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Updated: October 7, 2013 00:49 IST

When the President speaks

Gopalkrishna Gandhi
Comment (13)   ·   print   ·   T  T  

By voicing his concern over the legislators’ ordinance, Pranab Mukherjee has demonstrated noteworthy and subtle use of the presidential differential in echoing public opinion

Rahul Gandhi’s remarks on the draft ordinance that could have protected convicted legislators have drawn understandable attention. But, in the process, a major flank of the event has got obscured. President Pranab Mukherjee’s “reservations” on the proposed enactment, and the impact of those on the now-aborted manoeuvre deserve no less notice. Rather more, for they go beyond the particular measure to the role and relevance of the nation’s Presidency.

Fine-tooth combing will be done on whether the Prime Minister himself had been fully convinced about the move, whether the full cabinet meeting with the United Progressive Alliance chairperson attending had been acquainted with all the pitfalls of the move or not, whether it was the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)’s opposition, the Congress Party’s own serious doubts about the public response to the measure, Rahul Gandhi’s public statement, or President Mukherjee’s undisguised displeasure that finally led to the withdrawal. These enquiries will be of interest, no doubt, but of post-facto academic interest.

Looking beyond the field

What is most important to take away from the sequence is the lesson that it holds on what may be called the Presidential Differential.

By the intent, language and scheme of the provisions of the Constitution of India, as well as by all subsequent pronouncements on the subject, the President is bound by the aid and advice of the government of the day. This, in other words, means that if the Prime Minister has made a proposal that requires the President to approve it, the President’s approval is a desideratum, a mere formality. This, in a parliamentary democracy, is how it should be. But why does the Constitution require certain measures to be approved by the Head of State? For the reason that while the stamp of his approval is made of signet-rubber, the ink-pad on which it must press before the stamping, is the application of a non-partisan mind placed, consciously, at the finial of our Constitution’s architecture. The President is where he is for the reason that, placed above partisan interests, on a perch that helps him see the horizon beyond the field, he can provide the differential coefficient between the distant scene and the immediate, the far-effect rather than the instant, the climate rather than the weather, the year and the decade beyond the morrow. Where the government of the day, and the Opposition as well, are enmeshed in the species of an issue, he must see the genus. Where politics acts and reacts as political intelligence would, the President acts and reacts as political wisdom would.

Rubber-stamp image

In a conversation that President K.R. Narayanan had with N. Ram, on Doordarshan and All India Radio on August 14, 1998, the senior journalist asked him to give his view on the role in “the Indian scheme of things” of a President. “My image of a President,” KRN said, “before I came here, and before I had any hope of coming here, was that of a rubber-stamp President, to be frank.”

And then he went on to say, “But having come here, I find that the image is not quite correct.”

What was “not quite correct” in the rubber-stamp image? In President Narayanan’s words, “…working within the four corners of the Constitution…gives very little direct power or influence to him to interfere in matters or affect the course of events, but there is a subtle influence of the office of the President on the executive…and on the public as a whole.” He said the President can play that subtle role “only if he is, his ideas and his nature of functioning are seen by the public in tune with their standards.” Mr. Ram asked if President Narayanan saw himself as “a citizen President.” The President did not disagree and added that a citizen president’s advice to the executive would be “received with grace, it would be sometimes accepted, if it is known that the public opinion is on the side of the kind of advice the President is giving.”

True tone

The Presidential Differential is, therefore, about the President hearing the differential tones in a situation, in a proposal, in a suggested promulgation, in a way in which he can extract the true tone that can be heard when many other tones are being sounded together in varying frequencies and velocities. President Narayanan then went on to say: “The President has the power to return a matter but…though this freedom is allowed to the President…to be successful, he should be in tune with the people…”

President Mukherjee’s role in the matter of what has come to be seen as the “Convicted Legislators’ Protection Ordinance” or CLEPO, comes within the category of illustrious uses of the Presidential Differential. But it is important to note that, behind his sagacious use of it, is the fact that public opinion was in tune with him. It is, really, no person, party, parties, or limbs of the Constitution, but the scorn of the people of India that has saved us from an enactment that was wholly unethical and ill-advised, and would have deepened public cynicism about politics in our country.

(Gopalkrishna Gandhi is a former Governor of West Bengal.)

