Sunday, August 28, 2016


[After a 12-year long presidential tenure, saint as he had remained throughout his political life, Dr Rajendra Prasad returned to his old cottage at Sadaqat Ashram in Patna. Of those 12 years, the last two years of his presidency, in particular, were filled with an agonizing realization of not having done enough in spite of his best efforts in the face of political expediency. This realization had further deepened into a sense of despair after his return to Patna where he spent the last few months of his life. The despair was darker because both Congress  and its post-independence governments had sadly neglected or even rejected the Gandhian ideals which had sustained the entire freedom movement. As he reflected in Asmanjas -  the last book he wrote which was published  almost two decades after his death in 1963 -  an inherent dichotomy in the Congress party ( he called it ‘Asmanjas’ or ‘Predicament’)   had led to a betrayal of all the Gandhian ideals spelt out in his ‘constructive programme’ for the attainment of ‘true freedom’ for the poor and oppressed masses of India. In these extracts from the concluding part of my biography of Dr Rajendra Prasad, he expresses his deep anguish over the political developments both in the Congress party and its governments since independence.]

The Last Phase
                                               Is there any way out?
                                                                                                                                      -  Diary:26 July, 1960

Back home from his long and exhausting Soviet sojourn, Dr Prasad had many existent concerns to reflect upon; the most compelling of them being his impending retirement from a twelve-year long span of presidency. The thought had been a persistent one throughout his second term as President but as the moment of reckoning approached nearer it brought mixed feelings of stress and relief: stress due to the ungenerous speculations in some circles about his alleged desire to seek a further tenure, and relief on his own part for a final deliverance from his onerous responsibilities. Almost exactly a year before, he had written in his diary: “I have myself been wondering for some months, if not more than a year, whether I should not be free now to live a life according to my liking, without the responsibilities of office.” A little later he reverted to the same theme.

I have found, in my own experience, that on many occasions I have felt compelled to accept responsibilities I never wanted to shoulder. These were also opportunities of honour; I wanted neither the honour nor the responsibility but I had to take both or, at least, one if not both. This was the case with Presidentship of the Congress on more occasions than one. Such has been also the case with the Presidentship which I have accepted with due humility but without any keen desire for it. And I have had to continue when I was very near giving it up – and if I were free and not bound by circumstances and considerations of wider import than my own personal pique or sense of right or wrong, I should have preferred to be free.

Sarvepalli Gopal, however, had a contrary view of the situation. His observations in this matter in his Radhakrishnan: A Biography need to be quoted at some length to mark the various insinuations woven into them.

Nehru caught on the wrong foot in the election for the presidentship in 1957, was now more wary and began,even two years ahead, to clear the way for Radhakrishnan’s succession. In the summer of 1960, when President Prasad went for two weeks on an official visit to the Soviet Union, the prime minister, citing the possible need for emergency measures  in case of a general strike as the reason, had Radhakrishnan formally sworn in to discharge the duties of the president. But Prasad had clearly not given up hopes of a third term even after twelve years in office; and he was encouraged in this by conservative members of the Congress party, Relations between the president and the prime minister took a steep dive, Prasad…raised in public the question of the president’s powers and wondered whether he was regarded as a constitutional figurehead. Nehru did not react openly to this; but he obtained the authority of the cabinet to inform the president that a third term was out of the question, Then, when a bill was introduced in the Rajya Sabha by a member of the opposition limiting the tenure of the presidentship to two terms, Nehru secured its withdrawal by stating that such a limitation was best achieved by a ‘clear and strict’ convention.

The dubious observations begin with a clear hint of Nehru’s manoueverings to prevent Dr Praasd’s election to the second presidency, with an embedded suggestion of Radhakrishnan’s acquiescence in it. They also clearly suggest that Dr Prasad’s ‘official visit to the Soviet Union’ was planned in such a way that Nehru could meanwhile get Radhakrishnan constitutionally sworn in as President to sign an emergency bill forestalling the impending general strike – an unkind insinuation involving both Nehru and Radhakrishnan, and, perhaps, Dr Prasad, too. The third totally unsubstantiated aspersion (in view of Dr Prasad’s honest assertions given above) is that ‘Prasad had clearly not given up hopes of a third term’. Also, the suggestion that Dr prasad had ‘raised in public the question of the president’s powers’ presumably to secure a third term is not corroborated by the text of the speech that Dr Prasad had delivered while laying the foundation of the Indian Law Institute in Delhi on 28 November, 1960. And lastly, there is also a suggestion that Nehru had first contrived to get a ‘two-term limitation’ bill introduced in the Rajya Sabha by an opposition member and then to show a good gesture towards the President had ‘secured its withdrawal’. All these insinuations are unworthy examples of deliberate obfuscation and stretching the limits of speculation too far.

Towards the end of his diaries published in the form of letters by Gyanvati Darbar, we find Dr Prasad brooding on these issues as reflected in the following excerpts.

22 Nov.’60: …I never earnestly wanted or waited for or anticipated my election. It came in due course without any wish on my part, not to speak of any effort....26 Nov.’60: It may be quite an interesting question to ask me – How does it feel to think of the time when I shall not be the President?.... As I have never felt anything like attraction for or attachment to the office, it will not be a wrench in any case…. 4 Dec.’60: [When ‘I am out of office’] I feel I might enjoy a quiet life free from the pomp and obligation of office and be free to live as I wish to…. 15 Feb.’61: In the Hindu of 14 February,…there is a note…that contains insinuations and statements about me regarding the candidature for a third term….[Also] there has been some informal discussion among members of the Cabinet that the President should be asked not to stand for a third term and so on…. What I apprehend is that there is some idea or individual working behind the scene which or who is responsible for these publications…. My first reaction was one of indignation so much so that I felt like resigning now and thus save the Cabinet members – whoever they may be – the trouble of “persuading” me when my term expires some 15 months hence not to stand. But I have felt that I should not act in a hurry…[ Italics in text]

Sarvepalli Gopal’s insinuation of Dr Prasad’s raising ‘in public the question of president’s powers’ in his Law Institute speech as his last ditch effort to secure a third term also is preposterously inapposite. As explained earlier in this narrative, right from the beginning Dr Prasad, himself a great constitutional authority, had his reservations about the nebulous equation written into the Indian constitution between a sovereign republic’s head of state democratically elected on a national mandate and the hereditarily enthroned British monarch. He had sent a long note on this issue to the Prime Minister in the very beginning which had  remained unsatisfactorily settled eversince. During his two-term tenure occasions had arisen when some of the relevant points of this issue had posed problems and had to be resolved by mutual concurrence between him and the Prime Minister. One recent instance was the imposition of President’s rule in Kerala in June, 1959.

