January 27, 2009 4:11:34 pm
A copybook president,R Venkataraman skilfully guided the country through a testing period of coalition politics in its nascent days that saw three prime ministers in two years.
Known for dignity and fairplay,Ramaswamy Venkataraman,popularly known as RV,will go down in history as the President who had the distinction of working with four prime ministers,appointing three of them–V P Singh,Chandrashekhar and P V Narasimha Rao– during his five-year term.
He was chosen for the top post when late Rajiv Gandhi was the prime minister but some comments made by him a decade ago at the height of BJP’s ascendancy in national politics earned him the wrath of Congress.
Elevated from Vice Presidency,Venkataraman succeeded Zail Singh,who had given some anxious moments to Rajiv Gandhi with reported threats of dismissing the government.
The stint of Venkataraman,the country’s eighth President who held office from July 25,1987,coincided with the period when the Indian electorate threw up a fractured mandate and politically the country was yet to accept coalition governments as a means of governance.
A lawyer by profession and an intellectual,Venkataraman,a die-hard Congressman from Tamil Nadu did have a testing time as never before the tenure of an Indian President been so eventful,thorny and also challenging.
The trying times demanded RV’s decisions on a gamut of tricky constitutional and political issues– Sri Lankan crisis,Bofors Gun deal,assassination of Rajiv Gandhi,Stock Scam and the Defamation Bill.
Steeped in the Gandhi-Nehru tradition,Venkataraman had propounded the theory that the President in the Indian context was like the ’emergency light’ which automatically came on when the normal flow of power was broken and went out after normal working was restored.
Venkataraman had also made a conscious suggestion for establishing a national government during a fractured verdict.
There were repeated controversies on the role of Governors,questions relating to the split and disqualification of members in Parliament even as debate surfaced from time to time on the discretionary powers of the president– several constitutional issues that have normally eluded answers.
In fact,these thorny subjects set the stage for his biography ‘My Presidential Years’ published after he relinquished office.
Again,ever since out of office RV chose to make news a number of times suggesting drastic constitutional amendments and major changes in the country’s political chessboard.
All these – he preferred to speak up despite the fact that Venkataraman himself has been the member of constituent assembly that drafted country’s constitution.
Once at a function attended among others by the then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee,he spoke against coalition form of government and mooted the idea that the Constitution should be framed in a manner to have two-party governance. “We should find means by which splinter parties do not enter Parliament and ruin democracy,” he had said.
Another time RV suggested a national government consisting of all the parties in the Lok Sabha in order to ensure political stability. He made the first proposal in 1991 and Narasimha Rao’s closer ties with BJP stalwart Atal Bihari Vajpayee only fuelled speculations for such a possibility.
He made yet another suggestion,which later looked quite relevant. He suggested constitutional amendment to provide in the Rules of Procedure of the Lok Sabha that a motion of no confidence against the ministry should in the same motion name the Prime Minister to succeed the present incumbent if the motion carries.
President Patil condoles Venkataraman’s death
President Pratibha Patil expressed deep condolences over the demise of former President R Venkataraman.
In her message,Patil said the nation has lost a true patriot and distinguished luminary. The 98-year old former President,who was admitted to the Army Hospital (Research and Referral) on January 12 with complaints of Urosepsis (a toxic condition caused by the extravasation of urine into bodily tissues),breathed his last at 1430 hours.
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