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Sreenivasan Jain: Hello and welcome to this power of one. The president of India is meant to be a neutral arbiter of the Indian political scene. But many say that history proves otherwise that the selection of the president and the pressure from the executive has deeply compromised this high constitutional authority. And as we now come close to the selection of a new president. I am joined by Mani Shankar Aiyar to debate this. Mani Shankar Aiyer the blame for politicizing the office of the president has been laid at the door step of all political parties. But critics of the congress argue more guilty than others that even politicizing and compromising that office. Do you agree?


Mani Shankar Aiyar: I just don't agree, first let’s look at the evidence. Has President Pratibha Patil done anything that you would stigmatize as being partisan and pro Congress.


Sreenivasan Jain: Let me take you through some of those examples that is used to make that argument. And one of those is the use or abuse of Presidents rule. Now there has been some amount of statistical analysis of how it was used in the initial term after independence and subsequently. This finds that in the Nehru Era between 60 to 64, 6 incidents of Presidents rule. In the Shashtri Era which just lasted for a couple of years there were 2 incidents.


Mani Shankar Aiyar: Are you sure there were only 6 years of Nehru's Era or 17 years of Nehru's Era.


Sreenivasan Jain: The first 4 years have been analyzed in this incidence,(correction) not the first four years the last four years. 1966 to 77 Indira's first spell, 39 incidents of Presidents rule which is an average of over 3 a year. And almost majority of these were sacking of non-congress governments. This many say is an example of using the President's office for partisan political ends.


Mani Shankar Aiyar: The President's office, there is an office of dignity there which is one area of work and the other is where the constitution explicitly provides for Presidential discretion. For the rest any President that does not act on the advice of the council of minister or who thought after sends back that decision.


Sreenivasan Jain: Which some presidents have done?


Mani Shankar Aiyar: If he would thought it thereafter it become autocratic for the president is a ceremonial office fundamentally. Now between up till 1964 there was very great political stability in India apart from Kerala, all the other states plus the center was ruled by the same party, between 1966 and when you jump to 1979, you are jumping several phases of history, you are jumping in the first instance, phase of history where Indira Gandhi was thrown out of congress party by her own colleagues.


Sreenivasan Jain: But does that justify the repeated imposition for the president rule?


Mani Shankar Aiyar: I am not at the moment justifying, i want to bring because you said, you went from 1966 to 1979 as if it constituted a homogeneous period, that's why i am trying to put it in historical perspective , from 1966 to 1971 Indira Gandhi was struggling with two things, first the slipping away of majority states in India to non-congress parties while congress remained power in the center but second opposition of leader of congress party to Indira Gandhi began in 1967 and reached crisis proportions two years later in 1969 and led to eventually dissolve in parliament and going to face against grand alliance, the electorate where she won over whelming. But because she won over whelming and Bangladesh war came within the same year about 9 months later. There was major economic crisis that hit us in 1972 and the oil shock in 1973. This meant that 1974 was annus horribilis for our country, George Fernandez took advantage of that so did Jai Prakash Narain and we got into emergency. Now after the emergency was over in 1977 it was the other side who first dismissed all the congress government.


Sreenivasan Jain:  They did it, i want to come to that but i still haven't got a response from you that whether it was justified to impose president's rule in such a wide scale against non-congress government


Mani Shankar Aiyar: Both congress and non-congress government..


Sreenivasan Jain: Both congress and non-congress government!


Mani Shankar Aiyar: The bulk of these statistics relate to removing all the congress govt on a totally bogus argument taht tehy had won central election


Sreenivasan Jain: Satistics include Janta dal sacking of nine governments, this is just only related


Mani Shankar Aiyar: Was it justified, let me answer, constitutionally perfectly no which is why it could not challenge in supreme court, politically morally is certainly position where we could have different opinions but i suspect you and i on the same ground, i think it was politically unwise and morally unjustified and it should not have been done by the Janta government and therefore not righted the reaction that it did later, so all that eventually led to the Sarkari government


Sreenivasan Jain: Not done by the congress you mean, invited the reaction from Janta dal



Mani Shankar Aiyar:And then what theJanta dal did it invited reaction from returning triumphant congress, now because all that was politically unwise and morally perhaps undesirable. Mrs. Gandhi, it was not Janta dal that set up the Sarkariya commission. Now the Sarkariya commission report while it had big intellectual influence has never been implemented, why , largely was not required to be implemented, the era of using president's rule on a wide scale ended with the return of Mrs. Gandhi in 1980.