Dr Prasad’s concern on this issue had been an abiding one in view of the formulation of a healthy equilibrium between the elected executive and the presidency in keeping with the unique federal character of the Indian constitution. As he wrote in his diary on 23 July, 1959: “The question has not arisen in relation to any particular action which I have taken or omitted to take in which the ministers’ advice has either not been taken or disregarded. It is being discussed as a purely constitutional question…the interest [in the issue] is purely theoretical and constitutional and not personal.”  When he decided to put this important constitutional issue for ‘study and investigation’ before the Law Institute faculty,he said: “I did not think I was doing anything improper or unconstitutional in making a suggestion for the scientific study of our constitution…I am unconcerned with the result of the enquiry or investigation, if it is held. My only interest is in getting the matter studied at the proper level without any political inhibition and with reference to the constitution as it stands written out. I doubt if anyone can object to the clarification of what is not altogether clear to an ordinary citizen.” 

The Law Institute speech focuses mainly on two points : the question of exact parity or anomaly between the statuses of a sovereign republic’s elected president and the hereditarily enthroned British monarch, on the one hand, and the healthy evolution of new conventions in the governance of a newly independent democratic republic with a unique federal constitution, on the other. The two important points are stated clearly in the following excerpt:

The British Constitution is a unitary Constitution in which the Parliament is supreme having no other authority sharing its power of legislation except such as may be delegated. Our Constitution is a federal Constitution in which the powers and functions of the Union Parliament and the State Legislatures are clearly defined and the one has no power or right to encroach upon the rights and powers reserved to the other….In this connection a wider question of much import is how far we are entitled to invoke and incorporate into our written Constitution by interpretation the conventions of the British Constitution which is an unwritten Constitution….We have got used to relying on precedents of England to such an extent that it seems almost sacrilegious to have a different interpretation even if our conditions and circumstances might seem to require a different interpretation.

These were important constitutional issues which had remained unaddressed all along and Dr Prasad wanted them to be settled sooner than later. Dr Prasad’s deep concern with the ambiguities he was keen to have disambiguated expectedly led to complictions in later presidencies as seen, for instance, earlier in the case of President Zail Singh.  Even during the first two years of Radhakrishanan’s presidency, preceding Nehru’s death in 1964, it was clear that the latter found the former less malleable and more tough than Dr Prasad – one instance being the issue of dismissal of Krishna Menon as Defence Minister after the Chinese debacle.

During these last two years of his presidency, Dr Prasad had other deeper concerns on several issues of national and international import: the growing all-round corruption in national politics and public affairs and the general widespread disillusionment with the ruling Congress governments; the overall slow-down in economic and industrial development; the problems connected with the reorganization of states on linguistic basis; the liberation of Goa; the China-Tibet conflict and the Chinese border issues, the badly tangled Kashmir problem, besides many more, like the tribal unrest across the country, the question of Hindi as rashtrabhasha, and so forth. Dr Prasad’s diary entries of the late fifties are full of reflections on these disturbing concerns. In one of these entries (22 Jan. 1959) he even mentions a book he had been writing ‘Tab or Ab which I started some time ago, but which I have not been able to continue’ . Unfortunately, like much of his other writings, this mss also is not traceable. Another book which he called Asmanjas (‘Predicament’), published much later in 2009, however, contains essays on ‘Gandhian thought’, ‘Non-violence’, ‘Towards  Freedom’, ‘Khadi and Village Industries’, and so forth. There is some possibility of the former title having been changed in the later published book where in its Introduction Ganga Sharan Singh, his close associate and a Praja Socialist Party MP from Bihar, says that the book was written by Dr Prasad during the last years of his presidency, and as advised by the former, he gave the mss to Singh only after his retirement and return from Hyderabad in late 1962. The mss lay with Singh and was finallys given by him to Dr Prasad’s son, Mrityunjay Prasad, for publication. The essays in the book, however, are thematically quite similar to his earlier book The Legacy of Gandhi in English. The title ‘Predicament’ itself is clearly suggestive of the dilemmas and despair that beclouded his mind during these last years of his second presidency. He was saddened beyond measure by the all-round degeneration and disorder in public life which he thought had only been brought about by the government’s deviation from and  near total rejection of the Gandhian principles……

The Legacy
The Gandhian legacy, however, had been on the decline eversince Gandhi had been thrown out as the unwanted fly in the ointment of the Congress preference for power over true freedom. And in hindsight it appears that Gandhi’s physical disappearance had almost become a historical necessity even for the power-lusting Congress. The Gandhian legacy as a political ideal had been fast fading  during the last years of thr Mahatma’s life. And that was the real predicament that a handful of the true Gandhian loyalists like Dr Rajendra Prasad faced during the post-independence decades. Almost prophetically, Gandhi had written while still alive:

Let Gandhism be destroyed if it stands for error…If I were to know after my death, that what I stood for had degenerated into sectarianism, I should be deeply pained….Let no one say that he is a follower of Gandhi. It is enough that I should be my own follower. I know what an inadequate follower I am of myself, for I cannot live up to the convictions I stand for.

These words of total despair came from the depth of Gandhi’s ‘still small voice’ within. Gandhi knew that he had been deserted by most of his followers as far as his ideals of Truth and Ahimsa were concerned. “Today I find myself all alone”, he wrote. “[Even the Sardar and Jawaharlal] think that my reading of the situation [regarding partition] is wrong….They wonder if I have not deteriorated with age.”  He had named Patel and Nehru as opposing his judgment against partition, but he knew that Rajendra Prasad, Maulana Azad and a few others in the CWC had never been in favour of that disastrous decision, even though they could not effectively block  the two main pillars of power in the interim government. And Gandhi by now had a clear premonition of his impending death.
I do feel that I have come nearer to God and Truth. It has cost me quite a few of my old friends but I do not regret it. To me it is a sign of my having come nearer to God. That is why I can write and speak frankly to everyone. I have successfully practised the eleven vows undertaken by me. This is the culmination of my striving for the last sixty years.
This basic dichotomy in the ideology of the Congress – the conflict between a total commitment to the ideals of Truth and Ahimsa not only as a means to securing independence from imperial subjugation, but also as a long-term policy of  complete social transformation and economic freedom on the one hand, and using the Gandhian principles merely as a political strategy to obtain a hurried transfer of power on the other – this dichotomy had remained a tormenting vexation for Dr Prasad eversince his dedicated adherence to Gandhi’s ‘constructive programme’ from the early ’20s. But it became a more intense preoccupation with Dr Prasad during his long presidential tenure when the Congress governments both at the Centre and in the states began openly discarding or tactically ignoring Gandhi’s programmes of social and economic reform. He often expressed his thoughts of  disquiet and perturbation on this core concern in his diaries and correspondence, but he also kept recording his ideas on this vital issue in a book which he had been writing in Hindi during his presidential tenure which he had tentatively called Tab or Ab . As R.L. Handa, his Press Secretary, writes in his memoir:

