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Kalam closer look slows poll Ordinance

New Delhi, Aug. 22: The delay in presidential assent for an Ordinance on electoral reforms has led to speculation that President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam is having second thoughts on it.

Kalam today gave his seal of approval to an Ordinance, which was sent to him yesterday, relating to non-performing assets of nationalised banks. However, he held back another Ordinance prepared by the Union law ministry on electoral reforms.

In the absence of any authorised confirmation from Rashtrapati Bhavan, sources said President Kalam had reservations on the proposed Ordinance on the grounds that it lacked teeth.

However, the President has yet to formally consult legal luminaries.

According to constitutional provisions, the President has a right to seek clarifications. If he continues to be dissatisfied, he can send back the Ordinance for a review.

Kalam’s move to give a closer look to the electoral reforms Ordinance added another dimension to the raging debate on poll reforms. First, the Supreme Court backed the Election Commission on the need for more stringent laws to curb criminalisation of politics.

But the political class got united, discounting the apex court’s stress on weeding out corrupt and criminal elements from politics.

Official sources said Kalam had reservations on two counts. Like many legal experts, the President is credited with a view that lawmakers at all levels should take a lead in declaring their assets in a transparent manner.

Moreover, the President is said to be wary of a clause on electoral reforms that aims to debar only those charged with “heinous” crimes such as murder and rape.

The news of Kalam having reservations on the electoral reforms Ordinance spread fast at Raisina Hills. Even in the absence of official confirmation, Opposition leaders, legal experts and political analysts were unanimous that the “scientist” had started showing his colours.

The Left parties, which had led a campaign against Kalam, are now saying he could be an “activist President”.

Rashtrapati Bhavan has had a number of activist Presidents. First President Rajendra Prasad had an open feud with Jawaharlal Nehru. His predecessor S. Radhakrishnan maintained an apolitical profile. Zakir Hussain did not have a long tenure V.V. Giri and Fakhruddin Ali Ahmad got famous for toeing the prime ministerial line.

Sanjeeva Reddy’s tenure in Rashtrapati Bhavan also did not create any major rift with the executive, but Giani Zail Singh chose to go public against Rajiv Gandhi. R. Venkataraman restored the classic image of a President who was expected to act as an “emergency light”.

Shankar Dayal Sharma, however, did not hide his sense of anguish over the Babri Masjid demolition during the Narasimha Rao era.

Kalam’s predecessor, K.R. Narayanan, was the most recent example of an active President who kept nudging and cautioning the Vajpayee government.

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