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No escape, Mr Gujral - The Indian Express

Editorial ()
February 26, 1998

Title: No escape, Mr Gujral
Author: Editorial
Publication: The Indian Express
Date: February 26, 1998

For the Prime Minister to expect Romesh Bhandari to do the decent
thing and quit rather than himself straightforwardly rid the
country of a man who has set new lows in Indian political life is
an act of distasteful ambition. Running from a problem has long
been Inder Kumar Gujral's talent, but this time the buck must
stop with him. Bhandari has committed a grievous violation of the
Constitution as interpreted by the Supreme Court in the S.R.
Bommai case. He has similar violations to his credit in the past.
He is not to be offered the privilege of resigning, if he so
wishes, with decorum and dignity intact. Not that he has shown
any intention of being dignified. But if he was prepared to go
quietly, Bhandari should still be exposed to the ignominy of a
dismissal as an example to would-be adventurers in other Raj
Bhavans. If he did resign on his own, that would in no way
absolve Gujral.

So what is making Gujral so squeamish? He acquitted himself
shamefully in the last round of the UP drama, loath to ruffle his
friends. He was jolted from his characteristic wimpishness only
by the President returning for reconsideration the recommendation
to dismiss the Kalyan Singh Ministry. That was a case of Gujral
getting cold feet, not of belated principled behaviour. This time
he did one better, by fleeing the Capital when the Cabinet should
have been busy urging Bhandari's sacking. True to form, he is
now trying to get Bhandari discreetly to resign rather than
himself show the minimal decisiveness required. His conduct leads
to the realisation that the hope of power swells strong in his
breast. In his very last days as Prime Minister, it might seem
reasonable to suppose that he would want to be remembered as for
once doing the principled thing. But I.K. Gujral is not taking
any chances that might compromise whatever slim chance he may
fancy he has of retaining his office. And so he will not upset
his allies who revelled shamelessly in the UP drama. Harbouring
ambition, however, is no crime, even though his performance would
make his return as Prime Minister unfortunate for this country.
But certainly he should not be allowed to get away with improper
behaviour in order to buttress his self-serving ambition.

There is a strong constitutional issue at stake here. The
President has acted through this crisis. as in the one before,
with remarkable restraint and propriety. However. there is
clearly a breakdown in the UP Raj Bhavan's functioning. It is
incumbent on the Prime Minister to recommend his removal so that
the President may discharge his duties in a constitutional way.
The alternatives are two, if it is assumed that Bhandari will not
go on his own. He either thumbs his nose at India's democracy, or
the President takes action on his own. The first is absolutely
unacceptable. The second would mean forcing the President into an
activism and an interpretation of the Constitution which set
dangerous precedents. If Gujral fails to respond to the
President's letter with what action is required of him, he would
precipitate a constitutional crisis, and should be held
responsible for forcing Rashtrapati Bhavan by default to be

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