Happenings of the last six months of  his stay in Rashtrapati Bhawan all but made Rajendra Prasad an introvert….About the future of the country he could not help thinking, but most of the thoughts he preferred to keep to himself ….. Inadequate response from Nehru [to his advice given on various occasions] made him feel that there was nothing he could now do about the national issues uppermost in his own mind… What pinched him wa s[…] the feeling that there was not much chance of the downward trend in national affairs being checked. It was probably in this state of contretemps and helplessness that he decided to devote his time after retirement to writing his memoirs, to which he gave the significant title, Years of Agony… [And he] made up his mind  to do the proposed memoirs during his stay [after retirement] in Hyderabad.

Apparently, Dr Prasad had only given a vague idea to those close to him about the book he had been writing all along in Hindi for which he had not then decided a suitable title. The book had remained close to his heart and he had probably shown it only to Ganga Sharan Singh, a Praja Socialist party MP from Bihar and a  a close confidante, as his presidential tenure was coming to its end. The latter, himself an accomplished Hindi writer, may also have suggested the Hindi title Asmanjas for the book. In any case, he advised Dr Prasad to publish the book only after relinquishing his presidential position as the book contained a critique of some of the government policies which could raise unseemly controversies. Dr Prasad finally agreed to the suggestion and handed over the typed manuscript of the book, finally titled Asmanjas (or ‘Predicament’),  to Ganga Sharan Singh around October, 1962, five months after his return to Patna. Due to reasons stated in Singh’s preface, the book was ultimately published in 1984, almost two decades after the death of both Dr Prasad and Nehru.

Interestingly, the book has an undated foreword by Nehru which pays rich tributes to Dr Prasad’s memory, obliterating much of the past acrimony as befits a post-demise eulogy.

With Rajendra Babu I have had a forty-five year long association. At least for forty years we worked together. Our association began during the freedom struggle, and subsequently he served as President with myself as his Prime Minister. In course of this long span of time I could see him from close and learn many things from him. A plethora of scenes pass before my eyes today. Many of our great leaders have slowly passed away, but fortunately  the chain remained unbroken, and Rajendra Babu proved a great link in its continuation. He reached the top position in life from a very humble beginning, but his simplicity remained unchanged throughout. He remained the perfect Indian. His nobility of character always remained wedded to his simplicity and humility. He set an example that led to India’s glory and sublimity. Indeed, he became a true icon of the essential Indian ethos and yet remained open to modernism. Today’s India will forever remain India without imitating others.

His twelve-year tenure as President will be deemed as a worthy epoch in India’s history. Those twelve years will always be seen as his era. All that we did during this period, we did under his leadership, and did it with a sense of pride. Wherever we erred, he would show us the right path. All living nations produce great men when the hour of need arises. Rajendra Babu set his imprint on this era so that we could hold our heads high. It led to the consolidation of India’s freedom. While there have been many upheavels in other countries, particularly in our neighbouring countries, India has all along walked with strength. And with strength we faced the Chinese aggression without ever faltering. It was our great Gandhian spirit which gave us not only independence and unity but a tradition of values that strengthened our roots in their depth. And Rajendra Babu proved a strong link in that chain of Gandhian values.

We can never forget that face, those eyes, because truth was always mirrored in them. His great erudition, the simplicity of his heart, and his love for his country, have created for him a secure niche in every Indian’s heart.
There could be no more emotional and magnanimous tribute paid by one great son of India to another, his elder companion in a four-decade long historic struggle for freedom. Personally, Nehru always showed great respect towards Dr Prasad notwithstanding all his prejudices and proclivities. And Dr Prasad also remained very affectionate and deferential towards Nehru whom everyone considered to be the brightest among all the top Congress leaders. Their differences, whenever a collision became unavoidable, were more on policy matters than due to any personal antagonism, and were always resolved by an amicable mutual consultation or correspondence.

Coming towards the end of Dr Prasad’s political career Asmanjas reads like a summation of his political philosophy  or the exegetical issues related to it. The Hindi word ‘Asmanjas’ only signified a ‘predicament’. It had a clear connotation of disquietude and uneasiness caused by an insoluble inner conflict. This shadow of a ‘predicament’- a visible dichotomy - hung over the Congress ideology eversince Gandhi came to define it in spiritual terms. Ironically enough, Gandhi’s call for a struggle for India’s freedom guided by these spiritual principles of Truth and Ahimsa had been understood and acted upon by the Indian masses more devoutly than many of the leaders in the Congress party. This was, perhaps, only because these moral principles were based on a firm faith in the innate goodness of man. Gandhi had chosen to pursue this hitherto uncharted path with the sincerity and dedication of a scientist experimenting with the application of old spiritual principles to new political realities in India’s quest for freedom.. His experiments had shown positive results in South Africa, and the circumstances being near identical they had proved successful to a large extent even in India.
The predicament had for long been latent in the Congress ideology during the freedom struggle under Gandhi’s leadership. A dichotomy had remained ingrained in the struggle right from the beginning with the introduction by Gandhi of the spiritual principles of Truth and Ahimsa as the guiding ideology of the freedom movement. Dr Prasad in Asmanjas tries to analyse and disentangle the reasons behind this fundamental dichotomy which had afflicted the Congress party both during the freedom struggle and, perhaps, even more after the coming of independence. This dichotomy or inner conflict manifested itself in the policy initiatives both of the Congress party and its governments at the Centre as well as in the states, particularly during Dr Prasad’s twelve-year long presidency. Dr Prasad’s disquisition in the book, however, is directed more towards the inner conflicts that always plagued the Congress party than any particular policy issue of the government.

