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President sounds caution with a snub to PM
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Friday, January 26, 2001

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President sounds caution with a snub to PM

NEW DELHI, JANUARY 25: President K R Narayanan donned his activist’s robes again this evening to send warning shots across the political spectrum in his Republic-Day eve address to the Nation.

Three continuing controversies dominated his speech, a fixed term for the Lok Sabha, the women’s reservation bill and the Sardar Sarovar Dam Project. And Narayanan did not mince his words as he spelt out his agenda on each one.

In what was a clear snub to the Prime Minister who proposed a fixed term for the Lok Sabha, Narayanan said that the founding fathers had given primacy to responsibility, not stability. He suggested that male prejudices were holding up the women’s bill and gave a boost to Medha Patkar and like lobbies by cautioning against ‘‘large river valley projects’’ and mining projects which he said are causing ‘‘untold misery’’ to tribal populations.

The theme of his speech was very much in line with the people’s President image that Narayanan has cultivated for himself ever since he assumed office vowing to be a ‘‘pro-active’’ Head of State. Also, although he and the Vajpayee Government may have decided to bury the hatchet, his opposition to the BJP line on various issues was evident.

He started firing the salvos almost immediately. ‘‘The founding fathers had the wisdom and foresight not to overemphasize the importance of stability and uniformity in the political system. As Dr Ambedkar explained in the Constituent Assembly, they preferred more responsibility to stability,’’ he declared after a brief customary greeting.

The putdown to Vajpayee could not have been harsher. Just last week at the golden jubilee celebrations of the Election Commission, the PM had made a strong plea for a fixed term for the Lok Sabha and the Assemblies which he said would give stability to a government. This is the stated position of the BJP-RSS and has been criticised by almost all the political parties. Today, the President added his voice to the opposition.

Narayanan also came down heavily on the indirect election demandanother RSS ideasubmitted to the Constitution Review Panel by referring to the Pakistani experiment with ‘‘guided democracy’’ through an indirect system of elections. ‘‘It would be an irony of history if we invoke today in the name of Mahatma Gandhi, the shades of the political ideas of Field Marshal Ayub Khan, the father of military rule in Pakistan,’’ he pointed out.

He was equally blunt on the delay in the passage of the women’s reservation bill. Without naming the parties opposing the Bill, he threw enough hints that male chauvinism was holding it up. In this context, he recalled a question asked to Sarojini Naidu when she submitted a petition to the British rulers for equal political rights to women. She was asked a poignant question, the President said. It was ‘‘Will Indian men support your demands?’’

He squarely put the onus for the passage of the bill on men, saying, ‘‘The responsibility of the men of Indian in this matter is clear and unavoidable.’’For the first time, Narayanan openly put himself on the side of the anti-big dam lobbies. ‘‘It is well known how the large river valley projects are uprooting the tribals and causing them untold misery....We have laws that are enlightened and which prohibit the transfer of the tribal lands to non-tribals, private bodies and corporations. The Supreme Court has upheld these provisions through its judgements. We cannot ignore the social commitments enshrined in our Constitution,’’ he asserted.

The criticism was not just against big dams which said were uprooting the tribals but also large-scale mining which he described as ‘‘threatening the livelihood and survival of many tribes’’.

He urged governments to take tribals into confidence on rehabilitation schemes to carry the tribals with them. ‘‘Let it not be said of India that this great Republic in a hurry to develop itself is devastating the green mother earth and uprooting our tribal populations,’’ he said.

Copyright © 2001 Indian Express Newspapers (Bombay) Ltd.


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