President Pranab Mukherjee took the following solemn oath before he was allowed to occupy India’s highest political office. The President said:
“I, Pranab Mukherjee, do swear in the name of God that I will faithfully discharge the functions of the President of the Republic of India, and will to the best of my ability preserve, protect and defend the Constitution and the law, and that I will devote myself to the service and well-being of the people of Republic of India.”
Is the President discharging his functions?
Since he is the only office-holder in the nation to take an oath to preserve and protect the Constitution and law, clearly the major part of his functions is to ensure that the Constitution and the laws of the land are obeyed in letter and in spirit. The Prime Minister and all other Ministers in both the centre and in the states take the oath not to protect laws and Constitution but to abide by them before they occupy office. The final responsibility to ensure that the Constitution and laws are observed at all times devolves on the President. He alone must oversee the functioning of all Ministers in the centre and in the states to ensure that they function within the Constitution and law.
In discharging this function the President is aided by the Governors of all States. The President appoints the Governors. To safeguard our federal system the Governor is in no way accountable to the Union Cabinet. That is why the Supreme Court ruled in the Dr Raghulal Tilak case of 1979 that the Governor in no manner can be “subordinate or subservient” to the Union cabinet. Thereby the Governor becomes accountable to the President who formally is his appointing authority. Therefore as the ultimate protector of the Constitution and law throughout the nation the President appoints Governors to all the states to assist him in discharging the function of preserving and protecting the Constitution and law in the administration of the states. The President alone has the federal mandate of Parliament and all the States of the Union . That is why he may directly or through the aid of Governors ensure that laws are observed by both the central and the state governments.
Last week three events occurred in different states.
- In Haryana a sitting Minister was charged with abetting a suicide. A warrant of arrest was issued against him. All Ministers have security to guard them and can be therefore always contacted by the police. However this Minister instead of surrendering to the police absconded and the Haryana police claimed that it could not trace him. During this period there was considerable activity on behalf of the Minister to weaken the case against him. The Chief Minister instead of condemning the Minister for fleeing from the police urged him to “assist” the investigation. The CM appeared to be requesting the Minister for a favour!
- In Uttar Pradesh a senior Cabinet Minister was videotaped by the media advising bureaucrats to use restraint while stealing from the public exchequer and not to indulge in unrestrained loot. After being exposed the Minister did not relent but blamed the media and threatened to take action against journalists.
- In Bengal during a public meeting a farmer interrupted the Chief Minister’s speech to complain that election promises had not been fulfilled and the plight of farmers was unbearable. The CM urged the audience to identify and restrain the complainant. The CM accused him of being a Maoist. The police detained the man and bundled him out of the meeting. Later, after the man returned to his dwelling the police went and arrested him and slapped serious charges of non-bailable arrest.
In all three cases there has been either violation of law by authority or the misuse of public office to subvert the law. Since the perpetrators of these law violations are Ministers in the government, only the Governor under authority of the President can intervene. In all three cases the rule of law was violated or public office was misused, and democracy was rubbished.
In none of the three cases up till now has any Governor reacted. In none of the three cases up till now has the President demanded action by any of the Governors concerned. Therefore one would like to pose President Mukherjee a few questions.
- How seriously do you take your oath of office? Do you intend to abide by your oath or will you use its violation in letter and spirit by your predecessors as an excuse to ignore it?
- If neither the Chief Minister nor the Prime Minister is prepared to act in any of these cases, do you or do you not consider it to be your bounden duty to ensure that the Constitution and law are preserved and protected?
- Are you prepared as per your Constitutional responsibility implicit in the judgment of the Supreme Court in the Raghulal Tilak case of 1979 to directly communicate and order the Governors to discharge their duties in the event of the Prime Minister and the Union Cabinet refusing to intervene?
- The people of India spend a considerable amount for your upkeep in the largest official residence of the nation. In return what do you think are the responsibilities that you must discharge for the people who pay for your upkeep?
One hopes that President Mukherjee will ponder these questions and if not by word then by deed he will indicate his answers. At stake is not the role of the President. At stake is the future of India’s democratic system.