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archive: Setting Wrong Precedents

Setting Wrong Precedents

Seshadri Chari
Organiser
August 8, 1999


    Title: Setting Wrong Precedents
    Author: Seshadri Chari
    Publication: Organiser
    Date: August 8, 1999
    
    HAVING met with total failure in driving the Vajpayee Government to
    the wall on the political front the exasperated Opposition is now
    trying to hit the PM from behind the shield of various constitutional
    bodies. 
    
    Government's telecom policy has since become the main ploy of this
    tirade. First, the President chose to deliver himself of an opinion on
    the Government's policy, seeking explanations (from Jagmohan) and
    postponement (from Vajpayee). And now the Election Commission has
    chosen to march into the middle of the implementation of this policy.
    All this is being interpreted not so much as a gathering political
    storm but a constitutional confrontation with the Vajpayee Government. 
    
    The main point on which objections from various quarters are being
    raised is the Vajpayee ministry's caretaker status. Were this
    objection by the Opposition, the President and the Election Commission
    to be regarded as valid this country will be virtually without
    anything like a government for 51 days. Will a country that has
    recently come out of the catastrophe that was Kargil function without
    a government? Again, if the Vajpayee Government is not 'competent' to
    implement the telecom policy, the Government may not spend a single
    penny from the amount allocated in the 1999-2000 Budget, nor implement
    any other policy either. 
    
    And who is responsible for this state of affairs? Is it not the
    anti-BJP groups and individuals who after wantonly pulling down a
    functioning government miserably failed to cobble up an alternative
    one? And what about the President who, unmindful of the consequences,
    directed the Vajpayee Government to immediately seek a vote of
    confidence? Besides, when the Government had collapsed he asked the
    defeated Government to get its budget passed. Which of the President's
    actions can be regarded as 'proper'? 
    
    Can a Government that has already lost the confidence of the House
    pass the budget? And if it can get a Budget passed why can it not
    spend the amounts on the provisions and schemes mentioned in the
    Budget? If the intention was to avoid a possible fiscal impasse why
    was not the Government asked to pass a vote-on-account? Did anyone
    stop His Excellency, the President of India, from exercising the
    powers conferred on him by the Constitution? How can the Vajpayee
    Government now be stopped if it has initiated some action? Let there
    be no hesitation in accepting that wittingly or unwittingly there has
    been a 'slip' somewhere. And if a 'slip' has indeed occurred the
    Election Commission too cannot disown its share of the 'slip'. 
    
    In the history of Independent India has an election schedule been
    announced for this length of time? What is the logic in announcing the
    election schedule one month before issuing the notification? Is there
    a law necessitating announcement of election schedule one month in
    advance of the notification? And all this when the Government had
    recommended General Elections at the earliest as soon as they lost the
    vote of confidence. 
    
    Is it not a fact that the Government had asked for elections as early
    as May? Actually the entire Opposition was against Elections in May
    fearing the BJP would derive 'political mileage' if the polling were
    held too soon after the Government's fall. The Opposition asked for
    polls in September and incidentally their demand was fulfilled. The
    Election Commission usually takes the Government into confidence
    before announcing an election schedule. It is however said that this
    time the Commission discarded the convention. 
    
    Will the Government be blamed for this interregnum? Nobody can object
    to the Commission conducting free and impartial election but must it
    arrogate to itself the role of a 'super-government'? Very recently the
    Commission pompously 'hoped' that the Central as well as State
    Governments would not exploit the Independence Day functions for
    political mileage. On Independence Day the Prime Minister addresses
    the nation from the ramparts of the Red Fort. Now is it for the
    Election Commission to decide what the Prime Minister may say on the
    occasion? The relevant question is: Who is responsible for the
    eventuality of the Prime Minister of a 'provisional government'
    addressing the nation on August 15? Who should be blamed for this
    situation? The Opposition, His Excellency the President of India or
    the Election Commission? Does not the wild goose chase suggest that
    constitutional bodies are being misused against the Vajpayee
    Government? The President, Shri K.R. Narayanan has acquired the
    distinction of being an 'activist President'. 
    
    Since the fall of the Vajpayee Government certain parties are trying
    to exploit Rashtrapati Bhavan as their political tool. It is quite
    understandable if the Opposition demands a special session of the
    Rajya Sabha. Nor is there anything wrong in the President specifically
    expecting the Government to call such a session. But what can one say
    if the President's 'pleasure' happens to be broadcast by some Member
    of Parliament? Recently, a Rajya Sabha, MP, Gurudas Gupta of the CPI
    after his meeting with the President disclosed to newsmen that the
    President was in favour of calling a special session of the Rajya
    Sabha. 
    
    After this public statement the President wrote to the Government
    regarding the matter. During 1987-88, something that the then
    President, Giani Zail Singh had in mind reached the Opposition before
    it could be conveyed to the Government. What was then the Congress
    reaction? Does the party have a similar reaction now? Some recent
    decisions by the President have caused a lot of confusion. The
    Government had recommended to the President that the acting Governor
    and acting Chief Justice may be relieved of their posts. The President
    however did not oblige although he approved the appointment of Arvind
    Dave as Governor of Arunachal Pradesh. 
    
    The President has stopped the Government from implementing their
    revised telecom policy so that the new Government to be formed after
    the elections can take decision regarding this important financial
    matter. But in 1998, even while Shri K.R. Narayanan was occupying
    Rashtrapati Bhavan, the 'caretaker government' of Inder Kumar Gujral
    was not stopped from putting its seal on the agreement with the World
    Trade Organisation (WTO) although it was vitally connected with the
    country's economic prospects. Was it all right to let a caretaker
    government sign an agreement with the World Trade Organisation about
    which developing nations, including India, have reservations? 
    
    Time will give the verdict but for the time being the current
    political impasse is likely to put a question mark against the
    credibility of constitutional bodies. Such an eventuality will no
    doubt be most unfortunate. May His Excellency the President of India
    go 'activist', let the Election Commission perform the role of a
    watchdog. Nobody objects to it so long as their action remains
    objective. No one will till then point an accusing finger at them. It
    is, however, difficult to imagine what will happen if this delicate
    balance is disturbed. The Opposition will certainly see prospects of
    political benefit in it but saner counsels would rather avoid such an
    eventuality. This is the major challenge of the present crisis. 
    
    The President, Shri K.R. Narayanan seems to be creating new
    precedents. But can it be considered proper if, in the name of new
    precedents, the President summons bureaucrats to consult them,
    ignoring the political authority? For instance, in the matter of the
    Indian Airlines disinvestment case, when the President was 'not
    satisfied' with the decision of the Central Cabinet, the Cabinet
    Secretary may endeavour to 'satisfy' him. But if the President, who is
    'not satisfied', instead of inquiring from the Prime Minister or the
    Minister concerned, summons the Managing Director of the corporation
    to seek clarification-what kind of a precedent would it establish? 
    
    Similarly, sometime back the President wrote to the Prime Minister
    asking him to look into the 'leaking' of their correspondence to the
    press. But what is one to make of the Communist party leaders
    publicising Government's confidential documents concerning its telecom
    policy and hinting that Raisina Hill (Rashtrapati Bhavan) is in
    agreement with them?.
    



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