Sreenivasan Jain: So when you mention Janta dal government and their logic basically because of 1977 verdict which completely rejected the congress justified the congress state government. You are saying that was completely fallacious logic?


Mani Shankar Aiyar: When Mrs Gandhi won three years later, word for word, she used Moraji's argument. Since then two or three cases of real dismissal.



Sreenivasan Jain: You believe that should president Fakrudin Ali Ahmed should have done on the emergency proclamation which is seen as another blot on another congress copy book, when it comes to undermining presidential authority


Mani Shankar Aiyar: What is seen as the blot is the emergency.


Sreenivasan Jain: And in manner of which the proclamation as obtained, midnight visit by RK Dhawan, etc.


Mani Shankar Aiyar: All of these played up by all those who have an opposition to the emergency. But at that time contemporaneously the matter went before Justice VR Krishna Iyer who is no pushover and whose ideological predilections had become clear in many of his judgements since then, he roars and screams, he must be getting hundred years now but that hasn't quietend in his voice. That justice Justice VR Krishna Iyer found nothing legal in constitutional in firm about the proclamation of the emergency, it had to be done now or not done ever. It's a bit like Elvis Presley, "it now or never". And therefore when the decision to impose emergency was taken in the middle of the night and where none of the cabinet ministershad the courage to stand up and say. Who even Jagjivan Ram.


Sreenivasan Jain: Many of them said they didn't know, they say they were kept in the dark till the cabinet met them the next day.


Mani Shankar Aiyar: And they still continue to be in the cabinet.


Sreenivasan Jain: Did they have a choice


Mani Shankar Aiyar: Why not, all they have to do was to go to jail!


Sreenivasan Jain: Does that still politically justify the manner of the imposition?


Mani Shankar Aiyar: I am not arguing morally or politically, i was one of the few civil servants at that time. Who argued opened about it openly and was warned by my friends don't that you will be in trouble but i always got into trouble for having losses tongue. And when Indira Gandhi was defeated in 1977, i had a yippee time, i really enjoyed it, it was one of the greatest time of my life because i was dead against the emergency. But if you want to ask me the question you are really asking, the president in his constitutional office, did he betray that constitutional office by signing that document in middle of the night, the answer is no!


Sreenivasan Jain: You are think he didn't?


Mani Shankar Aiyar: He didn't betray his constitution office at all.


Sreenivasan Jain: The fact that the cabinet didn't have the endorsement of the cabinet, the fact that there was no supporting evidence provided to him suggesting that there was some great internal security threat, or the only information he had meeting with Indira Gandhi earlier that evening and apart from that… 


Mani Shankar Aiyar: Sorry I think you got it wrong, he was abroad that time. The air force plane had to rush somebody to Moscow i think it was to obtain his signature there. But there was one or two constitutional options he could have taken. But whichever one he could have taken ultimate the constitutional validity is to be determined by the Supreme Court. And the Supreme Court not only validate the action but subsequent efforts by the Janta dal government to portray that all that happened unconstitutional were wrong because nobody ever changed any of the provisions relating to the constitution in the original constitutional, nobody changed it, nobody repealed anything.


Sreenivasan Jain: Okay the other example which is cited of misuse of presidential authority was swearing in of Rajiv Gandhi, on the day when India was assassinated and again it was believed that due process was not followed, several aspects of practiced and protocols were breached, could you agree


Mani Shankar Aiyar: There was no due process prescribed in the constitution other than the president in his wisdom inviting someone to form a government and asking him to prove his majority on the floor of the house


Sreenivasan Jain: But there is a convention which in the past has entailed care taker prime minister being sworn in whose normally seen as the number two


Mani Shankar Aiyar: Which prime minister before Indira Gandhi was assassinated? And that night the mobs were gathering in the streets now you may fall o the decision to call Rajiv Gandhi but given the fact he not only got the entire support of parliamentary party but won by largest majority ever means that if Gyani Zail Singh have picked on anybody else it wuld not have been a reflection


Sreenivasan Jain: On the day though, there were options, there was second senior most the practice followed until now, there was Pranab Mukherjee, there was someone like Narsimha Rao these were considered second senior most in the hierarchy


Mani Shankar Aiyar: Rao was sitting as home minister presiding over the carnage


Sreenivasan Jain: Pranab Mukherjee considered? He was the second senior most


Mani Shankar Aiyar: Pranab Mukherjee was not liked by the president of the party and therefore not liked by the parliamentary party when doubt of the party.


