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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'

The Constitution Of India 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 and praiseworthy.

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 not sustainable.

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 situation.

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 is deteriorating?

We have not yet imbibed the democratic spirit. And it will take a long time before we imbibe a true democratic spirit.

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