Wednesday, May 31, 2006

At long last, Kalam gets going...

President APJ Abdul Kalam has returned the office-of-profit bill to the Parliament for reconsideration. Kalam seems to finally have woken up to his duties as the President of India.

The office-of-profit issue: Jaya Bachchan
The Constitution of India bars the Members of Parliament from holding "offices-of-profit". The usefulness of this law is debatable in itself, but let's not go into that. I think this law had by and large been ignored, until very recently. Many MPs were in various organizations and while they may not have been drawing a salary, these posts would legally be classed as offices-of-profit. They would of course be enjoying perks of these positions.
The matter came into the forefront when Jaya Bachchan of the Samajwadi Party was reported to the Election Commission by someone in the Congress for being the Chairperson of the Uttar Pradesh Film Development Corporation, a post that as a reputed actress, she is fully qualified to hold, but the position of course also includes cabinet rank perks. After its investigations, the Election Commission recommended her disqualification as a member of the Rajya Sabha and after consulting legal experts, the President accepted the recommendation on March 17. Jaya had challenged it in the Supreme Court, but her petition was dismissed.

Quoting from an article on the net, under Article 103 of the Constitution, ``if any question arises as to whether a Member of either House of Parliament has become subject to any of the disqualifications mentioned in Article 102, the question shall be referred for the decision of the President and his decision shall be final. Before giving any decision on any such question, the President shall obtain the opinion of the Election Commission and shall act according to such opinion."

The office-of-profit issue: "some animals are more equal than others"
Comically enough, it turned out that many MPs held offices of profit, including the Speaker of Lok Sabha, Somnath Chatterjee, and Sonia Gandhi, the most powerful woman (person?) of India. Sonia, the president of the Congress Party who had in a political masterstroke declined to be the Prime Minister was a member of the Lok Sabha as also the chairperson of the National Advisory Council, the Rajiv Gandhi Foundation, Indira Gandhi Memorial Trust and Jawahar Bhavan Trust; and was a member of a horde of other organizations. She resigned from all these and her Lok Sabha seat on and around March 23. This was immediately hailed by the Congress sycophants as yet another example of her sacrifices. She promptly stood for by-elections from her constituency and was re-elected to the Lok Sabha within seven weeks of her resignation.

Backdoor bill
Sonia Gandhi "sacrifices", but what about the Speaker, and the other important MPs from the Congress Party and its allies? A bill exempting 46 posts that these members held (and even those held by some prominent MPs in the opposition) from the purview of the office of profit was introduced into the Parliament on May 15 and was passed on May 16.

Yesterday, this bill was returned to the Parliament for reconsideration by President Kalam.

The President of India
The President of India has to act on the advice of the Prime Minister and his Cabinet on almost every occasion. The exception is of course inviting a party to form the government after elections, and this is especially relevant when no party gets a clear majority in the Parliament. Similarly, when a government loses confidence of the Parliament, he can decide whether to dissolve the Lok Sabha and call for elections, or to invite another party to form the government. The President can also return a bill or ordinance to the Parliament or the goverment, respectively, for reconsideration, but is constitutionally bound to sign it if it is sent back to him. Hence returning such a document has more of a symbolic value, but it creates news in the country and this is a way the President can register his dissent in an important issue. The President can also demand an explanation from the Prime Minister issues, and again this makes news. The late former President KR Narayanan has been one of the few Presidents in recent times (certainly since I have been following politics) who had used these nominal powers to the maximum. The Vajpayee government had recommended the dismissal of a State government on two occasions, and on both occasions President Narayanan had returned these recommendations for reconsideration causing considerable public debate, and consequently the government had not dared to send them back to him. Narayanan also crossed swords with the government on the Gujarat riots (as he later claimed after retirement) and a perhaps unwarranted banquet speech during Bill Clinton's visit. In my opinion KR Narayanan set new standards of responsibility for the office of the President of India.

