|APJ Abdul Kalam and Sonia Gandhi
June 29: Had Mamata Banerjee got hold of an advance copy of A.P.J. Abdul Kalam’s Turning Points — A Journey Through Challenges, she would have picked up a few nuggets that offer an insight into the UPA leadership’s reservations about another term for the former President.
Kalam’s sequel to his bestseller Wings of Fire gives a picture of his uneasy relationship with the UPA government from May 2004 till his term as President expired in July 2007. The book, published by HarperCollins, is yet to be released.
The former President admits he had problems with the office of profit bill of 2006, which sought to protect Sonia from disqualification as MP from Rae Bareli. Sonia later resigned and got re-elected.
Kalam says he did not find the bill “fair and reasonable” and took the unparalleled step of returning it to Parliament, instead of the Union cabinet, for reconsideration. This was the first time a President had returned a bill to the secretaries-general of the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha. Later, Kalam signed the bill after it had gone through a joint parliamentary committee.
He says that after the surprise May 2004 poll results, he had forwarded to various government agencies —“without making any comment” — all the emails and letters he had received that objected to Sonia staking a claim to form the government.
Kalam, however, insists that had Sonia staked a claim for herself, “I would have had no option but to appoint her.”
He says he was surprised when Sonia arrived at Rashtrapati Bhavan with Manmohan Singh.
“She showed me letters of support from various parties. Thereupon, I said that is welcome. The Rashtrapati Bhavan is ready for the swearing-in ceremony at the time of your choice,” he writes.
“That is when she told me that she would like to nominate Dr Manmohan Singh. This was definitely a surprise to me and the Rashtrapati Bhavan secretariat had to rework the letter (replacing Manmohan’s name with Sonia’s).”
On the face of it, Kalam’s positions on the office of profit bill of 2006 and government formation in May 2004 appear to have been within his rights as President. But Mamata, who has spent a large part of her political life in the Congress, would instantly know that such independent thinking would not go down well with any “Nehru-Gandhi loyalist” or motivate them to back such a person for another term in office.
Oblivious of such political considerations, Kalam goes on to quote the Manu Smriti on gifts or profit — “By accepting gifts, the divine light in the person gets extinguished” — as well as the Hadith (the sayings of Prophet Mohammad): “When the Almighty appoints a person to a position, He takes care of his provision. If a person takes anything beyond that, it is an illegal gain.”
Kalam also mentions a purported episode involving Manmohan Singh, a scene apparently so “touching” that the former President does “not want to describe it”.
In October 2005, Kalam told the Prime Minister he would step down following the Supreme Court’s adverse verdict on the dissolution of the Bihar Assembly.
The apex court had described that year’s May 23 presidential proclamation dissolving the Bihar Assembly as unconstitutional and termed Kalam’s decision “mala fide”.
“As soon as the verdict was known, I wrote a letter of resignation, signed it and kept it ready to be sent to the Vice-President, Bhairon Singh Shekhawat,” Kalam writes.
“The Vice-President was away. Meanwhile, the Prime Minister came to see me for some other discussion. I said I have decided to resign and showed him the letter.
“The scene was touching and I do not want to describe it. The Prime Minister pleaded that I should not do it at this difficult time. He said that as a result of the furore that would be created, even the government may fall.”
Few details were known about this episode, although suggestions were then made that the Prime Minister turned “very emotional”.
Kalam said the following 24 hours were extremely difficult for him. “Conscience is the light of the soul that burns within the chambers of the heart. That night I could not sleep. I was asking myself whether my conscience is important or the nation more important. The next day, I did my early morning namaz as usual. Then I took the decision to withdraw my decision to resign and not to disturb the government.”
Kalam claims he had told Manmohan Singh that the cabinet’s decision to recommend the dissolution of the Bihar Assembly had not been presented properly in the court.
“I told him this once on the telephone and (the) second time personally. He mentioned that he would brief the lawyers to present the President’s action supported by facts and (the) sequence of events. Ultimately, I was convinced that the lawyers did not put forth my side of actions as expected.”
Bihar had come under President’s Rule on March 7, 2005, after the Assembly elections threw up a fractured verdict and no party or group was in a position to form a government. The Assembly was kept under suspended animation but governor Buta Singh later recommended dissolution of the House.
Kalam was in Moscow when the Union cabinet decided to recommend dissolution of the Assembly, which had not had a single sitting.
“The call (from the Prime Minister) came at 1am Moscow time. I discussed the issues and raised the questions with the Prime Minister and I was convinced that even if I returned the cabinet decision, it would not matter because the decision would be somehow taken. Hence I decided to approve the dissolution,” Kalam writes.