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President within his rights, say lawyers - The Asian Age

Seema Mustafa ()
February 26, 1998

Title: President within his rights, say lawyers
Author: Seema Mustafa
Publication: The Asian Age
Date: February 26, 1998

In his quiet and scholarly fashion, President K.R. Narayanan has
clearly decided to assert his role as the conscience-keeper of
the nation. This has brought him into direct conflict with
political leaders, including CPI(M) general secretary Harkishen
Singh Surjeet and former Prime Minister Chandra Shekhar, who have
emerged as the most vocal supporters of Uttar Pradesh governor
Romesh Bhandari.

Mr Narayanan has been consulting constitutional experts and has
taken the view that while it is not for the President to give
advice under the Constitution, he can "encourage and warn" the
government about issues such as those emanating from the Uttar
Pradesh crisis. Legal experts are believed to have advised the
President that he is fully within his rights to write to the
Prime Minister expressing concern over the UP developments. Mr
Surjeet has claimed that Mr Narayanan has transgressed his brief.
The President had written a letter to Mr Gujral expressing
concern about the developments in Uttar Pradesh.

The President is reportedly very upset about the breakdown of
democratic institutions and has been examining his powers under
the Constitution whereby he can act as a check where and when
necessary. Legal experts are unanimous that the UP governor acted
undemocratically by not allowing the government to prove its
strength on the floor of the House.

A senior lawyer told The Asian Age: "The first step in the UP
kind of situation is for the governor to ask the government which
has supposedly lost support to prove its strength. If it cannot,
he allows the other party to go through a similar test, and if
both fail then he invokes Article 356." In the UP case, Mr Romesh
Bhandari dispensed with the first step altogether, leading to
what several experts claim is a travesty of justice.

Mr Narayanan, who has earned the reputation of a fair and non-
partisan individual in his bureaucratic career, is said to be
determined to play a similar role as President. He has decided to
go strictly by the book but, sources said. "even here there is a
lot he can do to influence opinion." Quoting from constitutional
experts on the subject of the British monarch's powers and those
of the President, sources said the President cannot act directly
but he can be a "trouble to the mind."

Mr Narayanan has decided to be just that and has used the
constitutional provisions available to him to write to the Prime
Minister expressing concern about the UP developments. Mr Inder
Kumar Gujral is being restrained from taking action by Mr Surjeet
and Samajwadi chief Mulayam Singh Yadav, who have been very
supportive of Mr Bhandari through this crisis. The Samajwadi
members themselves admit that the entire purpose of the dismissal
was to ensure that the BJP was not able to rig the elections
against Mr Mulayam Singh Yadav at Sambhal the next day.

Mr Surjeet has claimed that the Prime Minister must consult the
council of ministers before advising the President. Legal advice
available with Mr Narayanan suggests that the recall of a
governor is a matter that does not need to be referred to the
council of ministers and concerns the Prime Minister and
President directly. Mr Gujral. who is keen that Mr Bhandari
resigns on his own, can directly recommend his recall upon which
Mr Narayanan will take the necessary action.

The intervention by political leaders in support of Mr Bhandari
threatens to pit the office of President against that of a state

The Prime Minister is reported to be of the same view as Mr
Narayanan and can be expected to take a decision shortly if he is
able to withstand the pressure from his United Front colleagues.
Constitutional experts are unanimous in their view that Mr
Bhandari completely violated norms and acted in a manner "not
befitting his office."

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