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Mainstream, VOL LV No 32 New Delhi July 29, 2017

An individualist President

Saturday 29 July 2017, by Kuldip Nayar

It is not difficult to assess the regime of Pranab Mukherjee who retires from the office of President after completing his tenure of five years. He was a wrong choice and should not have adorned the gaddi at the first instance.

Pranab Mukherjee was the man Friday of Sanjay Gandhi, an extra-constitutional authority who ruled the country during the Emergency. It was a dictatorial rule by the then Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi, who had suspended even the fundamental rights. Pranab Mukherjee was then the Commerce Minister, who granted or stopped licences at the bidding of Sanjay Gandhi. A regime does not acquire validity because no mishap took place during the period. The very rule was an insult to the democratic nation. Pranab Mukherjee, who had violated the Constitution by occupying the position, cannot but be condemned for the days he ruled.

When Mrs. Sonia Gandhi elevated Mukherjee to the office, she was criticised. But hers was a gift to a loyal person who even said that the day was the night. He should himself assess the achievements and find out whether he came up to the expectations he had aroused.

I have gone over the period when he was at Rashtrapati Bhavan and I find, to my horror, that it was a rule which had a negative impact. If he had been a sensitive person he would have felt the wrongs done during the 17 months of the Emergency. If nothing else he could have least regretted the imposition of the Emergency when one lakh people were detained without trial, the press was ‘disciplined’ and the civil servants lost the distinction between right and wrong. BJP leader L.K. Advani was correct to chide the press: ‘You were asked to bend but you began to crawl.’ Mrs Sonia Gandhi appointed him because he had served the dynasty faithfully. People rightly defeated him and Indira Gandhi when the elections were held. Not only was she defeated in the polls held after the relaxation of the Emergency but the Congress party was ousted lock, stock and barrel. Thus people took the revenge.

Pranab Mukherjee’s appointment was a slap on the face of the nation. Never have people supported a dictator nor have they honoured any person who has violated the ethos of independence: democracy and secularism. In this case, even the Constitution was flouted. I expect that after some years, Pranab Mukherjee would himself recall the period when he was the President. And he would feel that he could have done better. He should be able to spot out at least one instance when he upheld democracy and pluralism. This would have been fair to the people, who ousted the British to have their own rule through the ballot box.

I am sure that if and when Pranab Mukherjee writes his memoirs, he would be frank enough to list his failings. Seldom have people felt so let down as they did during Pranab Mukherejee’s presidency.

Had there been a Lok Pal (Ombudsman) he would have pointed out where Pranab Mukherjee had failed. Alas, there is no such institution. The Bharatiya Janata Party, which talks about values at the drop of a hat, should assemble an institution, that is above politics, to say what is right and what is wrong, moral or immoral.

Pranab Mukherjee, even though late, should say from Rashtrapati Bhavan that he and his Congress party were repentant for the Emer-gency they had imposed. This is a taint on the face of the nation and needs to be wiped out. That he has left the office does not matter. What is important is that the democratic nation should get back its ethos debated in the Constituent Assembly and incorporated in the Constitution.

Heads of institutions are not generally assailed. The idea behind such thinking is that the criticism may harm the institutions, which are essential for the sustenance of the democratic polity. Germane to this idea is the presidency. Therefore, the President is spared even when he or she crosses the line that the office delineates. Because of this consideration, President Pranab Mukherjee has escaped censure even when a person at an equally high office has been crucified. This does not, however, give him any licence. He should not be exploiting the prerogative as he does.

It was a Swedish radio station which broke the story first. The source was a “deep throat” whose name has not been revealed till today. He passed on the information to Chitra Subramaniam, a journalist who was then working for The Indian Express. The “deep throat” was an insider and felt horrified over the bribery, which was first placed at Rs 64 crores but turned out to be in the neighbourhood of Rs 3000 crores.

Mukherjee had taken it for granted that in view of the key role he had played as a firefighter during the Congress party’s troubled times he could not be ignored for having served the dynasty relentlessly. But Sonia’s determination to make her son, Rahul Gandhi, the Prime Minister came in the way of Mukherjee’s political ambitions. Though he was exasperated, Mukherjee soon realised the mood and announced that he would not contest the 2014 elections. Sonia readily agreed to the position because he had himself cleared the deck for Rahul Gandhi.

Mukherjee should have done something to explain because the Congress party he has represented has this blame pending against him. The Congress should itself think about the ways to come clean and explain to the nation why and how scams like Bofors and Commonwealth Games had come to take place.

The author is a veteran journalist renowned not only in this country but also in our neighbouring states of Pakistan and Bangladesh where his columns are widely read. His website is www.kuldipnayar.com

ISSN : 0542-1462 / RNI No. : 7064/62