would not have succeeded. So he had to go.
And, thus, Dr. Kalam has left the Rastrapati Bhawan. But the Sonia-Singh combine has not stopped at this. In order to embarrass him, a single-room defense department rest shade has been deliberately given to him as his residence at the moment!
In this has been delivered the unuttered message to the new President that it would be proper for her not to be a President like Dr. Kalam, but to be a rubber-stamp President.
Had Smt. Patil, on being aware of non-allocation of a suitable residence to Dr. Kalam awoke to the occasion, gone personally to Dr. Kalam, who undoubtedly was the people’s most beloved President and invited her to stay as her guest in the Rastrapati Bhawan till a suitable bungalow is ready for him, she would have won over the heart of this country and could have established that she is not a party projection, but a true successor of the outgoing President and a perfect choice. She has pathetically failed.
This is why, notwithstanding having vanquished the second grade choice of communalists in the fray, Pratibha Patil is unable to evoke unreserved respect as the new President.
If she wants to be regarded as the real President of India, she has to shed the skin of loyalty to Sonia-Singh combine. She should now learn to be the President of India. And, in due deference to the tradition founded by the founders of our Republic, she should take leading steps to ensure that the Prime Minister remains loyal to our sovereignty.
As most of us in India are ignorant of this tradition, let me recapitulate what had happened on election of the first President of India.
That was the last day in the life of the Constituent Assembly. January 24th, 1950. The republic was to take birth after election of the President. So, in spite of constitutional provisions for a parliamentary democracy, ours is a President-centric Republic.
Members of the Constituent Assembly were to elect the President and on election, the President was to convert the Assembly to our Parliament.
Returning Officer H.V.R.Iengar informed the House that only one nomination paper had been filed and that was for Dr. Rajendra Prasad. So, he declared Dr. Prasad elected uncontested as the first President of India.
In offering “respectful congratulations” to Dr. Prasad on his unanimous election as the first President of India, Prime Minister Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru had delivered a short but speaking speech on 24 January 1950, which holds the key to understand the President’s real position in Indian Republic.
He had said, “One dream that we dreamt for years past has been realized, but we confront again other dreams and other tasks, perhaps more arduous than the one we have already accomplished. It is a comfort for us all to know that in these future tasks and struggles, we shall have you as the Head of this Republic of India, and may I, Sir, pledge my loyalty and fealty to this Republic of which you will be the honored President”.
In complete corroboration, Sardar Vallabhbhai J. Patel, Deputy Prime Minister had said, “God may give us all the good sense to give you unreserved loyalty and complete co-operation in the heavy task” when “all of us have to swan together in the stormy seas that we have to cross in the future”.
Orissa’s Bishwanath Dash was the next member to speak. “People are everywhere suffering from the greed of men and India stands in no less need of upliftment”. With this observation Dash had called upon the President to “guide our destinies”.
This is how the founders of our Republic have thought of the President. He is the ‘Supreme Leader’ to “guide our destinies” and his incumbency would fetch pledge of loyalty from the Prime Minister and the rest to the Republic.
How did Dr. Prasad respond? He had said, “I feel confident that the duties, which have been imposed upon me will be discharged to their satisfaction: not because I can do that, but because the joint efforts of all will enable the duties to be so performed”, specifically as “I am placed in one chair and they (the Prime Minister and his colleagues) are occupying the other chairs side by side and there are other friends whose association I value equally well who will be sitting by their side to help and assist me”.
So, notwithstanding the perverse words of the proviso inserted in Art.74 (1) of the Constitution in 1978, the President is the person to whom the Prime Minister and his cabinet shall “help and assist” and shall give “unreserved loyalty and complete co-operation” and he is the person who shall guide “our destinies”. This makes it clear that even though a parliamentary democracy, we are a President-centric Republic. This is how the founders of our Republic had wanted us to proceed.
