K.R. NARAYANAN – AN EXEMPLARY PRESIDENT OF INDIA
Prof. N. Nirmala
This October 27, is the official birth anniversary of K.R. Narayanan, the tenth President of India. K.R.Narayanan’s term as a President illustrates the dispassionate exercise of the constitutional obligations without any fear of the then ruling government. President Narayanan introduced an important practice of explaining to the nation (through Rashtrapati Bhavan communiqués) the various decisions he took while exercising his discretionary powers. This has led to openness and transparency in the functioning of the President.
K.R. Narayanan used to be very frank and honest in giving out his opinions in the media interviews. In one instance, he said that he really got disturbed being called as India’s first Dalit President because Dalit aspect was not predominant in the minds of people who supported him during the process of elections. In another interview, he was very candid in telling that he is a ‘working President’ and not an ‘executive President’ and that he works within the four corners of the Constitution. His actions as a President did reflect whatever were his expressed views.
There were several instances wherein he showed his presidential rectitude. For instance, he sent back for reconsideration a proposal of I.K. Gujral cabinet to invoke Article 360 to get rid of the Kalyan Singh Government in Uttar Pradesh in 1997. I.K.Gujral himself in his memoirs ‘Matters of Discretion: An Autobiography’ appreciated this act by mentioning that the President firmly reminded him of the Bommai Judgment and the Sarkaria Commission recommendations.
Narayanan never hesitated to express his displeasure over the government’s stance on some issues, including the Babri Masjid-Ram Temple dispute, which he described as the greatest tragedy India faced after the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi. He also returned cabinet resolutions seeking the imposition of President’s Rule in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar in 1997 and 1998, respectively.
He used his position to correct the errant governors, even though they had the ruling establishment’s patronage. For instance, when the governor of Tamil Nadu, M.Fathima Beevi in July 2001, remained a mute speculator as a former Tamil Nadu Chief Minister, M.Karunanidhi was roughed up by the Tamil Nadu police, at the behest of an extremely vindictive Chief Minister Jayalalitha. It was President Narayanan who suggested to the Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee to demand a report from the governor. Soon the governor was recalled.
During his tenure, Narayanan dissolved the Lok Sabha twice after determining through consultations across the political spectrum, that no one was in a position to secure the confidence of the house. In these decisions, Narayanan set a new precedent concerning the appointment of a Prime minister – if no party or pre-election coalition had a majority, then a person would be appointed as Prime minister only if he could convince the President (through letters of support from allied parties) of his ability to secure the confidence of the house. In doing so, he diverged from the actions of his predecessors Presidents N. Sanjiva Reddy, R. Venkataraman, and Shankar Dayal Sharma who had followed the practice of inviting the leader of the single largest party or pre-election coalition to form the government without investigating their ability to secure the confidence of the house.
K.R. Narayanan never hesitated to give suggestions to ruling government. In 1999 when A.B.Vajpayee lost the vote of confidence by a solitary vote of confidence and when an alternative government had to be formed, he suggested the possibility of the West Bengal Chief Minister, Jyoti Basu, becoming a prime ministerial choice. His suggestion could not be materialized due to opposition from the congress leaders, led by M.L.Fotedar and Pranab Mukherjee.
KR Narayanan again made his presence felt during U.S.President Bill Clinton’s visit to India. At the Rashtrapti Bhavan banquet for the visiting American dignitary, President Narayanan horrified the ministerial team by reminding everyone of the significance of non-alignment as an instrument of Indian foreign policy. That was the time when Vajpayee government was doing all it could to appease the US Government.
Unlike the rhetoric republic day speeches of high dignitaries, President K. R. Narayanan in his golden jubilee address of the Indian Republic (26 January 2000) expressed his concern over the growing disparities, the several ways in which the country had failed to provide economic justice to the Indian people, particularly the rural and agrarian population; he also stated that discontent was breeding and frustrations erupting in violence among the deprived sections of society.
Narayanan also stated that the status of women in the country was “the greatest national drawback”. He supported the Women’s Reservation Bill and said the major gains of democracy were the “ever-growing active participation of women in the political process, not just as voters but as elected representatives”.
In his address to Parliament later that day, he praised the work of B. R. Ambedkar on the Indian constitution and cautioned against attempts to change its basic structure, concurring with Ambedkar's preference for accountability and responsibility over the stability of the government. He reiterated the same in stronger terms in his next Republic day address (2001).
KR Narayanan passed away in 2005 at the age of 85. He will be remembered for his steadfastness in the discharge of his responsibilities as a President. In the present state of unstable situation in the protection of rule of law and the independence of constitutional institutions, we have to follow KR Narayanan as one of the exemplary models.
Prof. (Dr.) N. Nirmala , Retired Professor of Law, Andhra University, Visakhapatnam.