Showing posts with label Prime Minister. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Prime Minister. Show all posts

Saturday, April 18, 2015

The Other View — A Controversy Unnecssary and "Unfortunate" on Judges' Conference & PM's Dinner on Holy Days

The Other View
A Controversy Unnecssary and "Unfortunate" on Judges' Conference and PM's Dinner on Holy Days

By Amba Charan Vashishth

The heart of India's 'secularism' is so delicate that it gets hurt at the drop of a hat. The latest provocation  is the Chief Justice of India scheduling a conference of country's chief justices on 3-5 April, 2015. The conference is also attended by State chief ministers. The Prime Minister also threw a dinner in honour of the visiting judges on Sunday, the 5th April. April 3 was a Good Friday and April 5 the Easter. The protagonists of 'secularism' raised a great hue and cry over this infringement of the 'secular' psyche. They forgot that similar conferences had been held earlier too. But this becomes an 'issue' when the party in power is non-Congress and non-left. The unfortunate part is that this time the hackle was raised by a Supreme Court judge. Interesting to note that with a Christian population of over 83 oercebt USA doesn't have a national holiday but just a state holiday restricted to some state. But in India with a Christian population of just 1.9 percent, we have one. Why is there no cry in USA?

The annual ritual of convening a conference of Chief Justices of High Courts which is also attended by chief ministers of States, for some reason or the other, got a break in 2009. The last one was held on April 5-6, 2013. The conference provides every invitee  a rare interface between judiciary and executive when former met chief ministers face to face and explained the need for adequate infrastructure and space for creating more courts to tackle the huge backlog of cases and provide speedy justice to litigants. 

Chief Justice of India (CJI) H. L. Dattu chose to revive the practice and scheduled it for April 3 to 5, 2015. On the concluding day Prime Minister Narendra Modi invited all the participants for a dinner. Coincidently, April 3 happened to be Good Friday and the dinner coincided with the Easter Sunday — both holy days for Christian brothers.

It is customary for organisers to invite all members of a committee or conference for the meeting and lunch/dinner, yet it is not mandatory for all the invitees to attend come what may, though, courtesy demands that participants convey their convenience in advance.  Not all the judges and the CMs have attended the meet in the past. To attend or not a meeting or to join a lunch/dinner is a matter between the host and the guest. In the instant case, while all Supreme Court judges are invited, the attendance of only the top three apex court judges -- the CJI and two senior-most judges, in this case Justice T S Thakur and Justice A R Dave -- is mandatory.

There could be many reasons for an invitee not able to join although he/she very much liked to do. A participant's own birthday or a wedding in family, an untoward happening could have coincided with the meeting and he may want to be excused. No offence involved. At times, one may avoid attending a meeting as a matter of protest.

Being spiritual and religiously committed to one's faith is something that should be applauded and appreciated. It is erosion of this religiosity that is the cause of many of our maladies eating into the vitals of the nation and the world. 

Justice Kurian Joseph had every right to excuse himself from the meeting on Good Friday and PM's dinner on Easter citing religious reasons. He had every right to convey his feelings both to the CJI and the PM. But what provoked him to make a public issue of it is something unusual. The eyebrows were raised only when his letters which are a matter between the writer and the addressee, got public and viral. CJI Dattu has called it "unfortunate".

The saving grace is that while regretting his inability to attend PM's dinner on Easter Day, Justice Joseph recalled  the "Indian model of secularism" based on the principle of sarva dharma sambhava (equal respect for all religions)... In India, he said, secularism is not a mere passive attitude of religious tolerance but a positive concept of equal treatment of all religions". At the same time he was not lost of the apprehension that it may smack of "communalism". So in his letter to CJI Dattu he stressed: "Please don't think that I am striking a communal note."

"Irrespective of the religion, Diwali, Holi, Dussehra, Eid, Bakrid, Christmas, Easter, etc, are great days of festival celebrations in the neighbourhood," Justice Joseph wrote to the PM, "Your good self would kindly appreciate that no important programmes are held during (these) sacred and auspicious days…..though we have holidays during that period as well."  He also told CJI that the government had declared April 3 as a holiday because of the spiritual significance of the day. "If the state has declared it a holiday, how can another organ of the state, judiciary, nullify it by making it a working day?"  he asked. In reply CJI Dattu said, the question I have to ask myself,  "perhaps I can't ask you, is whether it is institutional interest or individual interest one should give preference to…I would give priority to former." Without involving himself into a religious controversy he he criptly said, "Work is worship". Contradicting Justice Joseph the CJI reminded Justice Joseph: "The conference of chief justices had been organized at least on four occasions when it was Good Friday, Independence Day or Valmiki Jayanti….If I have to schedule the conference on a working day, then the chief justices will have to come a day earlier, attend the conference for two days, and then take another day to reach their respective high courts. Four working days of 24 chief justices would be wasted" He and his predecessors, he explained, always preferred to call the conference on an April Friday whenever it was a holiday.

