Sweet message: Kamal Nath was the first person to tell Mukherjee that he might be made a cabinet minister

12 January, Kamal Nath came to see me, and told me of some likely inclu­sions in the cabinet. I thought there might be some truth in the informa­tion since Kamal Nath was close to Sanjay Gandhi. He said he was trying to induct Barkat [ A.B.A. Ghani Khan Choudhury] as a Cabinet Minister. He then asked me if I had had a word with Indira Gandhi or with Sanjay Gandhi about my inclusion in the cab­inet. (I had a hunch that Kamal Nath wanted to know my mind.) I apprised him in the negative, and he left, say­ing that he was going to meet Sanjay Gandhi. Sanjay Gandhi called me in the evening and asked me to meet him. When I reached Indira Gandhi’s residence, Sanjay Gandhi told me clearly that he was sorry to know that I was upset about the possibility of my non-inclusion in the government. I told him he was incorrectly informed because, frankly, I did not mull over that matter at all after my defeat and that I knew it would be quite embar­rassing to approach Indira Gandhi for my inclusion in the government. To this, Sanjay Gandhi told me, ‘It was i already decided to include you in the : government with the cabinet rank as Commerce Minister.’….

Only politicians should become president and vice president
the biennial elections to the Rajya Sabha [were] due in March 1980. One-third of the members were to retire by 2 April 1980. The assemblies were dissolved on 17 February. Consequently, the assem­blies of Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Punjab, Orissa, Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra were not in a position to fill the vacancies caused by the retirement of members from these states. While the Congress (I) did not have more than one member each from these states, the opposition parties had many. So out of the retiring members Congress (I) did not have more than 10-15 members while the opposition parties were to lose 60-70 mem­bers. The composition of the House would change radically after 2 April, and Congress (I) would not have to endure what it had to on earlier occa­sions. The President’s proclamation of dissolution of the state assemblies and imposition of President’s Rule was to be approved by the House within two months from the date of proclamation. The opposition par­ties demanded that the proclamation should be considered before 2 April. That is when they would still be in a position to vote out the proclamation and create a constitutional crisis…. continued to be the leader of the House for a full term of five years till 31 December 1984, when I was dropped from the government. I had then the second longest tenure as the leader of the Rajya Sabha, second only to Govind Ballabh Pant. Later, however, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had the longesttenure as leader of the House (Rajya Sabha) that lasted for ten years, from 2004 to 2014….

On the day of dissolution, I had gone to a nearby tourist spot in Haryana and spent the morning there, along with my family members and


friends. Dharamvir Sinha and Sheikh Hasina Wajed (daughter of Mujibur Rahman), with her family, had also joined us at the picnic. Knowing that the formal announcement would be made in the evening, I returned by late afternoon.

When Parliament reassembled on 11 March 1980, there was a furore in both the Houses of Parliament. In the Rajya Sabha, the entire opposi­tion came down heavily on the gov­ernment. They wanted discussions on the resolution moved by the gov­ernment to seek the approval of the House before 2 April.

….The Chairman, M. Hidayatullah, found it difficult to control the House. Chaos prevailed the next day as well and continued on the days that fol­lowed. The Chairman suggested that I agree to have discussions before 2 April. I told him that I would let him know on 19 March the exact date when the government would move the resolution for approval. I decided to move the resolution before 2 April as almost every member belonging to Congress (Urs) had started cross­ing the floor and swelling our ranks. Moreover, I was sure of the support of a few independents and the DMK members….

….I was confident of winning in the Rajya Sabha. But while I did not like to be bullied by the opposition, I

It [Rajya Sabha] could not take advantage of the numerical position of a party to play an obstructionist role against the wishes of the ruling party, which had come to power with the mandate of the people.

did not like the Chairman to exercise the exclusive right of determining the agenda of the House either. The Chairman had a desire to assume total power with regard to the business of the House. This role of a Presiding Officer may have been theoretically correct but was practically not pos­sible. The House is a political institu­tion, not merely a debating club. It has to transact the business of the nation initiated, and be guided by prevailing political forces. The Rajya Sabha was to play a balanced role in transacting business. It was not a secondary cham­ber but, at the same time, it could not take advantage of the numerical posi­

tion of a party to play an obstruction­ist role against the wishes of the rul­ing party, which had come to power with the mandate of the people. So, the handling of a delicate situation by maintaining a balance required polit­ical judgement, not always available with persons otherwise eminent and competent.

I am of the view that offices such as those of the President and Vice President should not be held by peo­ple other than politicians, and the role of presiding officers in legislative chambers has to be similarly viewed. In India, presiding officers are elect­ed with the support of political par-

Presiding, not deciding, officer:

In March 1980, the opposition tried to pressure M. Hidayatullah, who was vice president from 1979 to 1984, to make the government yield to a discussion on a resolution. As the situation turned chaotic, Pranab Mukherjee, who was leader of the house, asserted that government business was priority

ties and, as such, one cannot expect them to be free of political inclination altogether. Though they must strive to remain neutral, their neutrality cannot be stretched to a ridiculous extent.

When the issue was raised again on the floor of the House on 12 March, I had to point out that the leader of the House had a say in deciding the business of the House…. I pointed out that with regard to government business, under Rule 23 the leader of the House, in consultation with the Chairman of the House, should indicate the date and time to be allocated in the Business Advisory Committee. The government busi­ness should get priority over other business. With regard to the admis­sibility of the motion, the Chairman’s view was final. So I appealed to the members to keep in mind that mutu­al cooperation and understanding among the parties were necessary for the conduct of business in the House. Onl9 March, I informed the Chairman and the Business Advisory Committee of the House that the government intended to move the resolution seeking approval of the Presidential proclamations in respect of nine states on 27 March. There was no need to admit any parallel motion by private members. This was agreed to in the Business Advisory Committee represented by all the political parties and presided over by the Chairman. •