Hundreds of thousands of citizens celebrated Droupadi Murmu’s election to the highest office in the land on July 21, 2022. We rejoiced when she took the oath of office five days later.
The country did not have to wait long for her to unambiguously demonstrate that the happiness at her assuming the presidency was more than amply justified. She did this while delivering the valedictory address at the Constitution Day celebrations organised by the Supreme Court on November 26, 2022. Some of what she said is worth quoting:
“It is said that jails are getting overcrowded and there is a need to set up more jails. Are we moving towards development? What is the need to set up more jails? We need to reduce their numbers.”
“They are those who don’t know anything about their fundamental rights, fundamental duties or the preamble (of the constitution) … they are left in jail to languish for 10, 20, 30 years… in many cases the crime is as petty as having slapped another person.”
“I come from a very small village. Where I was born, people there considered three people as god — teachers, doctors and lawyers.”
“People are even willing to give away all their money and property to doctors and lawyers to help them overcome their troubles.”
“People do not get their family members freed from jails as they feel their properties and utensils at home would have to be sold” (in the process).”
“On the other hand, there are some people who do many things, even kill others, but they are roaming free.”
“It (cases of people landing up in prison after doing petty crimes) is a burden on the government… I leave this to you (referring to judges and the law minister).”
“I have left some things unsaid, which you (the judiciary and the government) should think about and understand.”
That last sentence about leaving “some things unsaid” showed her high level of sensitivity towards the delicacy of human relations and proper etiquette. Evidence of a lack of appreciation for sensitivity in mutual relations among holders of high office had started emerging even before her November 26 address.
Everyone knows that she, as the president, is also the supreme commander of the country’s armed forces.
The country’s first indigenous aircraft carrier INS Vikrant was commissioned at the Cochin Shipyard on September 2, 2022. Commissioning a ship like this is a ceremonial occasion, and in the fitness of things, it would have been appropriate for the supreme commander of the armed forces to perform this ceremonial duty.
But in the event, it was done by the prime minister.
This was followed a mere six days later, on September 8, 2022, by the unveiling of a 28-foot-tall statue of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose under the canopy near India Gate in New Delhi. This was also an event of national importance, rooted in the struggle for independence that saw millions of Indians sacrificing their lives.
Bose symbolised this immense sacrifice. It would have been appropriate for this to be done by the head of state, whose official residence is at the opposite end of the canopy on Kartavya Path (formerly called Rajpath).
But this was also done by the prime minister.
This brings us to the latest event that prompts this piece. An invitation card issued by the secretary general of the Lok Sabha invites supposed dignitaries “to the dedication to the nation of the new building of parliament by Shri Narendra Modi, Prime Minister, in the august presence of Shri Om Birla, Speaker, Lok Sabha, on Sunday, 28 May, 2023 at 1200 hours (at) Parliament House Complex, New Delhi.”
This raises several questions but let us address only two of them. The first is, does the “parliament” consist only of the Lok Sabha, or does the Rajya Sabha also figure somewhere?
The second question is more inclusive and is best posed by quoting Article 79 of the constitution, which says “there shall be a parliament for the Union which shall consist of the president and two Houses to be known respectively as the Council of States and the House of the People.”
Just for clarity, the Council of States is the Rajya Sabha and the House of the People is the Lok Sabha.
It is not necessary to say that the parliament consists of three components. And, if going by the order in which these are mentioned in the constitution, the first one is the president, the second is the Rajya Sabha and the third the Lok Sabha.
The writing in the invitation card leaves no ambiguity whatsoever that parliament is synonymous with the Lok Sabha and there is nothing more to it than that.
This seems to be a deliberate violation of the constitution of India.
Another relevant facet of this issue is that according to the official table of precedence issued by the Ministry of Home Affairs, the president is number 1, the vice-president is number 2, and the prime minister is number 3. In addition, Article 89(1) of the constitution also says that “The vice-president of India shall be ex officio chairman of the Council of States.”
The violations of the constitution thus get compounded.
Article 60 of the constitution gives the Oath or affirmation that every president is required to take. It reads, “I, A.B., do swear in the name of God/solemnly affirm that I will fully execute the office of president (or discharge the functions of the president) of India and will to the best of my ability preserve, protect and defend the constitution and the law and that I will devote myself to the service and well-being of the people of India”.
Given all of the above, and knowing that Murmu has always been steadfast in correctly performing whatever public duties she has undertaken during her long career in public service (starting as an elected councillor of the Rairangpur Nagar panchayat in Odisha in 1997), it seems obvious that she is not likely to be comfortable with these violations of constitutional provisions, what to speak of niceties.
It is also clear that she must be acutely aware that her asking the government of the day to correct these at this late stage is not going to be productive.
The only honourable option left for the president is to resign from her august office.
It is obvious that this will be seen as a drastic action, but it is the only way she can protect the constitution and also her personal dignity.
Jagdeep S. Chhokar is a concerned citizen.