President’s Liberty to Visit Disturbed Areas
By Dr. Mumtaz Ali Khan
The President of India is the Constitutional head of the state. Though ours is the Parliamentary democracy where the Parliament is the supreme authority over all matters of governance, President is not a dummy. He has certain inherent powers and if used, Prime Minister cannot question him. There are a few instances of this type of sensitive situations where the President visits certain areas which make the Govt. feel uneasy. It has to swallow bitter pills even though they are coated with sugar. There were occasions in the past when presidential trips to sensitive areas were not liked by the Government, the Prime Minister of the day in particular. In the case of the first President, Rajendra Prasad, and the first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, such cases led to friction. Among the many occasions on which the Prasad-Nehru friction came to the fore was the case in 1950 when the President’s decision to go to Somnath was opposed by the Prime Minister. Their clash became widely known. An inside account of such episodes was given by a veteran editor, the late Durga Das – known for his deep insight into the political goings on – in his book, ‘Curzen to Nehru and After’. Here is one sample: “It was not a secret to knowledgeable people in Delhi that Nehru looked upon Prasad as a ‘revivalist’. Nehru’s rift with Prasad began in mid-30s when he, along with Patel, C.R. (C. Rajagopalachari) and Kriplani, disowned Nehru’s creed of socialism. It took a sharp turn when in 1950, Prasad decided to visit Kutch for the ceremonies, connected with the reconstruction of the historic Somnath temple, destroyed and looted in the 10th century by Mahmud of Ghazni, a northern invader from across the Khyber Pass. Nehru opposed the visit on the ground that it was not politic for the head of a secular state to associate himself with “religious revivalism” of this kind.
Prasad did not agree and pointed to the significance of Somnath ‘as the symbol of national resistance to an invader’, adding ‘I believe in my religion, I cannot cut myself away from it.’ In his anger at Prasad’s defiance’ of his wishes, Nehru told the Information Ministry not to issue the speech of Prasad at the ceremony as an official handout.
Dr. Mumtaz Ali Khan can be reached at [email protected]