The Rediff Interview/R Venkataraman
'The Constitution is inadequate to deal with situations of the kind that have risen since the framing of the Constitution'
President K R Narayanan's decision to return the Cabinet recommendation on imposition of central rule in Uttar Pradesh was without precedent in the Republic's history. How will the President's action affect the future of parliamentary democracy in India? Shobha Warrier spoke to former President Ramaswamy Venkataraman in Madras to find out.
It is for the first time in Indian history that the President
has asked the Cabinet to review its decision. It appeared
he was not convinced by their argument that the law and order situation in UP
had broken down. Did this surprise you?
In my opinion, the Union Government's decision to impose
President's rule in UP is flawed. That some members
of the House indulged in violence and unruly behaviour does not
warrant the conclusion that the government of the state cannot
be carried on in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution.
The House has the power to take action including suspension against
those people who are indulging in violence. Again, the House has
passed the vote of confidence and the decision of the House cannot
be thwarted by the unruly conduct of a few people. The President's
returning the proclamation is both constitutionally correct
It is said if the Cabinet had sent the President the same
advice again, he was Constitutionally bound to sign it.
If the Cabinet reiterated its decision and sent it back
to the President, one cannot be sure what the President would have done.
Would it be Constitutionally right if the President chose not to give the Cabinet recommendation his assent?
There are two things to remember. If the President is asked
to do something against the Constitution, the mere fact that the
Cabinet has reiterated its earlier decision may not be binding
on him. If it is an administrative matter, then the reaffirmation
of the earlier decision by the Cabinet will, of course, be binding.
But no government and no Cabinet can ask the President to do something
that is unconstitutional. So, this line of distinction will have
to be drawn.
By "unconstitutional," do you mean dissolving the
UP assembly and imposing President's rule?
I am not sure whether the President is bound to act on a reaffirmation
by the Cabinet if it is totally contrary to the Constitution.
Because the President has given a oath that he will defend the
Constitution. Therefore, if anything goes against the Constitution,
he has to defend it.
So far as the present situation was concerned,
the Cabinet was well advised not to bring about a crisis
between the Executive and the President. Already the country is
passing through a crisis; already we have unstable governments,
so it would not be wise to add one more problem at this juncture.
If the President found the Cabinet's decision unconstitutional
and refused to sign, what kind of impact will it have on the President's role
in future? Will it change?
I cannot say. These are all hypothetical questions.
Everybody is confused because we have not faced a situation
of this sort before.
That is why I said, the government should be well advised
not to bring about a crisis.
Will it lead to a system where the President will have more
authority and power?
When we framed the Constitution, we adopted the British model.
Therefore, the President acts as the crown. You see, Britain has
no written constitution. So, there is nothing unconstitutional
there. But in India we have a Constitution and any legislation
even by Parliament contrary to the Constitution is void. As
the Constitution now exists, the President has to follow the British
precedent in many matters. Unfortunately, there is no British precedent
in this matter.
We have a coalition, the members of which are fighting
among themselves all the time, will it be better for our democracy
to have an authoritative head to control everyone and everything?
If the political developments in the country have created
a situation like this, then it is for the country to decide whether
they should have this Constitution or frame something which will
take care of such situations. But as the Constitution stands,
we cannot ask the President to do many things.
One thing has been proved: The Constitution as framed is inadequate
to deal with situations of the kind that have risen since the
framing of the Constitution.
The BJP said if President's rule was imposed in UP,
they would go to the Supreme Court. Had this happened, could
the Supreme Court have revoked the decision?
Till now the Supreme Court has held that the court cannot
interfere in the discretion of the central government. The President
means the central government. In the latest case, the Supreme
Court has said it has the right to go into the merits of
the recommendation. Therefore, the Supreme Court would have decided
whether the proclamation is valid or not valid, sustainable or
Will these kind of situations strengthen the democracy?
A country is not born as a democracy. It evolved and matures
into a democracy. We are only in the infant stages of the democracy.
All these situations will help to find a solution to meet every
Is Article 356 wrongly used by all political parties? Should
it not be scraped?
You cannot merely say that Article 356 should be scraped.
When I was President, the very parties which objected to Article
356 had come and pleaded that Article 356 be used when they were
in power. The issue is not whether we should abolish Article 356
or not. How it should be used is the issue.
Do you feel the general standard of human behavior itself
We have not yet imbibed the democratic spirit.
And it will take a long time before we imbibe a true democratic
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