New Delhi: The offices of President and Vice-President should not be held by people other than politicians, feels incumbent President Pranab Mukherjee.
He also feels the role of presiding officers in legislative chambers should be similarly viewed as persons "otherwise eminent and competent" may not have the required political judgement to balance a delicate situation. The President's views on these Constitutional posts in the context of the running of the Houses of Parliament and the role of the presiding officers are part of his just-released book "The Dramatic Decade: The Indira Gandhi Years".
So far S Radhakrishnan and APJ Abdul Kalam had occupied the post without a political career. Similarly, S Radhakrishnan, GS Pathak and Justice M Hidayatullah were Vice-Presidents without a political background. He refers to a situation when the Congress party and Indira Gandhi had returned to power in 1980 but was lacking in majority in the Rajya Sabha.
It was in the context of the Government wanting to avoid a defeat on its resolution in the Upper House seeking approval of dissolution of some Assemblies in a 'tit for tat' action against Janata Party, whose Government had dismissed Congress governments in some states when it came to power in 1977.
"I was confident of winning in the Rajya Sabha. But while I did not like to be bullied by the opposition, I did not like the Chairman (M Hidayatullah, former Chief Justice of India). "The Chairman had a desire to assume total power with regards to business of the House. This role of a presiding officer may have been theoretically correct but was practically not possible," he says. Mukherjee, a veteran politician and a parliamentarian, says that the House is a political institution not merely a debating club.
It has to transact the business of the Nation initiated, and be guided by prevailing political forces. "The Rajya Sabha was to play a balanced role in transacting business. It was not a secondary chamber but, at the same time, it could not take advantage of numerical position of a party to play an obstructionist role against the wishes of the ruling party, which had come to power with the mandate of the people," he says.
So, Mukherjee feels, the handling of a delicate situation by maintaining a balance required political judgement not always available with persons otherwise eminent and competent. "I am of the view that offices such as those of the President and the Vice-President should not be held by people other than politicians, and the role of presiding officers in legislative chambers has to be similarly viewed," the President writes in the book.
In India, he says, presiding officers or elected with the support of political parties and, as such, one cannot expect them to be free of political inclination altogether. Though they must strive to remain neutral, their neutrality cannot be stretched to a ridiculous extent, he says. Referring to the debate on the issue of dissolution of Assemblies, Mukherjee recalls that the statutory resolution of late CPI veteran Bhupesh Gupta against the Government resolution that was defeated with help from members of the Congress (Urs), which had earlier split with Congress.
"The sincerity with which he (Gupta) spoke was ringing loud and true. Unfortunately, the same could not be said of the other opposition leaders. They showed the path in 1977. What was done in 1980 was just a facsimile of the 1977 action. "If the first was wrong in 1977, then it was wrong in 1980 but no one could claim what was justifiable for other parties was wrong for the Congress (I)," says Mukherjee.
He says that there was one chink in the armour of the critics argument about the Congress government decision to dissolve Assemblies ruled by the Janata Party. "It was factually incorrect to say that all the state assemblies in 1977 had outlived their five year term.
"The assemblies in Uttar Pradesh and Orissa were not supposed to have been dissolved until 1979, as election to these state Assemblies had taken place in 1974. The Gujarat Assembly was elected in 1975 and had it term up to 1980. "The fact of the matter was that, in 1977, the Janata Party wanted to win elections to the state Assemblies while the wave of popular support continued to flow in their favour. In 1980, the Congress wanted to do the same," he says.