Sreenivasan Jain: But that was again subsequently, that time he was very much in the congress


Mani Shankar Aiyar: But where does constitutional say that you have to pick the senior most, which constitution says that you should have a care taker prime minister


Sreenivasan Jain: But is not it a combination of constitutional sanction and convention and as i said convention both had at that time Nehru dies, Shahstri died, convention had it that Gulzari Lal Nanda whose seen as number 2 acted as caretaker prime minister till new incumbent was appointed?


Mani Shankar Aiyar: Neither of them was not assassinated and neither of them provoked domestic crisis that arose at time of assassination, the country was calm and sorrowful when Jawahar Lal Nehru died, he country was calm and perhaps more sorrowful when Lal Bahadur Shahstri suddenly died, the country was in total crisis that minute, that second when 9:30 in the morning these two fellow shot indira gandhi



Sreenivasan Jain: But isn’t there a case of selecting somebody who has greater political experience than Rajiv Gandhi had at that time, at that time he was relatively novice to the politics.


Mani Shankar Aiyar: There is no constitutional argument for that, there may be a political argument, and there may be moral argument.

Sreenivasan Jain: Political argument when you say the country in crisis?


Mani Shankar Aiyar: I am suggesting that a president if he has wisdom one who will take political situation into account. And feel that what we needed is a man who commands the support to his party without any division and it was clearly proved by subsequent events and the decision which Gyani Zail Singh took on the 31st October. Which he says he took in plane when he was coming back from Yemen to call Rajiv Gandhi to become the prime minister and not withstanding bitter objection of Mrs. Sonia Gandhi which is also a matter of historical record to her husband becoming the prime minister and notwithstanding the prime minister that Rajiv Gandhi saying as the record says that will you say we all be killed, if you say you will be killed, my answer will be all of us will anyway be killed. In these circumstances the man with the shadow of death hanging over him, a young man of 40 years old being told that you are going to pistol at your temple and you take over prime mastership and the chances are that trigger will be pulled showing immense personal moral courage his public duty and taking on the office and then getting endorsement for that from the party and then from the people


Segament 2



Sreenivasan Jain: In the flight from West Bengal, which was carrying Rajiv Gandhi to New Delhi which contained number of senior congress leaders, where in fact these decisions were discussed and taken it is believed that Pranab Mukherjee who was on that flight said one must go with convention it must be the number two man who is appointed?


Mani Shankar Aiyar: I have spoken personally about this to Pranab da about this at his instance rather than mine. Because i said i don’t know what Shanti Bhushan was told by Jatti let me enter the same caviar. That there is no reason for you to believe what i am saying and i am only recounting what Pranab da said, what Pranab da said to me was that he felt that assassination of Indira Gandhi would have profound consequences including anticipating that there will be trouble in the street and that somebody must take charge and he was planning inside the plane as to what he would do immediately after he got off and that it was misunderstood as desire to take over the office, i don’t know whether i am entitled to share this private conversation.


Sreenivasan Jain: Its important because these are matter of public debate in it and also has a bearing on Pranab da's political graph and question that truly, may believe that the rupture became at that point on the basis of what he said.


Mani Shankar Aiyar: I don’t have any idea why the rupture came with Arun Singh, why it came with Arun Nehru, why it didn’t come with me


Sreenivasan Jain: I am saying it’s important from that point of view to get the clarification so he said his intention was the course of action to contain the situation


Mani Shankar Aiyar: He was planning in his mind that what should be told to various people, what is the project lists that i what should be looked into in order to ensure adverse consequences of this assassination


Sreenivasan Jain: He was not necessarily throwing his hat in the ring?


