Critics have flayed Mr. P Sangma’s camp for alleging the use of a fabricated document in an effort to block Mr. Pranab Mukherjee’s candidature for the Presidency. One can empathize with the critics. To win an election through a technicality against the favourite with the voting numbers heavily on his side would certainly be a very unsatisfactory outcome. But Mr. Mukherjee’s camp has not covered itself exactly with glory either. Mr. Mukherjee’s observation was very smart. He ingeniously asked: “Who had forged his signature? I myself? Who can forge his own signature?” But for anyone closely following the controversy the remark was as silly as it was smart. By his rhetorical question Mr. Mukherjee cleverly implied that he had indeed signed the document himself without explicitly saying so.
The controversy arose because of the allegation that by remaining Chairman of the Indian Statistical Institute (ISI) after filing his nomination papers he breached rules because that post is an office of profit. At first the Mukherjee camp claimed that the post had been exempted from being an office of profit. True, a subsidiary of ISI has been exempted. But does the same hold true for ISI itself? Then, it was claimed that Mr. Mukherjee had not drawn any honorarium from the post. Again, is it not a fact that an office of profit remains one despite no pecuniary advantage derived because of the perks and patronage it delivers? Neither Mrs. Sonia Gandhi nor Mrs. Jaya Bachchan drew remuneration from their respective offices of profit, yet both had to resign from Parliament and the posts before getting re-elected.
However dirty the Sangma camp tactics may appear to some critics, everything is fair in love, war and politics. Bengal may have earlier been denied its son of the soil becoming President too when the late Hiren Mukherjee discovered that he could not file his nomination papers because his name was not on the voters’ list. Arguably the only Communist leader who could have become President of India lost out on a technicality.
Allegations against Mr. Mukherjee surfaced when even ten days after he had filed his nomination his name continued to appear as the Chairman of the ISI on the Internet’s website. Just after the charge of holding an office of profit was made his name was deleted from the website although it continued to appear on the Google search engine’s menu. The ISI explained that there had been failure to update the website. Has any official been hauled up for sleeping on the website for over ten days? The other cause for suspicion arose from the fact that to the naked eye the signature on the document related to Mr. Mukherjee’s resignation did not match with an earlier official signature. It was this that most excited the Sangma camp. However, very often the same person signs his name in different ways.
The obvious remedy to end this unseemly wrangle is to get a reputed forensic expert to examine the two signatures and determine whether or not Mr. Mukherjee signed his resignation letter. The suspicion of fabrication by somebody else signing the document rests mainly on the short time available to the Mukherjee camp for presenting the document to the Returning Officer during scrutiny. Any credible, reputed forensic expert can put this controversy to rest. Oddly enough neither side seems to seize this obvious option. Perhaps an unseemly dispute over a politically inconsequential issue suits both sides. It diverts attention from the real issue. What precisely are the responsibilities of the President, and how exactly does either candidate intend to discharge them? On that there is deafening silence.