The Rediff Special
One cannot avoid Machiavellianism
altogether. Otherwise, it is not politics
For the first time in the annals of
Independent India, Rashtrapati
Bhavan became the focus of attention and the President was found
to discharge his functions as the real chief executive in a decisive
way. To put it in another way, President Sanjeeva Reddy had the
opportunity and courage to discharge his functions as chief executive
or head of State.
He lived up to the oath Presidents are
administered during the swearing-in ceremony on the day of assuming
the high office -- 'to preserve, defend and protect
the state and the Constitution without fear or favour, in word,
deed and spirit.' The President maintained that he acted
in good faith and according to his conscience.
Hitherto, the Presidents had faced occasions like external emergencies
and internal emergencies but they were able to act in accordance
with the presidential oath safely on the advice of the prime minister
who commanded a comfortable majority in Parliament. But India
had for the first time a President who was forced to take a decision
by circumstances which could not be visualised even by the architects
and founding fathers of the Constitution, with no elected prime
minister to advise, aid and assist and with no precedent for guidance.
It was left to the President again for the first time to pick
out and appoint the prime minister, a prerogative not even the
French president under the present Fifth Republic constitution
was endowed with. Destiny had vouch-safed unto him this unique
There were some disinterested constitutional experts who defended
the dissolution of the Lok Sabha. Dr Bhambhri, professor
of public administration at Jawaharlal Nehru University, supported
the President's action. On the Spotlight programme
on All India Radio he said the President's decision was
justified because he was confronted with an unprecedented constitutional
crisis which could not be anticipated by the Founding Fathers
of the Constitution and there was no readymade solution for it
in the text of the supreme law of the land .
Some argued that the President was forced by a peculiar turmoil
resulting in the existence of a prime minister and council of
ministers who were not constitutionally legalised by proving their
majority in the Lok Sabha, in view of the fact that Charan
Singh submitted his resignation to the President a few minutes
before Parliament was about to meet and in his letter written
in his capacity as prime minister recommended
the dissolution of the Lok Sabha, to which advice the President
was conventionally bound.
Every coin has two sides. Let us examine
the other side of the case, that is, why did the President choose
to invite Jagjivan Ram and Chandra Shekhar on that fateful
day, when he seemed to have already made up his mind to
dissolve the Lok Sabha which was evident from his early morning
talks with Chief Election Commissioner Shakdar? Was
it only to rub the salt on the already existing wound, that wound
being, the way Morarji was caught unawares on his 48 hour
Or was it a deliberate, a well-calculated and
preconceived move on the part of the President, who certainly
is not a novice in the art of politics? Was it meant to be a slap
on Jagjivan Ram's face for the latter's opposition to
Reddy in the 1969 Presidential poll?
The President said even then, by way of abundant caution,
he summoned Jagjivan Ram, the newly elected leader of the
Janta Parliamentary Party in the Lok Sabha and Chandra Shekhar
the Janata Party president, to explore the possibilities of forming
an alternative government. But obviously these leaders could not
convince the President that they commanded a majority in the Lok
Sabha and as such the President had no other alternative left
before him except to dissolve the Lok Sabha.
In one sense, it
was according to the principle of equity based on the dictates
of his conscience, reflecting the feelings of the majority of
the people of the country. This being so, what made the President
summon the two leaders just before his act of dissolution
of the Lok Sabha, is a matter that merits further analysis.
Where was the need for summoning Jagjivan Ram, since
there would have been no end, if the President went on inviting
one after another, all freshly elected leaders of the Janata Party
after the inability of the party's previous leader in mopping
First of all, it was ridiculous on Morarji Desai's part
to have chosen to cling to the Janata Parliamentary Party's leadership
even after his resignation as prime minister. Probably
Jagjivan Ram, despite being a very shrewd politician,
failed to smell a rat even then and more so even after the rejection
of Jayprakash Narayan's advice to Morarji Desai to step down
as leader of the Janata Parliamentary Party in Jagjivan Ram's favour.
Political observers felt that Morarji ought to have relinquished
the party leadership immediately after his resignation as prime
minister and proposed Jagjivan Ram or any other
leading figure from the Janata Parliamentary Party like
Vajpayee or Chandra Shekhar to the post instead of staking his
claim again and pleading before the President for an invitation to
form the government once again.
Had Morarji done that, even before being directed by Jayaprakash
Narayan who was lying on his death bed, and had the President
denied him a chance, well then, there would have been some meaning
and substance in their criticism of the President's decision.
Even then the President was under no obligation to invite every
newly elected leader from the party which lost its majority on
account of wholesale and mass-scale defections.
The safest and
the most dignified course they ought to have adopted was to keep
away from the fray after Morarji's exit not only from the
prime ministership but also from the very leadership of the Janata
Parliamentary Party itself. Such an honourable step and noble gesture
would have evoked respect and sympathy from the public. It required
a lot of good sense, political sense and common sense to do the
right thing at the right time. It is not to say the Machiavellianism
is the only means to resort to; but at the same time one cannot
avoid it altogether. Otherwise, it is not politics.
Viewing the matter from all angles, one may have to infer
that if (at all) the President had invited Jagjivan Ram and Chandra Shekhar,
it could have been only as a last resort to avoid the huge expenditure
and political turmoil involved in a mid-term poll.
however, did not go through such a formality since, like any political
observer, he might have discovered by that time that none could
form a ministry without Indira Gandhi's support. Who in
turn was determined to face a mid-term
poll to cash in on the disgust and revulsion generated among the
public by the incessant internecine quarrels within the Janata
Kind courtesy: From Farm House to Rashtrapati Bhavan, by I V Chalapati Rao and P
Audinarayana Reddy, Booklinks Corporation, Hyderabad, 1989.
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