As he bid farewell to Parliament on Sunday, outgoing President Pranab Mukherjee offered some words of advice, both for the government and the Opposition. He cautioned the government against taking the “ordinance route” for legislation, saying that when Parliament enacts laws without discussion, it “breaches the trust reposed in it by the people”. Emphasising the “value of debate, discussion and dissent”, he said “disruption hurts the Opposition more than the government”.
Addressing a farewell function organised by the Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha at the Central Hall of Parliament, Mukherjee, 81, also said it was “unfortunate that the parliamentary time devoted to legislation has been declining”. He said that “with the heightened complexity of administration, legislation must be preceded by scrutiny and adequate discussion.”
“Scrutiny in committees is no substitute to open discussion on the floor of the House. When Parliament fails to discharge its law-making role or enacts laws without discussion, I feel it breaches the trust reposed in it by the people of this great country,” said Mukherjee.
“I am firm in the opinion that the ordinance route should be used only in compelling circumstances and there should be no recourse to ordinances on monetary matters. Ordinance route should not be taken on matters which are being considered or have been introduced in the House or a committee of the House. If a matter is deemed urgent, the concerned committee should be made aware of the situation and should be mandated to present its report within the stipulated time,” he said.
Recalling how Parliament would “reverberate with animated discussions and illuminative and exhaustive debates on social and financial legislations,” he said: “Listening to the stalwarts for hours and days in Parliament, sitting in the Treasury or Opposition benches, I felt one with the soul of this living institution. I understood the real value of debate, discussion and dissent. I realised how disruption hurts the Opposition more than the government as it denies them the opportunity to raise the concerns of the people.”
In the past too, Mukherjee has expressed concern over the frequent disruptions in both Houses of Parliament. Calling himself a “creation of this Parliament” which shaped his “political outlook and persona”, Mukherjee recalled that he had served as a member of Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha for 37 years.
“Dear Friends, with a sense of gratitude and a prayer in my heart, I take leave of you. I leave with a sense of fulfilment and happiness of having served the people of this great country through this institution — as their humble servant,” he said.
Speaking on his presidential term, Mukherjee said he “strived to preserve, protect and defend our Constitution, not just in word but also in spirit.” He said he had greatly benefitted from the advice and cooperation extended by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. “With passion and energy, he is driving transformational changes in the country. I will carry with me fond memories of our association and his warm and courteous behaviour,” he said.
Mukherjee, 81, who was a cabinet minister in late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s cabinet, said she had “mentored” his “career as a parliamentarian”. “Her steely determination, clarity of thought and decisive actions made her a towering personality. She never hesitated to call a spade a spade,” he said.
He recalled an incident when Indira was questioned by mediapersons in London, during a visit in November 1978, about the “gains” of Emergency after the Congress lost the elections. “Looking at the journalist squarely in the eye, in a level voice, Indira Gandhi replied, ‘In those 21 months, we comprehensively managed to alienate all sections of Indian people’. Big silence followed by loud laughter. Not one question was asked after that and the mediapersons just melted away,” said Mukherjee.
“And I also learnt an early lesson of acknowledging my mistakes and rectifying them. Self-correction in such situations is always a better option than self-justification,” he told the audience comprising Prime Minister Modi, Vice-President Hamid Ansari, Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan, Union Ministers and Opposition leaders among others.
Mukherjee also mentioned the “calming presence of Dr Manmohan Singh, mature advice of L K Advani and passionate support of Sonia Gandhi on social legislation.” He said his life in Parliament was “enriched by the wisdom of P V Narasimha Rao, oration of Atal Bihari Vajpayee, cryptic one-liners of Madhu Limaye and Dr Nath Pai, wit and humour of Piloo Modi, poetic discourses of Hiren Mukherjee, razor sharp repartee of Indrajit Gupta.”
In her speech, Mahajan said, “This is a solemn occasion for each one of us to express our profound respect to President Mukherjee.” Ansari, who is also set to retire on August 10, lauded Mukherjee for his “unshakable belief in the idea of India” and said he often appealed to the people to re-dedicate themselves to the democratic values of the country. “He has spoken with conviction about India’s pluralism and diversity being her greatest strength, and the need to constantly nurture and protect them,” he said. Mukherjee’s successor, Ram Nath Kovind, is scheduled to take oath on Tuesday.