Mukherjee addresses the nation on Saturday. (PTI)
New Delhi, Jan. 25: The presidential message was blunt: “Government is not a charity shop. Populist anarchy cannot be a substitute for governance.”
Pranab Mukherjee did not name Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal.
But Mukherjee used the customary President’s address on the eve of Republic Day to caution the nation against the tendencies to spread cynicism about the system, grab power by making unrealistic promises and resort to anarchic methods on the plea of popular support.
Mukherjee’s comments came on a day Kejriwal said he might well take to the streets again if necessary, as he had done this week during a dharna that threatened to disrupt the Republic Day celebrations.
The Republic Day-eve address is the President’s own — the government does not draft or vet it. In the address ahead of elections, the President also said a fractured verdict could be “catastrophic”.
“Elections do not give any person the licence to flirt with illusions. Those who seek the trust of voters must promise only what is possible,” Mukherjee said. “Government is not a charity shop. Populist anarchy cannot be a substitute for governance. False promises lead to disillusionment, which gives birth to rage, and that rage has one legitimate target: those in power.”
Kejriwal has been accused of luring voters with promises that would strain the state’s capabilities and lead to fiscal profligacy, flouting set norms of governance, and disrupting public life while holding constitutional office. But populism is a plank used unabashedly by many parties, including the Congress.
The President did not ignore the rot in the system, warning governments against corruption and hypocrisy in public life. Aam Aadmi Party ideologue Yogendra Yadav cited this to suggest that the President’s speech was not aimed at events associated with Kejriwal but at the situation prevailing in the country as a whole.
Mukherjee said this election year “must become a year of healing after the fractured and contentious politics of the last few years”.
He also stressed the need for a stable government after the general election. “A fractured government, hostage to whimsical opportunists, is always an unhappy eventuality. In 2014, it could be catastrophic. Each one of us is a voter; each one of us has a deep responsibility; we cannot let India down. It is time for introspection and action.”
Although many Presidents have alluded to contemporary issues and called for adequate responses in their R-Day speeches, none could recall a President making such direct observations on mainstream political life.
Exhorting governments to deliver fast, Mukherjee said: “The aspirational young Indian will not forgive a betrayal of her future. Those in office must eliminate the trust deficit between them and the people. Those in politics should understand that every election comes with a warning sign: perform or perish.”
He added: “There will be a new government before I speak to you again on the eve of our Independence Day. Who wins the coming election is less important than the fact that whosoever wins must have an undiluted commitment to stability, honesty, and the development of India.”
Mukherjee said: “Some cynics may scoff at our commitment to democracy, but our democracy has never been betrayed by the people; its fault lines, where they exist, are the handiwork of those who have made power a gateway to greed.
“We do feel angry, and rightly so, when we see democratic institutions being weakened by complacency and incompetence. If we hear sometimes an anthem of despair from the street, it is because people feel that a sacred trust is being violated.”