Interesting to note that secular USA with a Christian population of over 83 percent does not have a national holiday on Good Friday; it is just a state holiday in some States. But India with a Christian population of just 1.9 percent does have a national holiday on that day. Yet, 'seculars' do not question US secularism but they do of India. 

A public holiday on a day devoted to any religion is as much a holiday for the person of that very faith as to others. Therefore a meeting or a public function organized on that particular day as much pinches the follower of that faith as others because it is an off day for him/her too.

When a person joins a public office/service, it enjoins upon him certain obligations whether he is a prime minister, a judge, a police or fire officer or even a clerk or a peon. A public holiday on Ram Navmi, Dussehra, Diwali, Guru Nanak Birthday, Prophet Mohammad birthday, Christmas, Guru Ravidas birthday is a holiday for all.  Yet no public servant can refuse the call of duty even on a holiday. If a heinous crime of murder rape, arson, looting and violence, a serious accident and the like takes place, can the area police officer refuse to rush to the scene claiming it is a public holiday connected with his faith? Can a fire officer refuse to budge on the same excuse when a wild fire is engulfing more and more areas? Even judges are on duty on Sundays and public holidays to attend to urgent matters which cannot wait for the next day.

No denying the fact that Easter is a day of celebrations, festivities and feasting. But a dinner by a high dignitary like a prime minister is no less than a feast. Therefore, joining the PM dinner would have meant enjoying the festivities in the august company of a wider family of dignitaries of judiciary and the executive.                                                                    ***   
The writer is a Delhi-based political analyst.
Also published in the weekly ORGANISER