President Kalam
Most parties wanted a second term for President Narayanan, but for obvious reasons the Vajpayee government didn't. It looked like there would be a confrontation for the election of the 11th President of India, when Vajpayee came up with his trump card-- APJ Abdul Kalam's name was proposed.
Kalam was associated with ISRO and DRDO (later as DRDO Director), and also served as the Principal Scientific Advisor to the Indian government. He has been associated with the development of the Satellite Launch Vehicle. It was during his directorship that DRDO's Agni and Prithvi missiles were developed. And it was during his tenure as Principal Scientific Advisor, that the Pokhran tests were carried out. He has also received the Padma Bhushan (1981), Padma Vibhushan (1990) and the highest Indian civilian award, the Bharat Ratna (1997). He was already a popular figure, and with his autobiography, Wings of Fire (1999), he became even more popular. Thus, apart from a token candidate from the communist parties, Kalam was elected unopposed as the President of India in 2002.
President Kalam continues to enjoy widespread popularity in the country especially because of his insistence on interacting with children and younger people and motivating them on all available opportunities.

Failure of President Kalam
However praiseworthy his striving to nurture the minds of young citizens may be, he has seemed to be failing in his responsiblities as the President of India. Last year, the Bihar electoral results did not give a majority to Railway Minister Lalu Yadav's Janata Dal, and there seemed to be an impasse with no political party or coalition having majority. Buta Singh as the Governer of Bihar recommended dissolution of the unconvened Assembly and imposition of President's Rule until fresh elections were held. President Kalam was in Russia at that time (almost exactly a year ago), and apparently was woken up in the middle of the night and asked to sign the order at the recommendation of the Cabinet. Unlike his predecessor whose actions I have discussed above, he did not even ask to wait until morning, much less seek legal advice. The Supreme Court later ruled that this dissolution had been illegal. There is an excellent article on this by my favourite columnist, MJ Akbar (unfortunately this article is not archived in Asian Age where MJ Akbar originally published this).

Concluding Remarks: the Office-of-Profit Bill and President Kalam
The issue of the office of profit is really trivial, and shows nothing more than the hypocrisy of the political class. Why shouldn't certain MPs hold offices especially the ones they have expertise in, like Jaya Bachchan in Film Development, Dr. Kasturirangan as advisor to the ISRO, or Sonia Gandhi as the chairperson of the National Advisory Council? The way it was handled shows the petty vindictiveness of Sonia towards the Bachchans. But the issue in itself certainly isn't worth the ruckus it has created. Nevertheless, by returning the office of profit bill for reconsideration, President Kalam has shown that he has finally become aware of the responsibilities of the office of the President of India.

Tivia on "Dr." Kalam
When Kalam's candidature was announced, one of his former colleagues had anonymously remarked that he was "a scientist among politicians, and a politician among scientists". On different occasions recently, I had quoted this remark to two extremely senior Indian scientists (Physics and Engineering, respectively) who would be in the know about Kalam, and they mentioned that this comment would be very fitting. One of them in fact expressed doubts about his actual scientific contribution (not his managerial contribution though) in the high profile projects he has been associated with. This person also expressed resentment that although Kalam doesn't hold a PhD, he makes absolutely no effort to correct all and sundry calling him "Dr. Kalam" (Kalam has indeed been conferred numerous honorary doctorates, but these cannot be used and he certainly should know that). I had heard this (that he doesn't have a PhD) before in the context that after he retired as the Principal Scientific Advisor to the Indian government, he wanted a professorship at the IISc, but they could (did?) not give it to him because he did not have a PhD... also reported in
this article. If it was only this reason, I don't think it was the right thing to do, but having heard the opinions of the scientists I mentioned above, there might well be proper reasons pertaining to actual scientific competence. I would add however, that Kalam and "Balki" are supposedly quite close and "Balki" certainly is a very respected and comptent scientist at IISc.

1 comment:

Prash said...

@ the comments you made in my blog,

It all depends on circumstances and perspectives - I agree.

I shall try to tranlate the comments I had from the French speakers.

As you say, it's in the hands of the parents ...they should not push their children to do things which they don't want to do. Too many demands and expectations in the Indian family as there is a pressure from the society. It's always, what would others think, if my son or daughter did this...never it is about is my son or daughter is happy doing something...

You didn't spout any nonsense. It is full of sense.

Thanks for visiting my blog You are always welcome. I shall tike a time to read yours and wouldn't miss to say what I think about your posts.