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Pranab Mukherjee has been a tall figure in the Congress party since
ever. His interest to occupy the highest post of the Prime Minister
was often discussed and dissected in the media. If that was true, I
guess Mr Mukherjee realized that there is no room, dictated by his own
age and continuing implementation of dynasty politics, for him at that
post anymore. On the other hand, if he can play an active, non-
partisan and critical role as the President, he can do an undeniably
good service to the nation. Knowing his differences with some of the
members within the Congress party and his own tall stature as a man of
his own, in spite of the inherent bias in him being an active member
of the ruling party, he could surprise people and establish his name
in history as one of the Presidents who, despite all the
Constitutional shackles, really made a difference.

from:  Pranay Gupta
Posted on: Oct 9, 2013 at 15:15 IST

Mr.Mukherjee will be to the Congress what BECKETT was to King Henry!

from:  M.Salahuddin
Posted on: Oct 8, 2013 at 08:37 IST

Examining tiny aspects of this multi-faceted drama intended to extract
maximum benefit to the ruling party and its partners with criminal MPs
results in the bigger picture being missed: (1) India's governance is
so debauched that, even though a democratic republic, it resembles a
monarchy supported by feudal vassals with criminal elements; (2) The
extent of astronomical national plunders are such that even a Genghis
Khan type tyrant might not have wrought more damage; (3) Law & Order
completely broken down in the country – political institutions
subverted, politicians & senior administrators loot with impunity,
premier investigating agency a "caged parrot", Ministers "lose"
incriminating files, Police refuse to register FIRs from rape victims
and may even attack complainants; (4) Public acts of barbarism are
daily news (5) Honest citizens, no longer free, deem it wise to keep
silent.

India is neither free, nor democratic, nor a republic; its rulers
resemble lawless plundering invaders

from:  D Mahapatra
Posted on: Oct 7, 2013 at 21:43 IST

The former governor has p.resented his views on the presidential differential with clarity. In
A parliamentary democracy like India, the parliament is all powerful. This is the same case
With the system in UK. The recent episode should be a lesson to all the law makers of the
Different political parties in India. The constitution gives lot of importance to the people of
India, as per the preamble, and the lawmakers should not forget this important aspect on
any legislation in future. As pointed out by the previous president to Sri. N Ram, the
President should be in tune with the people of India, and this approach should equally
apply to the lawmakers in the parliament as well. If they respect the people, who are the
Real masters, the democracy works. Otherwise, there will be chaos.

from:  C p Chandra das
Posted on: Oct 7, 2013 at 19:55 IST

If there ever was a strong and independent president, it was Dr. Abdul Kalam. He showed the way how a president should act and behold the sanctity of his office. At that time it was the same Congress party that opposed his candidature for the presidency. The president's post in its ideal form should belong to a apolitical person who has worked for the betterment of the country. Making a active party member as the president destroys the whole intention and idea behind the President's post. The previous president, Mrs. pratibha Patil was the perfect example of a rubber stamp president. all she has to show for her tenure is multiple foreign trips and accusations of scams. If such is the case, maybe time has come to abolish the post completely and reorganize the system. And this is just the withdrawal of the ordinance. We should not forget that the bill for same is still being discussed and may ultimately be adopted.

from:  Mihir
Posted on: Oct 7, 2013 at 19:07 IST

People referring Mr Modi to Adolf Hitler are doing true disservice to
this nation. As though others are all angels and only Mr. Modi is a
demon. It has become a fashion to criticize Mr.Modi for any and every
act of his. Highly deplorable. As for withdrawal of this ordinance
it is only the public opinion that has won. Sensing the public mood
the president acted as per procedure of constitution. By sensing the
damage that the ordinance could cause to Congress votes even amongst
their favourites the prince of the party decided to cry against it ans
stalled in a most non professional and immature way. There is still
no explanation as to why MR Rahul didnot raise the objection when his
govt. passed the ordinance and suddenly realized to undermine it in a
press meet convened to justify the ordinance. Laughable.

from:  kasthuri rangan
Posted on: Oct 7, 2013 at 17:51 IST

.1 The situation in India is comparable to what prevailed in Germany
after first world war. 2.People clamored around the rising star Adolf
Hitler since they very badly needed a man to re-establish of Germany
prestige in the comity of the other nations . 3.The need for strong
leadership [ craved by the German people ] was provided by Hitler who
took Germany to the forefront with an iron fist and people were happy
that their Nation started glittering. 4 Similarly ,even in Tiruchi , a
traditionally anti-BJP State , people thronged to hear Modi in lakhs.
5. This is the case wherever Modi goes and addresses gathering . One
can't just write it off. 5 In fact , soon after MMS returned from US
he mentioned that there is urgent need for Secular forces coming
together against Modi . Usually MMS never mentions the names of
politicians but VERY INTERESTINGLY HE MENTIONED MODI 6 This signifies
that Indians long for a dynamic leader who can take their country to
Glory & Congress knows .