Asmanjas attempts to analyse this fundamental dichotomy in the ideology of the Congress party by looking at its various aspects. Central to this dichotomy was the divergence over the adoption of the spiritual principles of Truth and Ahimsa as the quintessential principles of the Congress ideology not only for the attainment of freedom from foreign rule but for the transformation of the Indian polity where it could achieve, what Gandhi called, ‘true freedom’.

Gandhi had drawn up an itemized ‘Constructive programme’ (CP) as early as the ’20s which he considered to be the roadmap for attaining full freedom both in the short and the long run and which he kept on supplementing and modifying as the freedom struggle advanced through the ’30s and ’40s. As a prerequisite of this programme based completely on Truth and Ahimsa he had also formulated a set of ‘eleven vows’ to be taken by those who were to serve as workers in the CP. These were extremely rigorous vows for practising moral virtues like sexual self-disciplene (Brahmacharya), physical labour (Bread-labour), austere living (Asangraha, Asteya and Aswad), fearlessness (Bhayavarjana), use of locally made goods (Swadeshi), equality of all religions (Sarvadharma Sambhava) and removal of untouchability (Asprishyata), all fully sustained with Truth and Ahimsa. Only the practitioners of these spiritual vows were eligible to participate in the CP and all leaders were expected to lead the masses by such exemplary conduct. As Gandhi had proclaimed: ‘Those who believe in the simple truths I have laid down can propagate them only by living them’.
The predicament, however, manifested itself precisely at this point. As Dr Prasad says in the foreword of his book: “Most followers emphasize only some of these ideas not following the ‘constructive programme’ in its totality which is firmly based on the central Gandhian principle of Truth and Ahimsa. Also, different interpretations have been given of that central principle or the other points in the ‘constructive programme’ by different followers. Even those considering themselves close followers of Gandhiji  are going in different directions or even squabbling amongst themselves. They are not even tolerant towards others in the same group.”  [Asm/19-22 & ff] In the remaining twelve small chapters, Dr Prasad discusses the different aspects of the predicament pertaining to the several Gandhian principles based on Truth and Ahimsa, his concept of ‘true freedom’, materialism versus individual freedom, war and peace vis-à-vis non-violence, an economy based on village industries, a new indigenous education system and the need for a national language. In each of these areas he finds the same predicament casting its dark shadow, the same dichotomy impairing the satisfactory implementation of the CP. The ideas defining the thematic focus of the book in its first half can best be summarized in a short translated gist.

We are in a terrible predicament. We realize the importance of the Gandhian principles as spelt out in the ‘constructive programme’, but seeing the difficulty in following them in their totality we either reject them outright or follow them only half-heartedly. We would generally follow his principles selectively as it suited our individual preferences and ignore many of them with disinterest. Had his full programme been accepted by us on a national level and, indeed, also on an international level, the whole world would have benefitted from it. India, then, would have presented a new ideal to the whole world for the creation of a new society and a new kind of politics.

 Gandhiji’s ideas were original and revolutionary.He would test all his ideas on the touchstone of the central principle of Truth and Ahimsa. But few people in Congress subscribe fully to his ideas. They are always in a state of indecision. Some in Congress try to follow some of the principles, some others are rather tolerant, though not being enthusiastic about them, and some others are quite opposed to them. All these three kinds are there also in all the state governments that they have formed. But none of these governments either at the Centre or in the states are pursuing these principles in full. In fact, we find ourselves caught between the horns of a dilemma. On the one hand we show full reverence towards the Gandhian principles while, on the other,we abide by them only to the extent we prefer. It thus becomes a Janus-headed approach with one face towards Gandhiji and the other away from him looking towards the West.

Truth and Ahimsa form the core of Gandhian thought and are descended directly from our scriptures forming an innate part of our culture and heritage. Besides, they are inseparable as the two faces of a coin. Ahimsa is only the other face of Truth. And Truth was for Gandhi the same as God. Both were to be practised not only in words and action but also in thought. He considered them not only as religious concepts but equally applicable in the realm of politics. However, many in the Congress accepted them only as a  means to the political goal of freedom from the British rule, without imbibing their true spiritual intent. And this internal dichotomy persisted in Congress all along. It became all the more pronounced when the question arose of supporting the British during the Second World War with all its catastrophic violence. It brought to the fore the rift in the Congress over adherence to Ahimsa as the core principle in the fight for freedom. For most Congressmen Truth and Ahimsa were merely tactical principles of convenience, rather than an article of faith. This schism in the Congress policy during the war years damaged its political credibility and caused a loss of face when the Congress ministries in the provinces resigned in 1939. For the British government, however, these reluctant resignations  only exposed the rift in the Congress over its total commitment to Truth and Ahimsa as an unalterable article of faith.

The War ended in 1945, but the ideal of non-violence was already in shreds with the a new phase of virulent communal violence as a bloody prelude to the partition of the country. And after the independence, the Gandhian ideals of Truth and Ahimsa have been virtually put on hold as inconsistent with state policy which was inherited with all its colonial legacies. In fact, the new Congress government has passed many acts of legislation conforming to the colonial state policy of violent repression. The beacon light of  Ahimsa  shown by Gandhiji to the world has thus lost its flame. We are now in a dilemma whether or not we should follow the principle of Non-violence. We always plead for Non-violence as a remedy for the ills of a violence-ravaged world, but in our own national and international policies we are following the same policies of violence as the other nations, This is the greatest predicament we are facing now.

In the second half of the book, Dr Prasad examines the various aspects of Gandhiji’s ‘constructive programme’ and the extent to which each of these aspects – khadi and village industries, the new rural-based education system, adult education, rural sanitation and hygiene, removal of untouchability and uplift of the tribal communities, and so forth – suffered in the post-independence scenario due to the skewed policies of the Congress party and its governments both at the Centre and in the states. Gandhi’s ideas were firmly rooted in the millions of people living in the villages and were meant essentially to address their social and moral uplift. True freedom for Gandhi meant the effacement of  poverty, illiteracy, disease, social discriminations and communal hostilities that had plagued Indian polity for ages, and his ‘constructive programme’ was designed to achieve these objectives also as a prerequisite for creating popular awareness for freedom from the foreign rule.He wanted a radical transformation of the entire national polity which would have freedom from the foreign yoke as a natural consequence. As Dr Prasad has observed, if this path of radical social transformation had been followed with due commitment, and true faith in the principles of Truth and Ahimsa, ‘not only we in India but the whole world would have benefitted’. It would have brought about for the world as a whole ‘the creation of a new society and a new kind of politics’.
Dr Prasad’s anguish over the indifference and disregard shown towards Gandhiji’s moral principles by the post-independence Congress party and its governments forms the central theme of this final statement of his views in this book Asmanjas. It is a kind of prognosis of the malaise that had developed in the national polity due to this fundamental dichotomy in the ideology of the Congress party and the policies of its governments and the general moral regression that it was likely to cause in future. The phenomenal incidence of corruption and immorality that have inevitably crept into national politics due to this Hamletesque dilemma – which course to follow: the one of morality and peace as shown by the Mahatma or the one that goes against Gandhi’s principles towards endless conflict and violence – a dilemma that is the gravest predicament that faces us as well as the whole world today.