But lack of legislative consciousness in the commons and rise of legal intricacies in the country matching the deterioration of political probity has ruined us so much that we have been made to accept that the President of India is nothing but a decoration called constitutional head. This is generated by the Constitution (42nd amendment) Act, 1976 that substituted the original article 74(1) to say that the President of India shall act in accordance with the advice of the council of ministers. This amendment was a product of stark confusion that had engulfed the country in the dark state of emergency and Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was eager to use the President to her advantage. When the Janata government took over, the over-egotist Morarji Desai found in Sanjiva Reddy a hostile President. His aversion to Reddy was so acrimonious that he had said, “We brought Sanjiva Reddy into Rastrapati Bhawan for various reasons, among them the fact that he was a senior leader with a clean image who was wedded to Janata philosophy. However, he turned out to be a self-centered man who did things we now feel ashamed about”. (The Morarji Papers, Chapter One). Against this backdrop, by way of 44th amendment, a Proviso was added to Art.74(1) that said, “the President may require the council of ministers to reconsider such advice, either generally or otherwise, and the President shall act in accordance with the advice tendered after such reconsideration”. So these two amendments are sans Republican principles; they are devoid of democratic ethics and nothing but perverse enactment of autocratic ambitions of individuals having grabbed the government using democratic means. These two amendments are frauds played on our Constitution first by Smt Indira Gandhi and latter by Sri Morarji Desai, both autocratic crabs, in their respective regimes, under guise of democracy and need review.
Review or not, the mischief of Art.74 (1) that mislead even Dr. Kalam to sign on the Office of Profit Bill, has no real teeth to do away with the supreme powers of the President. The Article, even after the 42nd amendment, says, “There shall be a Council of Ministers with the Prime Minister at the head to aid and advise the President who shall, in exercise of his functions, act in accordance with such advice”. So the Council of Ministers is bound to “aid and advise” the President. They cannot refuse to aid the President. On the other hand, they cannot volunteer any advice. An Advice cannot be volunteered or advanced or imposed. If so, that cannot be an advice. The word “advice” is defined as “opinion from one not immediately concerned as to what could or should be done in a given situation”. It is sought for by some body and given in response to that by the person called upon. So when the President shall seek an advice, then only the Council of Ministers can give its advice.
As for example, She can seek “aid and advice” from the Prime Minister immediately on one issue. That is, as Governor of Rajsthan she had refused consent to the Rajasthan Freedom of Religion Bill 2006 and when the provincial government resubmitted the Bill she did not change her stance and finally sent the same to the President of India for a decision at his end. Dr. Kalam had no time to take a decision on that, her communication reaching him at the end of his tenure. Now as the President herself, she is to take a decision. When as Governor she had refused to give her consent to this particular Bill, as President she would not be held unprejudiced in deciding its fate. So, this is a fit case for her to seek the advice of the Central Council of Ministers. And she can act in accordance with the advice of the Council of Ministers. Except such specific and limited use the word “advice” has no other utility. Seeking and accepting advice of the Council of Ministers in such exceptional cases cannot be the same as considering on and consenting to a Bill or any other instrument formulated and framed by the Council of Ministers. The fellows, irrespective of position and pursuit, who have interpreted the word “advice” as a phenomenon fit enough to be imposed on the President, have deliberately or inadvertently contributed to impairment of our democracy.
How the advice-seeker can be compelled to accept the advice?
The new President must have to cogitate this aspect, as she has to play the most important role in preserving Indian sovereignty at this critical juncture.
She has a Council of Minister that is encouraging foreigners to establish their own territories on Indian soil in the guise of SEZs. Under the Sonia-Singh regime, India has made many compromises with national interest including regularizing politico-economic corruptions, criminalisation of politics and administrative improprieties by bulldozing Presidential reservations on Office of Profit Bill etc. Many more unethical, unpatriotic and pro-foreigner machinations may come in attires of Law seeking Presidential consent and many more ordinances may hit the President’s desk for authentication that may even jeopardize Indian geography. It is only the President that can save the country at that time by refusing to authenticate those unlawful Laws.
So, Smt. Patil must learn to be the President who can say no to such advances and can use the ‘pleasure’ clause of Art.75 notwithstanding how wrongly the provisions U/A 53(1) are interpreted, when situation so warrants.
By subjecting validation of Acts and Regulations protected by Schedule 9 to judicial review, the Supreme Court has made us understand that Prime Ministers being politicians having eyes on vote-banks are vested interest persons who can make many wrong Acts taking advantage of majority in the Parliament. Unless the President learns how not to give consent to every such legislative mischief, the country shall be doomed.
Let me remind Smt. Patil that it is the women of India who had created and presented to the First President of India the National Flag in unfurling which our Republic had emerged and received applause of the world on 26 January 1950. So when we are celebrating the 150th anniversary of our first national level war for independence, it is a matter of pride for us all that a woman has become the Head of our Country. Let her keep her head high. Let her leave behind Pratibha Patil of Congress with loyalty to the high-command and be our President under whose “pleasure” only the Prime Minister, presently of the Congress, will act and “pledge”, as Nehru had said, his “loyalty and fealty to this Republic” of which she “will be the honored President”.
I will wait and watch how she acts.