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President, Minister and Treason!
|by Dr. Rajinder Puri|
Law Minister Mr. Salman Khurshid openly defied the Election Commission’s (EC) restraining order on his advocacy of a sub-quota for minorities during the Uttar Pradesh election campaign. The Law Minister was undeterred by the EC. Sticking to his stand he reiterated he would ensure the rights of the Muslim community even if the Election Commission were to "hang" him.
President Patil’s response
President Patil is the only officeholder in the nation under oath to “preserve and protect” the Constitution and Law. All other officials including the PM and ministers are under oath to abide by the Constitution and to maintain official secrecy where required. Does the President’s oath of office have any relevance? If it does, there is an even graver episode involving the Law Minister that has escaped appropriate Presidential intervention.
Clearly, by shooting over the shoulder of Mrs. Sonia Gandhi the Law Minister was strengthening the view expressed by the Congress General Secretary, Mr. Digvijay Singh. Mr. Singh had earlier said that the Batla House encounter was faked and it deserved a judicial inquiry. However, Mr. Singh’s opinion, as that of any citizen, is on a different footing from the same view being endorsed by Mr. Salman Khurshid. Despite his high office Mr. Singh is not a member of the cabinet. He is free to question the cabinet’s view. How that affects discipline within the ruling party is a problem that concerns the Congress and not the public. Mr. Khurshid as a cabinet minister endorsing Mr. Singh’s view is an altogether different matter.
It might be recalled that Home Minister Chidambaram has on more than one occasion stated categorically that the Batla House encounter was genuine, and that it occurred between the police and terrorists. The Prime Minister publicly endorsed the Home Minister. It is therefore the view of the cabinet, which has collective responsibility, that the Batla House encounter was genuine. Mr. Khurshid as the Law Minister and member of the cabinet therefore also stands committed to that view. However, in his election rally he ran totally counter to his own officially held view. By opposing that view he did not simply commit indiscipline. The implications could be much graver.
Terrorism is akin to fighting a war against the state. In the Batla House encounter two terrorists and one highly decorated police officer were killed. Article 121 of the Indian Penal Code that deals with Treason under the heading: “Waging, or attempting to wage war, or abetting waging of war against the Government of India” goes on to state: “Whoever, wages war against the Government of India, or attempts to wage such war, or abets the waging of such war, shall be punished with death, or Imprisonment for life and shall also be liable to fine.”
The question arises: Did the Law Minister commit treason by opposing what he officially believed to be a genuine encounter between the police and terrorists? This is a question that the legal advisers of the President might address. One does not know how the President will react to the dispute between the EC and the Law Minister, or to one between the Law Minister and the Home Minister.
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