from:  R Krishnamurthy
Posted on: Oct 7, 2013 at 14:51 IST

What a waste on ink & space! “ ..... the reason that while the stamp of his approval is made of signet-rubber, the ink-pad on which it must press before the stamping is the application of a non-partisan mind placed, consciously, at the finial of our Constitution’s architecture. The President is where he is for the reason that, placed above partisan interests, on a perch that helps him see the horizon beyond the field, he can provide the differential coefficient between the distant scene and the immediate, the far-effect rather than the instant, the climate rather than the weather, the year and the decade beyond the morrow.” Purple prose indeed! So, an individual fed for decades on partisan political interests , a contender for PM’s chair till a few months ago, suddenly sheds all subjectivity, becomes upholder of constitutional propriety and embodiment of democratic wisdom. I did not know that President also has spin doctors like parties do! Recommended for précis writing exercise.

from:  Nandakumar V
Posted on: Oct 7, 2013 at 12:59 IST

True sir. All's well that ends well and then can we confidently assure ourselves of the power of scorn of the people. But before that, all forces were aligning (or remaining silent) while the brazen attempt of our government was manifesting. And the great institution of the President seemed too little a force. The truth remains that we were saved by the whim of a prince that can best be described as good luck for over a billion people. And it does not seem to be a great sign of robustness of our democracy.

from:  Gyan
Posted on: Oct 7, 2013 at 10:32 IST

The President role cannot be just to rubber stamp laws passed by Parliament or proposed by the executive. His role is to not only to protect, nurture and advance the practical application of the Constitution but also the spirit of the Constitution. Any law that smacks of going against the principle of rule of law or the principle of equality of all citizens before the law, should be questioned by the President and if need be to advise the Cabinet led by the PM and the Parliament the perils of such a law.

from:  Mani Raman
Posted on: Oct 7, 2013 at 10:17 IST

Is it true that, as the author claims, it was the President's questions that led to the withdrawal of the ordinance ? Not in my opinion. More often than not, we have seen the questions raised by the President being answered and the ordinances gone through with, on those rare occasions that the Presidents dared to do so. With Pranab Mukherjee having been a colleague in the cabinet until recently, the very reason for which his candidature was opposed, and his unbridled utterances on various issues afflicting our nation that closely mirror the policies of the ruling dispensation, it would not be too far fetched to imagine that this storm in the tea cup would also have been weathered by the UPA. The BJP, for its part, did a good thing by taking up with the President the unseemly haste for promulgating the ordinance. However, undoubtedly, it was Rahul Gandhi's dramatic words that undid the ordinance in the end. Most probably a cheap gimmick at vote catching but a welcome one nevertheless.

from:  S.Sridharan
Posted on: Oct 7, 2013 at 07:19 IST

As, could normally be expected, this article from an eminent person of his
caliber is an illuminating one. our honourable president of India had indeed
played a stellar behind the scene role by first summoning the three senior
central ministers for clarification in the absence of the prime minister on the day
soon on the obnoxious ordinance reaching him for approval.It may be taken
only after this silent but a welcome one, words spread fast among the
countryman and Mr. Rahul Gandhi's tempera mental outburst put paid an end
on the very moment. One hopes, after this sorry and saddened episode, the
political parties in India would learn a valuable lesson and do not resort to
adopting unconstitutional means.

from:  T R. Kothandaraman
Posted on: Oct 7, 2013 at 03:41 IST

This is an excellent editorial, where the views of the public mind are
well presented through the eyes of the New Delhi Raj Bhavan ,also
bringing in the reminiscence of the old conversation Mr.Ram had with
President K.R.N.. The selection and citation of the previous interview
of the HINDU has given more for the authority and reasons ,for the
action taken by President Mukherjee.
A small request. I will be happy if the Hindu takes time and efforts,to
reprint the earlier interview Mr. Ram had with Mr. K.R.N.. It is really
true that the words of the great thinkers are ever correct and will not
be forgotten by the future generation.

from:  S. leelavathy
Posted on: Oct 7, 2013 at 03:36 IST
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