(C) Dr BSM Murty : Text & all coloured photos 

Coloured photos are of Sadaqat Ashram (1) The Cottage (2)The Chabutara (3)The Bedroom taken by author.

No part of this extract can be used in any way so as to infringe pre-publication rights.
More extracts can be read on this Blog from the book GEM OF A NATON

2011: May 28 : The Indigo Story; July 8: The Butcher of Amritsar; July 17: A Planter’s Murder
2014: Sep 14 : The Seven Martyrs; Dec 3 : Early childhood in Jeeradei
2015: Jun 30: Congress in disarray; Aug 27: Clash of Convictions; Oct 8: Presidential Itineraries;             
             Dec 20: Congress at crossroads
2016:  Mar 15: Election for Second Term; May 13: Visit to Soviet Union; Aug 25: Limits of Presidency

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Work in Progress:10

A Political biography of
Dr Rajendra Prasad

By Dr BSM Murty

[The following extract from Part VI, Chap 4 of the book discusses the controversies that had arisen regarding Dr Rajendra Prasad’s concern over the definition of presidential powers vis-à-vis the government as laid down in the newly adopted Constitution of India and his reluctance regarding the hasty passage of the Hindu Code Bill which was later, after the first General Election in 1952, passed in phases during 1954-56.]

Limits of presidency
It was rather appropriate that Dr Prasad who had presided all along over the making of the Indian constitution should at the very outset of his interim presidency try earnestly to delineate the limits and conventions within which the constitutional head of a newly emergent vast democratic country like India, recently emancipated from the centuries-old shackles of imperial colonialism, might usefully function. The Indian constitution was an amalgam of principles derived mainly from the Government of India Act 1935, buttressed liberally with maxims and precepts derived from constitutions of UK, USA,Australia, etc. But its cornerstone was the asymmetrical equation between the British monarch as the head of the state in a parliamentary system of democracy, though on a hereditary principle, and the Indian President, also as head of the state, yet always elected by a complex system of electoral college of people’s pre-elected representatives, a position absolutely non-hereditary and tenured for a maximum of two consecutive terms. The presidential hierarchy in the Indian constitution also subsumed a parallel structure of governors for the states (or ‘units’ as they were conceived) with similar functions and obligations, yet in this respect of its federal ramifications, the Indian President’s position differed radically from that of either the British monarch or the USA President.

It was basically a tenuous structure with a delicately balanced interrelationship between the president as the de jure executive head on the one hand and the prime minister, on the other, serving as the de facto chief executive at the head of the council of ministers ‘responsible to parliament’. The president’s role as envisaged in the constitution was of a constitutional head who, in Ambedkar’s words, ‘occupies the same position as the King under the English Constitution’. And even though all executive power is vested in the president by the constitution, the president is only ‘the head of the State’ who ‘represents the nation but does not rule the nation’. “India’s parliamentary form of government”, writes Bipin Chandra, “bears the closest resemblance to the British system, with the difference of course that India has no hereditary monarchy but an elected President as its symbolic head of state.”  It was surely an incongruous concept pitting an elected ‘head of state’   (elected on an electoral college scheme) against a hereditary British monarch, sharing power with a prime minister, the de facto helmsman.

But in the Indian constitution it was at best an anomalous relationship. In an ideal situation where the president and the prime minister could be in concord on a given issue, it could work very satisfactorily. But as Bipin Chandra has shown,in several instances with later presidents – Neelam Sanjiv Reddy, Venkataraman, K.R. Narayanan and Zail Singh – if the president preferred using independent discretion the political fallout could be very problematic. For instance, in a later scenario, there was an ugly face-off between Zail Singh and Rajiv Gandhi when, after the Bofors scandal in 1987, the President almost came to the point of ‘dismissing Rajiv Gandhi as prime minister’. He had earlier written to the Prime Minister ‘that he was not being kept informed of important developments and this was preventing him from performing his constitutional duty of ensuring that the government was being run in accordance with the letter and spirit of the constitution’. Such situations had arisen even in Dr Prasad’s interim presidency, but rather than force a precipitation, he would always opt for a conciliatory course in national interest

The powers and functions of the President vis-à-vis the Prime Minister had always lain in a grey area in the constitution. Even in his closing speech after the adoption of the Constitution, on 26 November, 1949, Dr Prasad had appositely raised this issue. At one point in that long speech he said:
We considered whether we should adopt the American model or the British model where we have a hereditary king who is the fountain of all honour and power, but who does not actually enjoy any power. All the power rests in the Legislature to which the Ministers are responsible. We have had to reconcile the position of an elected President with an elected Legislature and in doing so, we have adopted more or less the position of the British Monarch for the President. This may or may not be satisfactory. [Emphasis added]

Again, soon after being sworn in as interim President, on 21 March, 1950, Dr Prasad sent a detailed note outlining specific points regarding the ‘presidential powers’ issue to Prime Minister Nehru. It was quite befitting for him, now that he was occupying that highest position, to have a clear idea about his rights and obligations. The note highlighted five main areas of ambiguity about presidential action. One: ‘Does the Constitution contemplate any situation in which the President has to act independently of the advice of his ministers?’  Two: ‘What is the defined sphere within which the President can take independent action regarding appointments, disposition, etc in case of the Armed Forces?’ Three: Similarly, ‘what would be the limits of presidential action on similar issues in the case of the Judiciary, the Election Commission’, and so on. Four: As presidential assent is required both in the case of ‘Bills passed by Parliament’ as well as ‘Bills passed by a State Legislature’, but in the latter case, ‘if the party in power in the State is different from that in the Union Parliament’ and the Union Ministry advises withholding assent to a State Bill, would the President still not be able to exercise independent discretion in the matter? And Five: ‘can the President directly contact any of the Secretaries either for information or advice in any particular matter…for understanding the implications of any particular policy or decision?’