Saturday, November 9, 2013


Not a nominee of political dictators

By Amba Charan Vashishth

BJP has announced its prime ministerial candidate for the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. The ruling Congress continues to maintain the suspense as it toys with various options. 
It is a travesty of India's parliamentary democracy that after Mr. P. V. Narasimha Rao (1996) with the exception of NDA (1998-2004), the post of prime minister (PM) has been reduced to an accident of maneuvers and manipulations. For the first time in independent India's history the country is carrying the baggage of a prime minister for over nine years the party has foisted on the people.
The very fact that elections are held only after every five years on the expiry of the term of House of the People, i.e. the Lok Sabha (LS), or earlier on its dissolution, is a clear indication that in the letter and spirit of the Constitution and the tradition formation of a government at the Centre (or in States) depends upon the verdict of the people given out through the exercise of their right to franchise. Since we follow the Westminster model of parliamentary democracy, it clearly means that the person who is duly and democratically elected by the elected LS members as their leader is the Prime Minister of the country and should be one of the LS members. This had been the tradition since the dawn of parliamentary democracy in India till the United Front government of Mr. H. D. Deve Gowda in 1996. He was not a LS member but he maintained the tradition availed himself of the first opportunity to enter Lok Sabha after becoming PM.
There have been only two instances of exception to the rule and tradition – that of Mrs. Indira Gandhi and Mr. Inder Kumar Gujral. Mrs. Gandhi was a RS member when she succeeded Mr. Lal Bahadur Shastri in late January 1966 following his unfortunate death. In between the Election Commission, for reasons best known to it, did not hold by-election to Allahabad Mr. Shastri represented or any other constituency. She did contest the LS elections next year in 1967 and won.
Mr. Inder Kumar Gujral became United Front's PM after the incumbent Mr. Deve Gowda was eased out on Congress Party's insistence on whose ventilator support from outside the Government was breathing. Before he could think of finding a seat to contest for LS, he was dethroned.
Now it looks as if our great erudite framers of the Constitution failed to visualize that in about fifty years our political parties will turn so bankrupt of mass leaders that though they would like to nominate a person as prime minister yet dare not expose him to the people dreading the vagaries of an uncertain electoral climate. That is why our political parties, particularly those in power, have turned the Constitution into just a wax which can be moulded to give any shape and form to promote their political goals.
They now exploit the absence of any specific provision in the Constitution stipulating in so many unambiguous words that a prime minister shall always be a LS member. They quote Article 75 which provides: (1)" The Prime Minister shall be appointed by the President……", (2) that the "ministers shall hold office during the pleasure of the President" and (3) that the "Council of Ministers shall be collectively responsible to the House of the People" (LS)".  It would be too simplistic and naïve to construe the wording of this Article as if it gives the President dictatorial powers to "appoint" anybody as a PM who need not be an MP at all.
Another shelter they seek behind is the provision in Article 75(5) that a "Minister who for any period of six consecutive months is not a member of either House of Parliament shall, at the expiration of that period, cease to be a Minister". This, again, is an attempt at arm twisting of the Constitution to make it subserve a party's or individual's purpose. This provision was inserted, as the debates in the Constituent Assembly indicate, with the purpose just to utilize the services and talent as ministers in the government of technocrats and specialists in their own fields because they otherwise shy away from the arena of elections. This Article was not meant to induct into the council of ministers, through the back door, persons rejected by the people during elections.
If the intention of the Constitution makers had been to stipulate that a prime minister could be from either House of Parliament, they were free to add the words "Prime Minister" too alongside "Minister" in Article 75(5). To infer that a "Minister" includes the prime minister is stretching a misnomer too far without logic.  Whether a prime minister is considered as "first among equals" or "the moon among the stars", the fact remains that a prime minister is a prime minister and a minister is just a minister. Even our Constitution makes a clear-cut distinction between the two and puts the position of the prime minister superior: "The Prime Minister shall be appointed by the President and the other Ministers shall be appointed by the President on the advice of the Prime Minister". Further, a prime minister is the leader of the majority party elected by its members; ministers are just MPs hand-picked by the prime minister or the party bosses. Therefore, trying to read prime minister in the word "Minister" is nothing short of denying the reality of the day.
There is an unambiguous distinction between a member of Rajya Sabha and that of Lok Sabha. The former is indirectly elected; the latter democratically elected directly by the people through the exercise of their right to franchise. The former has a tenure of six years, the latter's – and that of the council of ministers, even of those who are RS members – is only five years. After every five years, the latter has to go to the people for a fresh bout of elections; the latter has just to seek another round of maneuvers and manipulations of favour from the party bosses.
Further, if the intention of the Constitution had been that a prime minister need not necessarily be a LS member but could also be a RS member, then why is it that the life of the Council of Ministers coincides with that of the tenure of LS and not with that of RS?
It is customary for the incumbent prime minister to resign following the declaration of LS election results even if the party in power has won another mandate to rule the country. This is done because tenure of the Prime Minister and his Council of Ministers is coterminous with that of LS. They have to take oath as MPs afresh. If it is not mandatory that a prime minister should be a LS member, in that case if his party is voted to power again the PM need not resign at all because he continues to be RS member for which he has not to take a fresh oath. He needs just to get himself elected again as leader and reconstitute his ministry.
If PM is not a LS member, how can he and his "Council of Ministers be "collectively responsible" to the LS (Article 75(3)? If one is not a shareholder or stakeholder of a company, how can one be a director or CEO of that company and responsible to it?
In the alternative, one could go on stretching the argument to any length. No Article of the Constitution makes it mandatory that a prime minister must compulsorily be a member of either House of Parliament. As per Article 75(1) he is just "appointed by the President"; it doesn't say he must be an MP at all. While the Constitution stipulates as to who can and who cannot be a member of Parliament, no such condition has been prescribed for a person to be "appointed" as prime minister for six months without being a member of either House of Parliament {Article 75(5)). In that case a person needs only to manipulate to get himself "appointed" as the prime minister and command a majority in the LS to which he as head of the Council of Ministers "is collectively responsible" {Article 75(3)}.
Further, a prime minister could continue indefinitely, with a one or two day's break, to hold his office without being a member of the either House. In that case, a prime minister can resign a day before completion of his six months period without being a member of either House. The President, as per the tradition, will ask him to continue in office till alternative arrangements are made. After two days he can again get himself elected as leader and lay claim to majority in Parliament and seek to be invited to form government again. This exercise he can repeat a number of times and complete his tenure of five years as prime minister without being a member of either House of Parliament and without infringing a single word of the Constitution.  
Now that elections to the Lok Sabha are just about six months away, it is time all those eyeing the post of prime minister after elections respect both the letter and spirit of the Constitution "We, the people of India" gave unto ourselves." We need to make democracy truly a government of the people, by the people and for the people of India.
The writer is a Delhi based political analyst.

