After the media pointed out that the credit for the rollback of the Ordinance on convicted MPs went to President Pranab Mukherjee and not to Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi who exploited the President’s known reluctance to sign it, Mr. LK Advani praised the President for his decision. However, the President reacted to this praise most intriguingly.
The President with uncalled for modesty went out of his way to dissociate himself from the decision to roll back the Ordinance. It is known that he sat over the Ordinance and was reluctant to sign it. By signing it he could have possibly attracted strictures from the Supreme Court to make his position untenable. Understandably he mulled over the matter and shared his views with UPA Ministers who called on him to discuss the Ordinance. It was after that when Mr. Rahul Gandhi jumped into the controversy to corner credit.
Mr. Advani’s praise for the President therefore was a routine and unexceptionable observation. However the President reacted to the media in response to such praise by saying: “I cannot comment on what the Opposition has said about my role. My duties are now completely determined by the Indian Constitution.” The praise for the President was precisely because he did follow the Constitution by not immediately signing the Ordinance.
Why, then, his intriguing, defensive rejoinder?
Eyebrows were further raised after the President’s son, Mr. Abhijeet Mukherjee, called on the chief victim of the scrapped Ordinance, Mr. Lalu Prasad Yadav, who was in jail. The popular conclusion derived from this visit was that Mr. Mukherjee had gone there to convince Mr. Yadav that the decision not to sign the Ordinance reflected no personal motive of the President but was dictated by the Constitution. This was unnecessary. Mr. Yadav one is sure is sufficiently knowledgeable to have been aware of that. If such speculation has any basis it is certainly odd that the President should be so concerned about Mr. Yadav’s feelings. The President after all is above party politics.
Alas, it does not seem that the President is as much above party politics as he should be. His continued silence over the horrendous events in Andhra is equally mystifying. After the Union government hastily declared the bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh by ceding the new state of Telangana despite the state assembly being overwhelmingly opposed to the measure, the entire state is in flames. Apart from mammoth public protest and indefinite fasts launched by politicians, the whole state is without electric power because of a strike by workers. And this situation has been growing and worsening for days. Has not the Constitutional machinery in the state collapsed to necessitate the application of Article 356 to impose President’s rule in Andhra to restore order? But the Prime Minister and the Union cabinet are mute.
Surprisingly, even the President is silent.
Article 78 (b) of the Constitution states: “It shall be the duty of the Prime Minister to furnish such information relating to the administration of the affairs of the Union and proposals for legislation as the President may call for.”
Should not the President invoke this Article and initiate action? Surely the millions of agitated people in Andhra Pradesh deserve as much attention as Mr. Lalu Yadav should get?