PUCL Bulletin, October 2002

What the people expect from the new President
-- By Mahi Pal Singh

The Present NDA government is bent upon amending the Representation of people's Act, 1951 by promulgating the controversial Ordinance on electoral reforms under Article 123 of the Constitution providing for the amendment of the nomination forms for the assembly and parliamentary elections. The draft Ordinance has the sanction of all the political parties, including the left parties, who were extraordinarily unanimous in blocking and over-ruling the Election Commission's order making it mandatory for candidates to disclose their criminal record - if any - and also their assets and liabilities in their nomination papers for election to legislative assemblies and the national Parliament.

On May 2, 2002 the Supreme Court had issued directions to the Election Commission to issue such an order and the latter had followed those directions by issuing an order to implement the Supreme Court's directions. The NDA partners as well as other political parties agreed that the judiciary was trespassing into the domain of the legislature. Accordingly they decided to bring in an ordinance to replace the EC's order and the laws ministry immediately swung into action and drafted the Ordinance and the same was sent to the President for his sanction and promulgation.

On Friday 16, 2002 a delegation of the National Campaign for Electoral Reforms (NCER), consisting of eminent lawyers, jurists, and civil rights activists including Rajindar Sachar, retired Chief Justice of the Delhi High Court, met the President, Shri APJ Abdul Kalam and urged him not to sign the Ordinance as it abridge the right to information as derived under Article 19 of the Constitution and as such the Ordinance was not only against the letter and sprit of Supreme Court order but also against the spirit of the Fundamental Rights granted by the Constitution of India. The delegation even urged the President to refer the Ordinance to the apex court for its opinion. Happily, the President decided to refer it back to the government for its reconsideration.
Within one month of taking over as the President of the Republic, Shri APJ Abdul Kalam has given quite a few moments of anxiety to the NDA government. First he expressed a desire to address the members of Parliament, which the government said was not customary.

Then he said he would like to pay a visit to the riot-affected Gujarat. That frightened the Chief Minister of the State lest he should make some observations, which might embarrass the RSS elements of the state. The CM was already troubled by the remarks of JM Lyngdoh, the Chief Election Commissioner, who had visited the state along with a team of the Election Commission to assess whether the atmosphere in the state was conducive to hold free and fair elections and that the elections there were not a mere ritual. In villages like Maretha and Maneja in Baroda, "where right in front of its team, the villagers openly said they have asked their Muslim neighbours not to come again. In both these villages, two EC teams saw rows and rows of Muslim houses brunt. In Maretha, the villagers told Lyngdoh that they were told that only Muslims with land will be allowed to come back. Inquries revealed that barely a few have land. In Maneja, only two of the 56 families have returned.

The EC team also found that not more than 10 to 15 percent Muslims had returned to their villages in Godhra and Dahod," as reported in The Times of India, dated 24.8.2002. Narendra Modi had to arrange a 'conducted tour' for the visiting President, as it was described by a section of the press, and he himself accompanied the President everywhere in the state and the places of visit were carefully selected by the state government, taking full care that the list did not include the Shah-e-Alam camp which was already the focus of attention of the media for lack of amenities and proper management. In spite of all care, at the end of his visit the President came out with a statement calling for "a movement to eliminate totally communal and other forms of strife" and insisting that "the grievances of people poured forth to me… should merit immediate action of those concerned and action take with alacrity" as reported in The Times of India, dated August 17, 2002

So the anxiety Shri Abdul Kalam has given to the RSS outfit is no less than the anxiety which former President, Dr. K. R. Narayanan had given to the Prime Minister when the former expressed his disagreement with the latter with regard to the question of stability in his Republic Day address of 2001. Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee had maintained that there should be a fixed term for Parliament to ensure stability. Dr. Narayanan emphasized the fact that even the "founding fathers of the Constitution of India had the wisdom and foresight not to over-emphasize the importance of stability." This remark made Dr. Narayanan unpopular with the NDA government and ultimately resulted in the rejection of his re-nomination for a second term as the President of India.
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When the BJP declared its intention of fielding Shri Abdul Kalam as the NDA's candidate for the Presidential election, his first reaction, as reported in the press, was that he is a 'Ram Bhakta'. Most people in the BJP must have felt happy to hear that. His being a 'Ram Bhakta', often quoting the Gita in his talks, etc., hardly mattered to an ordinary citizen of the country. For that matter, his knowledge of and faith in the Quoran, or the Bible, or his having any faith in none of them would have made no difference to the people of the country as it is a matter of an individual's freedom of 'free profession, practice and propagation of religion' as granted to every citizen of the country under Article 25 of the Constitution of India. A man can be equally good or bad with or without some or no faith in any religion.

Based on his first remark our first impression about him was that as the President of the Republic he would play to the tune of the RSS outfit. His being a brilliant missile scientist also did not make him a good candidate for the Presidential race because we agree with those who hold the opinion that India needs statesmen who support the cause of peace and development - development which takes into consideration the cause of those tribals who are displaced by the rising dams, the toiling masses who find it difficult to support their families, the villagers who still do not get enough drinking water and water for their parched fields because of the lack of proper water resource management in spite of the fact that India has the largest network of rivers, the unemployed youth who do not get a chance to make their contribution to the welfare of the country, crores and crores of our children who are denied the right to education and those belonging to minorities and SC/STs for whom life is still a nightmare even after fifty-five years of the country attaining political freedom. In Dr. Narayanan, they all saw such a man. In comparison Shri Abdul Kalam looked a pigmy. But he fulfilled the criteria of the BJP establishment more than Dr. Narayanan. It was obvious for them to opt for him. His being a Muslim by birth also suited their plan to masquerade as secular in outlook.

This was real psuedo-secularism.

But scientists by nature are non-conformists and dissenters. They cannot be expected to follow suit for long. They are bound to question - both the established order and the rules of nature - for they cannot make new discoveries and inventions without that quality being present inside them. That Shri Abdul Kalam is a scientist of high caliber needs no evidence.
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In the latest developments, surely it is the scientist and rational being inside him, which has started showing its head. And, Presidents and Prime Ministers in this country and elsewhere are sometimes known to have outgrown their known personality. It should not surprise anybody if Shri APJ Abdul Kalam does so in future. This augurs well for the future of the country. The country expects him to prove his mettle when the situation so demands. The country also expects him to further the cause of peace, and ensure the welfare of the people of the country, particularly those belonging to the marginalized sections of our society, by defending the rule of law and the spirit of the Constitution of India for which he is duty-bound as the defender of the Constitution. How far he succeeds in doing so, only time will tell.

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