Nehru, according to Walter Crocker, had himself  ‘lured Prasad into writing’ a ‘memorandum on the President’s powers’ which he had promptly referred to M.C. Setalvad, the Attorney General of India, for an expert opinion. Dr Prasad’s queries were answered, more than six months later on 6 October, by Setalvad in an extensive note covering several pages dealing with all the specifics point by point. The core question, however, remained the equation made between a hereditary British monarch and an elected President, the former representing a traditional conservative feudal hereditary arrangement that was apparently anachronistic and antagonistic to a truly democratic principle, whereas the latter inevitably represented a vibrant, popular, necessarily radical and federal democratic system newly obtained after decades-long struggle against such a monarchical and imperial dispensation. Indeed, that is what had led to the making of the great federal constitution the Americans had given themselves after gaining independence from Britain, again due to the vastness and diversity of their sprawling nation. The high point of the American constitution was its total obliteration of the monarchical concept. But the Indian constitution, in some way, amounted to adopting an archaic, outmoded system even after defying and negating it all along during the entire freedom movement. Also, as against a patently unitary system of government in Britain, the Indian constitution was overtly designed as a federal system and the role of the President had to be defined in accordance with its basic federal principle in keeping with India’s geo-political diversity.

Setalvad’s legal rejoinder merely underlined the ambiguities in the constitutional provisions vis-à-vis the President instead of clarifying them. He asserted that ‘the position of the President in our Constitution would appear to be very similar to that of the King in the British Constitution’ with the difference that in the latter case ‘the present position of the King has been reached as a result of a long evolutionary process’. The snag lay in the fact that the Indian Constitution   ‘seem[s] to have embodied in the functions conferred on the President the result achieved in the United Kingdom historically and through the growth of conventions’[emphases added]. The rejoinder did, of course, envisage a two-way consultative process between the President and the Ministry on contentious issues of state policy, but the final decision to prevail would be of the Ministry as representing the people’s direct mandate. There were a number of tangled points that needed to be resolved. For instance: What was the justification in equating two intrinsically contrary concepts – a monarchical system working on heredity and historical conventions and a newly evolving fully sovereign republican polity working on the principle of elective democracy with its own conventions still to be established? Again, if the Prime Minster represented the majority of a political party or a political alliance in the parliament, the President, too, represented the people of the country as a whole, comprising of different political parties ruling in some of the states, through an electoral college proportional representation system. A mechanism should have been envisaged which could always bring to an equilibrium or resolution policy actions between these two highest positions of power. Instead, and for no good reason, the President’s position was made undefined and nebulous on the pretext of borrowing the inapposite British monarchical concept to a newly evolving democratic system that had all along been fundamentally opposed to it. As Dr Prasad had aptly remarked:  “This may or not be satisfactory”.

Commenting on Setalvad’s rejoinder, K.M. Munshi, a distinguished member of the Constitution Drafting Committee, had observed:

…it appears to me that Rajendra Prasad’s contentions were not adequately answered…the position of the President of India and that of the monarch of England cannot be analogous. Even supposing they were similar, the reserve powers of the British monarch have to be conceded to the President of India. And if some of these reserve powers are conferred on the President by the Constitution, then it becomes difficult to see how he becomes incapable of exercising such powers except on the advice of his ministers.

Dr Prasad’s urgent concern for getting the powers and functions of the President adequately defined was quite justified in view of the momentous policy decisions that were to be taken during his interim presidency when the foundations for a new federal democratic republic were to be firmly laid down. Especially because, unlike the long-existing historical conventions of the British monarchy, new conventions had to be put in place for a democratic polity soon to be elected on full adult suffrage basis, and President Prasad was keen to play a constructive role in the establishment of healthy and far-sighted conventions. Unfortunately, what was sincerely intended by Dr Prasad to be in the best interest of sound governance and salutary political conduct was misconstrued by Nehru as an unwelcome encroachment into his power zone. The conflict intensified particularly in 1951, during the passage of the controversial Hindu Code Bill, which had been hanging fire for more than a decade.

Nehru, with Ambedkar in tow, seemed to be in some hurry to get the Bill passed even though public opinion as well as the majority view in the parliament was opposed to its far-reaching myriad social ramifications. Nehru was rather disingenuous when he wrote in his fortnightly missive on 4 October, 1951, to the then provincial CMs that ‘a considerable majority in Parliament desired the passage of this Bill with minor alterations’, adding that the ‘majority was helpless before a determined minority’. This may have been intended as a loading of the dice to cajole political consensus in the provincial legislatures. Though the position, on the contrary, was just the reverse; large numbers of MPs and public figures had been frequently meeting Dr Prasad to convey the popular opposition to the passage of the Bill. This, of course, had brought the issue of the President’s assent to an unpopular Bill into critical focus. The vital question, never finally resolved throughout the decade-long presidential tenure of Dr Prasad, remained whether the President had independence of discretion in the constitutional exercise of his power over an issue of such extreme social significance at that point of time. Besides, Dr Prasad had a very valid tactical reasoning behind his reluctance against the haste: the first countrywide general elections on adult suffrage were just about to happen. In his wisdom he only wanted to go slow about the Bill; just as in the case of the power transfer, Gandhi, Azad and, perhaps, he himself, had preferred a less hurried approach to obviate partition.

President Prasad’s earnestness in getting the presidential powers cogently defined was being easily misconstrued by his opponents, including Nehru, as his keenness to acquire more power than he was entitled to constitutionally. Though Prasad only wanted the nebulous presidential power zone to be clearly outlined for future for controversy-free and effective functioning of a head of the state who was envisaged as presiding over the destiny of a federal democratic polity. His anxiety was to lay down for his successors salutary conventions that would smoothen rather than roughen the presidential course of action. In a letter to Patel in August, 1950, he expressed his anxiety in these words:

I have, since coming to this office, been trying to feel my way as to how things are to develop. This is the first appointment and is a sort of interim appointment under the Constitution. Many things will develop in course of time by convention. A reference to the Constitution itself shows that there are at least 121 Articles in it, apart from the Schedules, in which the President is mentioned as having to do something or other. There is no doubt that in most of these matters he has to act according to the advice of the Ministers concerned, but I believe the Constitution contemplates that it is open to him to advise Ministers not on matters of detail but generally on matters of policy,…

Hindu Code Bill
The President did believe that on most issues the preferred option was open-minded discussion and reconciliation, but there could be issues, obviously, like the Hindu Code Bill, where deeper and more complex matters with serious public concerns and constitutional ramifications were involved. For instance, in a note written around this time, he expressed his exasperation over the Prime Minister’s statement in the Parliament that the passing of the Hindu Code Bill had been made ‘a matter of confidence’ by the Government. According to Prasad, the decision was ‘most unwise…unjust and undemocratic’. Elaborating his point of view, he wrote:

It cannot be denied that the Hindu Code Bill is a most controversial measure dealing with the personal law of the Hindus and seeks to introduce fundamental changes into it. The present assembly as elected to frame the Constitution of the country and although it has been functioning also as the Central Legislature for doing essential things, it has no authority from the electorate to undertake such fundamental and controversial legislation. The proposals contained in the Bill have never been placed before the electorate.

