Friday, January 28, 2000,
Chandigarh, India


M A I N   N E W S

President, PM differ on Constitution
Vajpayee for amendments, Narayanan disagrees
Tribune News Service

NEW DELHI, Jan 27 — Varying perceptions of the President, Mr K.R. Narayanan, and the Prime Minister, Mr Atal Behari Vajpayee, on the need to review the Constitution came to the fore at a special function organised in the Central Hall of Parliament to mark the golden jubilee of Republic Day.

The President, defending the soundness of the Constitution, was emphatic that the recent experience of instability in government was not sufficient reason to discard the parliamentary system in favour of presidential or any other system.

Acknowledging the right of the government in bringing about necessary changes in the political and economic arena, the President advised that “we should ensure that the basic philosophy behind the Constitution and fundamental socio-economic soul of the Constitution remain sacrosanct”.

“We should not throw out the baby with the bathwater and like the tragic character Othello in Shakespeare lament later”. President Narayanan said in an apparent warning to the government not to tinker with the Constitution.

The Prime Minister, however, felt that five decades after the adoption of the Constitution, India now faced a new situation where the need for stability, both at the Centre and in states, was being felt acutely.

“The people are impatient for faster socio-economic development. The country is also faced with a pressing challenge to quickly remove regional and social imbalances by reorienting the development process — to benefit the poorest and the weakest. That is the purpose for which a commission to review the Constitution is proposed to be set up”, the Prime Minister explained.

Giving an assurance that the basic structure and the core ideals of the Constitution would remain “inviolate”, Mr Vajpayee pointed out that the Constitution had served the needs of both India’s diversity and her innate unity.

“But even in the mightiest fort one has to repair the parapet from time to time, one has to clean the moat and check the banisters. The same is true about our Constitution”.

The Prime Minister said there was one great test for the Constitution, for any system of governance and that was: “It must deliver and it must be durable”.

The Prime Minister quoted Dr B. R. Ambedkar where he said “I feel, however, good a Constitution may be, it is sure to turn out bad because those who are called to work it, happen to be a bad lot. However bad a Constitution may be, it may turn out to be good if those who are called to work it, happen to be a good lot”.

The Prime Minister said “there is widespread apprehension today that the institutions are not working as the Constitution intends, that the conduct of those of us who run them is not what the proper functioning of those institutions requires.”

“Let this be our resolve today: We shall leave institutions — above all, our Parliament and our state legislatures — for the coming generation in a condition vastly better than the condition in which we found them; In discharging our duties in them, our conduct will be such as would have done the founding fathers proud”, the Prime Minister said.

The President, who delivered the concluding speech, said at the core of the Constitution lay the essence of the Gandhian dream in the form of social justice and social democracy and it was after deep thought and considerable debate that the founding fathers adopted the philosophy and the form of government for India.

He, too, quoted Dr Ambedkar on the Constitution where he said: “It is workable, it is flexible and it is strong enough to hold the country together both during peace and war. Indeed, if I may say so, if things go wrong under the new Constitution, the reason will not be that we had a bad Constitution. What we will have to say is that man is vile”.

“Today when there is so much talk about revising the Constitution, we have to consider whether it is the Constitution that has failed or whether it is we who have failed the Constitution”, Mr Narayanan said.

Describing the parliamentary system of democracy as the best suited to India’s needs, the President pointed out that the country’s founding fathers adopted this system because they preferred responsibility to stability which could slip into authoritarian exercise of power.

Another factor to be borne in mind, the President said, was the immensity of India, the perplexing variety and diversity of the country, the very size of its population and the complexity of its social and developmental problems.

“In such a predicament described by one writer, as one of a `million mutinies’, there must be a body-politic, a vent for discontent and frustration in order to forestall and prevent major explosions in society”, Mr Narayanan said.

“The parliamentary system provides this vent more than a system which prefers stability to responsibility and accountability”, the President said in defence of the existing system.

Warning that in a rigid system of government there was the danger of major explosions in society taking place, the President said the possibility and the facility of a change in government was itself a factor in the stability of a political system in the long term.

Quoting Dr Rajendra Prasad to say that shortcomings in the people entrusted with running the system could not be obviated by constitutional changes or provisions, the President felt amendment to the Constitution was a different matter.

