Rajinder Puri
Does the President of India, the only public official in our Constitution under oath to preserve and protect all laws and Constitution, have any responsibility? If so, does he have any accountability? The Constitution of course empowers Parliament to impeach the President if he transgresses due process and law. But what accountability does the President&’s office undergo in day to day functioning? It seems none at all.
Is that why President Pranab Mukherjee, despite his formidable political experience, remains a mute and helpless spectator as governance and the rule of law and procedure continue to crumble in India? Well, now the time may have come when events might compel the President to act and discharge his responsibilities as undertaken in his oath of office.
The dirty war being fought openly between the Intelligence Bureau (IB) and the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), each agency unashamedly aligned to one wing of the polity or the other, is now attempting to smear even the President of India. This brazen infighting between the two premier agencies entrusted with maintaining national security makes a mockery of Indian democracy and governance. Can President Mukherjee despite this remain indifferent? Consider the strange sequence of events.
Former Director General of Gujarat Police, R B Sreekumar, who never hid his displeasure with Chief Minister Narendra Modi&’s style of functioning, wrote a letter to the President dated 15 July, 2013. In the letter, he urged the President to exercise his authority in order to prevent government misuse and pressure to impede investigations into the Ishrat Jahan fake encounter case.
He wrote: “Any action to anoint IB officials, accused of collaboration in the fake encounters, with the oil of innocence, violating the procedure established by law, would result in the IB degenerating into India&’s Inter Services Intelligence (ISI).”
Immediately thereafter, the IB leaked a document to Times Now, alleging that the President&’s secretariat had breached national security by imparting sensitive security information to foreign spies over telephone. The channel&’s anchor waved the document in his hand for viewers to see. According to the IB allegation, foreign spies extracted valuable and sensitive information that imperiled national security from Rashtrapati Bhawan officials, while keeping their true identities hidden. The spies succeeded because the officials allegedly failed to observe standard procedure to ensure that information was imparted to legitimate sources. When the media approached Rashtrapati Bhawan, it was advised to contact the Ministry of Home Affairs. Did that indicate Rashtrapati Bhawan&’s irrelevance?
There is a background to this development. It may be recalled that in 2011, when Mr Mukherjee was the Finance Minister, he had complained to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh that he suspected his finance ministry offices were bugged; therefore, he had sought a secret inquiry into the alleged incidents. He had said that substance was recovered from the office that could be used to implant electronic listening devices. It was the office of his close and trusted longtime aide Mrs Omita Paul that was suspected to be bugged. Nothing came of that inquiry and little more was heard of the controversy. But for the first time, the deep trust deficit existing within the government had surfaced.
After being sworn in as President, Mr Mukherjee immediately appointed Mrs Omita Paul as his Secretary on a contractual basis with the full pay and rank of a Secretary. Her tenure was made co-terminus with that of the President himself. If the IB has information against the President&’s Secretariat for which Mrs Paul would bear responsibility, the agency should take appropriate action. If the IB stumbled upon its information against the President&’s office by a miraculous coincidence on the very day after Mr Sreekumar sought the President&’s intervention in the Ishrat Jahan probe, it could be ascribed to wondrous fate. What cannot be glossed over is the fact that the IB leaked the document to Times Now in the pursuit of its dirty war against the CBI. This involved an unforgivable breach of protocol which neither the Prime Minister nor the President can ignore. So, what follow-up action might the public expect?
Going by past performance, it is unlikely that the Prime Minister will take any action. If that happens, can the President remain indifferent? The President&’s inaction in this case would not only endanger his own office, but could deliver a knockout blow to our tottering democracy. There is frenetic activity underway related to the next general election. That election might become meaningless. Our political system and governance are so badly damaged as conceivably to render the outcome of the polls irrelevant. Systemic reform is desperately needed. And the first step to initiate desired reform can best come from Rashtrapati Bhawan. If Rashtrapati Bhawan officials have indeed displayed dereliction of duty to imperil national security, stern and swift action must of course be taken. But regardless of the veracity or otherwise of the IB allegation, equally stern and swift action is required against those responsible for leaking private official information to the media in the pursuit of a dirty intra-agency war.
So what are you going to do, Mr President?
The writer is a veteran journalist and cartoonist. He blogs at www.rajinderpuri.wordpress.com