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The Rediff Special


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 distinction.

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 extension plea?

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 up supporters.

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.

The President, 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 Party.

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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