There was even a faint hint in his note that the government seemed to be in haste to pass the Bill taking advantage of its recently earned popularity, even though it did not have a proper mandate for such revolutionary legislation at this stage.  Also according to the President, perhaps, there might be an apprehension that after the general elections the Bill ‘is not likely to be passed by Parliament which will come into existence under the Constitution on the basis of adult franchise’. Hence, he felt that it would be ‘immoral and undemocratic to foist this measure on the Hindu community’. The larger issue of a possible presidential intervention had, therefore, to be seen in this perspective. Another possible sinister angle to the controversy was putting the uniform civil code on the back-burner and rushing through the Hindu Code Bill to appease the minority communities in the run-up to the first general elections. As the issue was of great social import likely to adversely impact the vast Hindu community in the coming general elections, the President was quite sagacious in suggesting moderation in content and speed in passing such a far-reaching revolutionary Bill.

The government was already in the election mode with Sukumar Sen appointed as the first Chief Election Commissioner in March, 1950. In April, Parliament had passed the Representation of the People Act. Work on preparation of electoral rolls was already under completion. It was the first ever adult suffrage election in India, concurrently for the Parliament and provincial legislatures, with around 176 million voters expected to cast their votes into 2 million ballot boxes at 224,000 polling booths scattered across the country! And the elections were scheduled to be held within a few months’ time. It was a gigantic electoral exercise with a newly functioning administrative machinery furiously grappling with the stupendous challenge. At such a critical time, with a full-fledged Parliament in the offing, the hurry to push through a momentous Bill of such sensitivity was singularly inappropriate in the President’s opinion.

Prasad’s opposition to the Bill was based purely on constitutional points. The Bill was sought to be rushed through a legislature that had not been elected on full adult suffrage as envisaged in the newly drawn Constitution. It was still the same Constituent Assembly transitionally functioning as a parliament that could at best be regarded as the launching pad for the implementation of the Constitution it had generated during the three years of its existence. Major legislation under the new Constitution should only have been enacted after a legitimate parliament had been constituted in accordance with it. Secondly, since the Bill was likely to revolutionize the fundamental structure of the majority Hindu society, it could, in all fairness, seek a full mandate in a general election that was almost in process. Thirdly, the Bill itself had several legal implications that needed to be disentangled before its hurried enactment. Even as a lawyer and constitutional expert, Dr Prasad, was in a far better position to explicate the vital implications of the Bill than all those who wanted to force it through the transitional legislature.The exchange of letters that took place between Nehru and Prasad in this context in the latter half of November, 1951, with the elections almost knocking at the door, had a stridency that was rather edgy.

In a letter written to Nehru on 15 November, with an attached detailed note on the wide-ranging implications of the Bill about to be passed by the Parliament, Prasad spelt out 10 points. In them he reiterated his view that the existing Parliament lacked full mandate for such revolutionary legislation; that such ‘hurried legislation’ was also highly discriminatory against the majority Hindu community;that its stipulations on marriage, monogamy and divorce would ‘force revolutionary changes in the existing structure of Hindu society’ inevitably creating ‘conflicts and dissensions resulting in litigation’; that it would cause a sudden rupture in the age-old joint family system that may have humongous implications, and so forth. According to Prasad, who understood the full intricacies of Hindu law better than anyone else, it was based on traditional social customs that change themselves in their own time. ‘Abrogation of custom [he said] as a source of law for Hindus will have the effect of petrifying that law’ which will create interminable legal tangles if brought about in haste. At the end of that long note, he said:

I propose to watch the progress of the measures in Parliament from day to day and if I feel at at any stage that I should inform the Parliament also of my viewpoint, I may send to it a message when I consider it appropriate to do so. My right to examine it on its merit when it is passed by Parliament before giving assent to it is there. But if I find that any action of mine at a later stage is likely to cause embarrassment to the Government, I may take such appropriate action as I may feel called upon to avoid such embarrassment consistently with the dictates of my own conscience.

In speaking about ‘the dictates of his conscience’ he was unambiguously referring to his high moral judgment which, as head of the state and the custodian of the people’s mandate, he had a right to exercise in the best interest of society and the nation. It must be asserted, in all fairness to him, that Prasad, more than any other of his political colleagues, had never had his personal political stakes where people’s or national interest was involved.

A peeved Nehru sent his reply the same day and an exchange of letters followed through the week. In his reply Nehru tried to counter most of the points raised in Prasad’s letter even though agreeing that the ‘legal and constitutional questions you raise are important’. He referred, in particular, to Prasad’s observations in the last paragraph wherein he had mentioned that ‘it may be necessary for [him] to inform Parliament of [his] viewpoint’ and asserted his‘right to examine the Bill on its merits when it is passed by Parliament before giving [his] assent to it’. Such a step, argued Nehru,‘might involve a conflict between the President on the one hand and the Government and Parliament on the other’. At the same time, Nehru continued,

They would inevitably raise the question of the President’s authority and powers to challenge the decision of Government and of Parliament…in our view, the President has no power or authority to go against the will of Parliament in regard to a Bill that has been well considered by it and passed. The whole conception of constitutional government is against any exercise by the President of any such authority.

