President not a mere ceremonial figure: Sorabjee

Underlining the importance to erase the misconception that the President of India was a mere ceremonial figure, former AG Soli Sorabjee said that it was imperative that he exercises independent judgement at times of crisis.

New Delhi: Underlining the importance to
erase the general misconception that the President of India
was a mere ceremonial figure, former Attorney General Soli
Sorabjee on Thursday said that it was imperative that the First
Citizen exercises independent judgement at times of crisis.
He was speaking at a panel discussion here on `The Indian
Presidency and the Constitution` organised to celebrate the
birth centenary of former President R Venkataraman.

Describing Venkataraman as an exceptional person and
President, Sorabjee said the general rule is that the
President acts on the advice of the Cabinet ministers, "but
there are exceptional situations and one such situation where
he need not act on ministerial advice is on the choice of a
Prime Minister at a time when no party has secured absolute
majority".

The legal luminary said another situation where the
President can exercise his own independent judgement is on the
dissolution of the House.

"These are some of the predicaments a President faces and
Venkataram was one of those who faced them on more than one
occasion", Sorabjee said.
He said during his tenure, Venkataraman had to deal with
four Prime Ministers -- Rajiv Gandhi, VP Singh, Chandrashekhar
and Narasimha Rao -- all within 19 months.

Citing an example where the late President`s wisdom was
put to test, he said in November 1989 after the General
Elections results were declared Congress had got 194 seats,
Janata Dal and allies 145, BJP 82, CPI(M) had 25.

"Cong and allies total had 205 seats. The problem which
the President faced was whether he should in the first
instance invite Rajiv Gandhi to form government as his party
single handedly holds the maximum seats in Lok Sabha or in
view of the fact that the ruling party has suffered a huge
defeat, so, invite the opposition to form the govt", Sorabjee
said.

He said some experts opined that the opposition should
have been invited to form a government but others argued
otherwise.

"At this point Venkataraman presented before Congress
leader K Krunakaran of the three options available to the
party: stake claim to form government, decline the
responsibility to form government and unilaterally declare
that in view of the election results it would not staking
claim to form government", he said.

Sorabjee said that at this point Congress veteran
Narsimha Rao was for the third option and the next day Rajiv
Gandhi handed over his resignation and the President invited
V P singh.

"He asked Singh to take a vote of confidence in the House
within 30 days. Some questioned the propriety of this
condition but Venkataraman went by conventions in this
regard," Sorabjee said.

PTI

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