President’s communique on PM’s appointment

Today, President Pratibha Patil followed the precedent set by her predecessor, Narayanan in October 1999, by appointing Manmohan Singh as the Prime Minister, without requesting him to prove his majority in the Lok Sabha, even though the Congress Party is in a minority. She said in her press communique:

“The President having satisfied herself, on the basis of the various letters of support received, that the Congress-led UPA alliance, which is also the largest pre-election alliance, is in a position to command majority support of the newly constituted 15th Lok Sabha and to form a stable government, appointed Dr. Manmohan Singh as the Prime Minister and requested him to indicate the members of the new Council of Ministers.”

The above communique is worded exactly as that issued by Kalam in 2004. I am thankful to Manoj Mitta for pointing out a factual error (see the comments section) in my earlier post, which I have now corrected. In the earlier post, I inadvertently credited President Pratibha Patil of having set the new precedent, whereas the credit goes to President Narayanan, who in his October 1999 decision, appointed Vajpayee as the PM after the general elections, without asking him to seek vote of confidence. The NDA had secured only 268 in Lok Sabha, and was assured of outside support by Telugu Desam Party. Kalam followed the Narayanan’s precedent in 2004.

Narayanan’s October 1999 decision was an improvement over his 1998 decision.In 1998, he was satisfied with Vajpayee’s majority strength at the time of appointment, on the basis of letters of support. But he followed the precedent set by his predecessor, R.Venkataraman in 1991, and requested Vajpayee to seek a vote of confidence in 10 days.

In the comments section, Manoj observes that it may be unfair to criticise Narayanan for asking Vajpayee to seek vote of confidence because he did so, after the AIADMK delayed letters of support in 1998. The chronology of events in 1998, however, suggests that Narayanan asked Vajpayee to seek a vote of confidence, after the AIADMK and its allies sent in their letters of support, and Chandrababu Naidu telephonically informed Narayanan about his decision to remain neutral. In his press communique, Narayanan expressed satisfaction that Vajpayee had majority, and would offer a stable Government, yet asked him to seek a confidence vote, which I think, was inexplicable. This story gives the history of confidence motions moved by PMs since 1979.

Having said that, however, President Pratibha Patil’s communique does indicate two things: one, she accepted the Manmohan Singh’s claim because the Congress-led UPA alliance was the largest pre-election alliance, and two, it is in the position to command majority support in the Lok Sabha and form a stable Government. If these two ingredients were not present in the present situation, she might probably have hesitated to accept his claim. That is, if the pre-result apprehensions of a fractured mandate were indeed true, she would have been left with no guidance, if she assumed that this was the correct approach.

In my view, President Patil’s reliance on both the factors was flawed. Manmohan Singh deserved an invitation, not because the Congress-led UPA alliance was the largest pre-election alliance, but it emerged as the largest post-election alliance. That is, if there is a choice to be made between pre-election and post-election alliances, the President ought to consider only the post-election alliance, and ignore the pre-election alliance. It is because the pre-election allies too have to submit letters of support like the post-election allies. Therefore, the distinction between them is not valid. If the letters of support indicate that Manmohan Singh will be able to offer a stable Government, and his claim is not disputed by others, then the President ought to appoint him as the Prime Minister without a request to prove his strength.

Secondly, the Prime Minister-so-appointed need not convince the President that he will be in a position to command majority support. He may not be in a position to do so, but that need not disqualify him from staking his claim, as long as his rivals do not question his claim. That is, his ability to form a stable Government does not depend on his majority support in the Lok sabha, but on whether there is any serious challenge to his ability to do so from his rivals. Her communique failed to make this clear. The criticism of President Pratibha Patil’s explanation for appointing Manmohan Singh as the PM should also apply to Kalam’s explanation which was almost identical in 2004.

Manoj Mitta also points out that the precedent of asking the Prime Minister to seek a vote of confidence was set by Sanjiva Reddy in 1979. I am aware of this. In fact, in the States, the precedent was set way back in 1952 by Rajaji, when he was appointed as the Chief Minister of the then Madras State. I did not refer to 1979 precedent because it was set after the ruling party split, and a faction led by Charan Singh with Congress’ support staked claim to form the Government. I am equally critical of Sanjiva Reddy’s action in appointing Charan Singh as the PM, let alone my criticism of his request to him to seek a confidence vote, which the PM did not fulfil, before resigning.

I relied on the 1991 precedent, because the facts and circumstances in 1991, 1998, 2004 and 2009 were similar, except that it was Narayanan who began the system of seeking letters of support from the allies after the results. Under somewhat similar circumstances in 1991, when the Lok Sabha had nearly 36 vacancies as elections were not held in J&K, Punjab and elsewhere, and the Congress had won 244 seats, (nine short of majority) President Venkataraman did not seek letters of support from the PM, Narasimha Rao, but asked him to seek a confidence vote, which under the peculiar circumstances of 1991 elections, was unnecessary, because it was clear that Rao’s claim to form the Government was not disputed by others.
[I am thankful to Manoj Mitta and Tarunabh for raising questions on factual accuracy of my earlier post, which I have suitably edited after their comments]

Join the discussion

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

  • I don’t understand how President Patil could be said to have set a precedent when she seems to have followed her predecessor’s example in similar circumstances in 2004. Satisfied with the letters of support from other parties, including those of the Left which had extended outside support, President Kalam too did not ask Manmohan Singh to prove his majority in the House.

    Second, your criticism of President Narayanan’s action in 1998 seems unfair. He was justified in asking Vajpayee to prove his majority in the Lok Sabha because he could not produce Jayalalithaa’s letter of support on time and the President had by then begun exploring the possibility of others forming a government.

    Third, Venkataraman did not start the convention of asking a newly sworn in Prime Minister to seek a vote of convention in the event of doubt. The credit goes to Sanjiva Reddy for what he did in 1979.

  • I believe that if there is more than one party/post-poll alliance which has staked a claim to form government, the President must require her choice to prove its majority in Lok Sabha. If there is only one claimant, there is no need to do so. Venkatesan, could you please throw light on how the precedents treat this factor? To me, this seems to be an obvious, simple and democratic principle.