(Published in the SOUTH ASIA POLITICS November 2013 issue.

Sunday, October 13, 2013


Nobody in the country, not even those who oppose Congress, deny that Mr. Rahul Singh is the leader of the Congress Party. The only point that needs to be settled is whether he stands at No. 1 or 2. Yet, every now and then every Congress leader, including our Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh himself is too eager to acknowledge that Mr. Rahul is the leader. Dr Singh has displayed that exemplary sportsman spirit that he has publicly declared that he would vacate the prime minister's chair for Mr. Rahul the moment Party, meaning Mrs. Sonia Gandhi asks. He is that much forthcoming that he says he's willing to work under him. Dr. Singh's action looks akin to that of a great batsman who in his effort to strike a sixer to complete a century gives a great catch to the opposite team.
Some say that the quality a political leader should imbibe in him/herself to be successful is the quality and quantity of elasticity and flexibility he can exercise in his thought and action. Rigidity in politics, some argue doesn't pay. A person's body, they say, is flexible as long as he is alive; the moment he is dead, he is as hard as dead wood, inflexible. That rare quality Dr. Singh has displayed so many times.
His government under his chairmanship introduced during the last monsoon session of Parliament a Bill to nullify the spirit of the Supreme Court direction on convicted MPs .When it failed to get the Bill through, it later drafted an Ordinance which it sent to the President for his approval. It didn't struck to Dr. Singh at that his leader, Rahul Gandhi, had his reservations on the issue.
Mr. Rahul Gandhi, too, did keep quiet when the Bill was introduced in Parliament. He continued to maintain his silence when the Core Committee of the Congress presided over by his mother, Congress chief Mrs. Sonia Gandhi, approved the text of the Ordinance which was later cleared by the Manmohan Cabinet and sent to President of India.
The President refused to oblige and sign blindly on the dotted lines. He consulted some legal experts in the government. He also called Home Minister Sushil Shinde and Law Minister Kapil Sibbal for clarifications. This sent some shock waves to the Manmohan government and Congress.
This situation startled out the Congress No. 2 Rahul out of slumber and a state of numbness and dumbness. He gate-crashed into the Press Club press conference of Congress General Secretary Ajay Maken who was singing eulogies of the Ordinance. Mr. Maken gave in to Mr. Rahul who dubbed the Ordinance in now famous words spoken as his "personal opinion": It is a "complete non-sense" and deserves to be torn up. This made Mr. Maken to realize his mistake and in the next breath, continuing with his address to the press people, he declared that Mr. Rahul's views were the party's authorized views.
When Dr. Singh's supporters and well-wishers were pining at this snub hurled at the prime minister and his former media adviser Sanjay Baru said Dr. Singh is left with no other option but to resign, Dr. Singh himself struck a different note in USA. He 'suddenly' recalled that Mr. Rahul had written to him in this behalf and he would address his concerns on return to the country. He did not explain when did he receive the letter and why did he ignore his views while formulating the Bill and the Ordinance earlier.
On return Dr. Singh made a complete about-turn. He withdrew the Ordinance and the Bill was also decided to be withdrawn from Parliament. This left everyone happy. The President too was spared the trouble of signing a "complete non-sense".
In Congress who's the leader – the real one with authority? It is a mystery. Dr. Manmohan Singh accepts both Mrs. Sonia Gandhi and Mr. Rahul Gandhi as his leaders and is willing to work under Mr. Rahul. Mrs. Gandhi accepts Manmohan Singh as "her' prime minister. This situation lends credence to the opposition charge that Dr. Singh is in office but not in power.
With Parliament elections just six months away, it is not certain who will be Congress Party's prime ministerial candidate. Everybody, including Dr. Manmohan Singh, says that Mr. Rahul Gandhi has all the wherewithals of a prime minister. Dr. Singh though refuses to say that he is in the race, yet he does not "rule out" a third stint for him. Mrs. Gandhi remains non-committal. Others say it is Mr. Rahul Gandhi who has to take a final decision in consultation with his mother. At the moment it looks the triumvirate of Sonia-Rahul-Manmohan runs the party and the government. The Ordinance episode is not the first instance where the triumvirate has been found to be wanting and pulling in three different directions. It is in the interest of the Congress party, the government and the nation that Congress finally takes a call who would be the leader.
Dr. Manmohan Singh inspires, Pakistan conspires against India numerous times to cater to Singh's insatiable desires for the peace process with Pakistan to go on.
October 13, 2013