Mani Shankar Aiyar: I don’t know but he didn’t say that to me but i want to add there was another man in the plane at the same time who had same amount of political experience as Pranab da. His name was Gyani Zail Singh and he too was thinking what we do next? And he was president of India, and so rather than asked somebody have you checked where is army and where is the police? He has to actually take the decision which in the constitution i placed one hundred percent in his one discretion.


Sreenivasan Jain: Lastly i want to ask you when it comes to allegation of congress not treating the president office with gravity and autonomy it deserves has been the selection of presidents picked by the congress. People like Gyani Zail Singh thing whom you mentioned, people like Shankar Dayal Sharma till recent president of India Pratibha Patil. Many believe these are political light waves who are place there to extend the function desire of political executive or not to challenge his actions, would you say these candidates merited begun selected for that office?


Mani Shankar Aiyar: I don’t want to answer that question


Sreenivasan Jain: Are you answering that indirectly?


Mani Shankar Aiyar: No, i will explain why i don’t want to answer this question is that unless specific evidence can be advance that not acting in a presidential manner but in response to purely political pressures or with personal motivation, these people, a large number whom you just mentioned did something that was not befitting dignity of the office or did something that amounted to the translation of the constitution then i would say it was wrong but if you want me to pass judgement on people who hold constitutional office and particularly in this program where we are discussing constitution in the president, i am sorry i will not answer you.



Sreenivasan Jain: Ok what you think should be the criteria or UPA as it zeroes in presidential candidate


Mani Shankar Aiyar: Exactly the same as it has always been, number one electability because president is not nominated, he is elected by number of legislators in the center as well in the states so there is no pint putting Sreenivasan Jain and he is not getting single vote


Sreenivasan Jain: Or Mani Shankar Aiyar?


Mani Shankar Aiyar: Or Mani Shankar Aiyar, you have to ensure at first instance electability, but try and narrow down electability for those who are in the pressing need of the time. Sometime pressing need arises from social factor, sometime pressing need arises out of the need to have somebody from the political experience in that office, sometimes that political need arises from extraneous consideration. As i would say in the case of Sanjeeva Reddy who is being compensated for having being defeated by Mrs. Indira Gandhi through VV Giri in the previous election so the answer would depend upon circumstances.


Sreenivasan Jain: Did Pratibha Patil enhance the status of the presidential office and if so, how?


Mani Shankar Aiyar: Well I think the best thing about having Pratibha Patil to become president of India is that we had lady for the first time and at that time..


Sreenivasan Jain: Thats it, is that the only merit?


Mani Shankar Aiyar: That’s the most important, there may be another ladies, i don’t know but in so far for having a lady in office and her conducting herself. I know some controversies swirling around her but my own interaction with her when i was a minister, i have not seen her since then. I have found her acting not only with dignity but very interested in a knowledgeable way in matter interested me, youth for instance, sports for instance the panchayat raj institution of instance, north east, all the ministry which fell in jurisdiction after she became president. And i didn’t find her wanting in the least, i am, however, aware of the controversies in newspapers but I don’t know anything from inside. And i prefer, since i am not  a media person  to not to rush for judgement, no rushing where angel fear to trap


Sreenivasan Jain: Would Pranab Mukherjee become a good president and would congress be able to afford him to be out of the political sphere


Mani Shankar Aiyar: Pranab Mukherjee will make an outstanding president, so will Hamid Ansari will make an outstanding president so the Hobson’s choice before me will be unfortunately because I can’t vote in presidential election because i am a nominated member, but had i got a vote, i would have been faced with real Hobson’s choice.


Sreenivasan Jain: But politically it’s much more challenging for congress' Pranab Mukherjee to cross over because he won’t be available for political manager, will congress be able to afford loss of Pranab Mukherjee as a political manager?


Mani Shankar Aiyar: It will be certainly be a big loss but a congress party is a huge organisation and there is plenty of talent there if it’s given an opportunity to blossom, and therefore while Pranab becoming president would be a big loss to the congress, i don’t think it will be an in repairable loss.


Sreenivasan Jain: Mani Shankar Aiyar, thanks very much indeed for talking to us.



8 years ago

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