It was obvious that the Hindu Code Bill had thus become a test case for re-defining the ‘President’s authority and powers’, and Nehru had a cut and dried approach to this vital constitutional issue.
Three days later, Prasad sent a long letter again to Nehru which needs to be quoted at some length to fully understand Prasad’s logical exposition of the whole issue. He wrote:

It seems you are of opinion that I have no right to inform Parliament of my viewpoint on a Bill pending before it or to examine it on its merits when it is passed by Parliament before giving my assent to it and my insistence might involve a conflict between the President on the one hand and the Government and the Parliament on the other. No such conflict need arise if the Government and Parliament recognize well-understood and well-known democratic limitations on their power also, particularly having regard to the fact that the present Parliament has been constituted for a specific purpose and has been authorized to function as a care-taker body pending the formation of the Parliament envisaged in the Constitution as a result of general elections on the basis of adult franchise. So far as our Constitution is concerned, it confers in unequivocal words on the President the right to address and send messages to Parliament, whether with respect to a Bill then pending in Parliament or otherwise. Similarly it also confers on him in unequivocal terms the right to declare either that he assents to a Bill or that he withholds assent therefrom when it has been passed by Parliament and presented to him. He is also authorized to return the Bill to Parliament, if it is not a Money Bill, with a message requesting reconsideration of the Bill or of any specified provisions thereof….

Occasions [might arise] requiring the President to take an independent line of his own cannot be altogether and entirely ruled out. This is so because the President, unlike the King of England, holds his office by virtue of election for a limited period of time and is liable to impeachment if he acts in violation of the Constitution and because our Constitution is a Federal Constitution strictly limiting the powers and functions of the Union and the States, and conflict regarding legislation reserved for the consideration of the President between the State Government and Legislature on the one hand and the Union Ministry on the other cannot be altogether ruled out….

I am, therefore, of the view that the Constitution does not admit of a wholesale importation of all practices and conventions of the British Constitution. I may point out, however, that the same conventions of the British Constitution which limit the King’s powers also limit the powers of the Government and the Parliament to sponsor and force such legislation without consulting the electorate, and that is so even when, unlike our Parliament, the British Parliament is a wholly soverign legislature and has no kind of limitations on its powers, and no conflict can arise between the Parliament and any other authority. It would not be right to import and insist on some conventions and ignore others….
I have not asked for anything more than that the electorate, which is the master both of the Parliament and the President,  should be given a chance to express itself on the merits of the Bill. I do not see that, in asking for that, I am doing anything against the Constitution or against well-known democratic principles. Indeed, it might be said that it is the Government and Parliament who are acting in this matter against democratic principles….

I may assure you that I am the last person to create any conflict and will be prepared to go to the furthest extent to avoid it, if I can do it consistently with my conscience and my views about the Constitution….

Ordinarily, in case of such conflict of views, when the electorate has not been consulted and there is differnce between the Government and the Prsident regarding the views of the electorate on the point at issue, a reference to the electorate is the democratic solution, and for that purpose even dissolution of Parliament may be rsorted to. In the present case the question of dissolution does not arise, as general elections are going to be held and completed withi the next four months or so all over the country and have already commenced in one State at least.

To this well-argued long letter Nehru sent his reply three days later conceding the President’s right ‘to address and send messages to Parliament’, as also his prerogative to ‘either give or withhold his assent’, or even to ‘return the Bill for reconsideration to Parliament’, but with the caveat that the President could do all this, ‘under our Constitution’, only ‘with the aid and advice of the Ministers’. And he further added: “Any action in these fields by the President without the concurrence of his Ministers would be foreign to the entire scheme of our Constitution and indeed render it unworkable”.  Reminding Prasad of the opinion solicited earlier from the constitutional experts on the issue of Presidential powers, Nehru wrote: “Sometime ago in another context this question was considered by some of usand we were advised that this was the correct view”.

Apparently, Nehru’s logic was flawed partly in view of Prasad’s contention that ‘the present Parliament [had] been constituted for a specific purpose’ functioning ‘as a care-taker body’ till ‘the formation of the Parliament envisaged in the Constitution’after the general elections ‘on the basis of adult franchise’. Also, Nehru’s argument was based on two erroneous suppositions, as Prasad had very clearly shown in his letter.  First, that the Indian President’s position was not strictly analogous to the British monarch’s, and second, that the IndianConstitution differed significantly from the British in being basically Federal and not Unitary. Prasad had also highlighted the fact that ‘a wholesale importation of all practices and conventions of the British Constitution’ did not suit the radically different character of the Indian polity where new indigenous conventions were still to be evolved. Besides, as he also pointed out: “It would not be right to import and insist on some conventions and ignore others”.

Seen in hindsight, the difference between their perspectives on presidential powers was quintessentially a difference between neo-colonial and anti-colonial mindsets. Nehru apparently viewed the whole issue of the Indian President’s powers strictly within the parameters of the British Constitution, equating them totally with those of the British monarch, conveniently ignoring the other qualifying aspects of the issue as pointed out in Prasad’s letters. For a fully sovereign democratic republic newly emerging out of a dominion stranglehold, Prasad’s interpretation of the presidential powers was definitely more broadly democratic and judicious. Prasad’s contention was more relevant to indigenous conventions to be established in the short term for the evolution of a truly vibrant democracy. And it needs to be emphasized that President Prasad had no personal stakes in the matter; he only wanted to achieve a judicious power equilibrium between the directly elected Parliament and the indirectly elected President.

Ultimately, the pace of passage of the Hindu Code Bill in the Parliament was stymied and reasonably slowed down.When initially the Bill was defeated, a disgruntled Ambedkar, the then Law Minister who was piloting the Bill, resigned in protest. After the elections, however, Nehru agreed to split the Bill into four separate Bills that were introduced gradually in Parliament,  debated for four years, and finally passed as Hindu Code Bill in 1956. And in this way, President Prasad’s main contention of its being passed by a properly mandated parliament only after being endorsed by the national electorate was thus fully vindicated. It also proved his point that a presidential moderation of a major government policy was often more likely to be in the best interest of democracy and the nation.

©Dr BSM Murty
No part of this extract published here can be used in any way anywhere else.

More extracts can be read on this Blog from the book GEM OF A NATON
Please click on the Archive year and scroll down through OLDER POSTS to the extract by dates.

2011: May 28 : The Indigo Story; July 8: The Butcher of Amritsar; July 17: A Planter’s Murder
2014: Sep 14 : The Seven Martyrs; Dec 3 : Early childhood in Jeeradei
2015: Jun 30: Congress in disarray; Aug 27: Clash of Convictions; Oct 8: Presidential Itineraries;             
             Dec 20: Congress at crossroads
2016: March 15: Election for Second Term; May 13: Visit to the Soviet Union