“The founding fathers deliberately made the amendment process of the Constitution easy so that shortcomings or lacunae in the Constitution could be rectified by Parliament without too much difficulty”, the President pointed out.

The President suggested that the government could consider other changes that could be brought about, like changes in the electoral law or the functioning of political parties.

Speaking after the release of a special commemorative stamp depicting cartoonist Ranga’s drawing of Mahatma Gandhi, Vice-President Krishan Kant referred to the various landmarks in the country’s fight against the British rule. Quoting from a poem by Nazir Banarasi calling Mahatma Gandhi “the old gardener”, Mr Kant said “let us take the pledge today that we will never allow this garland of flowers, strung together by Gandhiji, to be broken.”

Lok Sabha Speaker G.M.C. Balayogi said the nation could not afford to be complacent and had to face serious challenges to achieve the kind of socio-economic progress that the founding fathers of the Constitution had envisioned.

At the function that lasted just over an hour, a special commemorative plaque, an album of ‘Jana Gana Mana’, and a Hindi calligraphy of the Constitution in Hindi by Vasant Krishan Vaidya decorated by Nandlal Bose were released by Mr Vajpayee and Mr Narayanan.



PMO explains

NEW DELHI, Jan 27 (UNI) — The Centre favoured a review of the Constitution since it wanted the anti-defection law to be made more effective, sources in the Prime Minister’s office said here today.

The sources defending the government move to set up a commission to review the Constitution, said: “It is a known fact that the anti-defection law enacted in the late eightees has failed to serve the purpose and the proposed commission will look into it and suggest remedial measures to tone up the Act”.

“The NDA is committed to a fixed tenure for the Lok Sabha considering the fact the House had to be dissolved at least twice within two years. The commission will also have a look at this proposal,” the sources added.


Two faces of same coin
From Shubhabrata Bhattacharya
Tribune News Service

NEW DELHI, Jan 27 — The spirit of democratic India was aptly reflected in the Central Hall of Parliament today when the Head of State and the Head of Government presented before the nation their differing perspectives on the need for reviewing the Constitution.

Did the President and the Prime Minister speak in different voices? Though Mr Atal Behari Vajpayee did not elaborate on the changes he was envisaging, one paragraph in his speech, if interpreted by the classical method of constitutional law analysis, hints that the basic structure of the Constitution will not be tinkered with — as laid down by the Keshavananda Bharati judgement of the Supreme Court.

Mr Vajpayee said, “Even in the mightiest fort one has to repair the parapet from time to time. One has to clean the moat and check the banisters”. Neither the parapet nor the moat or the banisters represent the basic structure of the fort. They constitute the periphery. One hopes this will be borne in mind while interpreting the Prime Minister’s message today.

From time to time there has been a debate among the jurists for reviewing the Keshavananda Bharati doctrine (laid down by the Supreme Court by a majority of 7:6 in a full Bench of 13 in 1973, over-ruling the 1967 6:3 verdict in the Golak Nath case). In effect, the Keshavananda Bharati doctrine covers almost 85 per cent of the Constitution. The Law Minister, Mr Ram Jethmalani, has hinted recently at a seminar held at Kochi that the proposed Constitutional Reforms Committee may like to deal with the remaining 10 to 15 per cent of the constitutional provisions.

President K.R. Narayanan has issued a timely warning. In view of the fact that the genesis of the present debate is being traced to the election manifesto of the National Democratic Alliance which said, “We shall appoint a commission to review the Constitution of India, not only in the lights of the experiences and developments since 1996 but indeed of the entire post-Independence period, and to make suitable amendments”, the President has aptly warned that the instability noticed since 1996 need not be the yardstick for reform.

Quoting Dr B.R. Ambedkar, who told the Constituent Assembly that the drafting committee had chosen the parliamentary system of governance “because they preferred more responsibility to stability which could slip into authoritarian exercise of power”. President Narayanan has pointed out that the “immensity of India” and its “perplexing variety” and “diversity” coupled with the size of its population and the “complexity” of its social and developmental problems merits a parliamentary system as envisaged in our Constitution.

Thus, now a debate has ensued. The NDA government is committed, as per its manifesto, to set up a committee to review the Constitution. The President has issued a timely guideline-oriented warning. The intention of the government and the caution of the President may not be at variance, though the way the two viewpoints were presented today may give that impression.

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