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The President can invite only Vajpayee - The Times of India

H. K. Dua ()
March 5, 1998

Title: The President can invite only Vajpayee
Author: H. K. Dua
Publication: The Times of India
Date: March 5, 1998

A worried nation's search for stability has proved to be elusive.
As feared, it has turned out to be a hung Parliament with no
single party in a position to form a government on its own.

The voters, undecided and uncertain, have virtually placed their
trust in President K.R. Narayanan's judgment. It is he who has
now to decide who he should invite to form the government at the
Centre. President Narayanan is unlikely to betray their trust in
him and in his office.

The President is a creature of the constitution 'which gives him
the authority to decide who he should call on to form a
government. If an election had thrown up a party with a clear
majority he would have had no problems. Now he has to choose from
a coalition headed by Atal Behari Vajpayee of the BJP or a
coalition of the Congress and the United Front which some people,
without much foresight, are trying to put together.

While making his choice, President Narayanan cannot ignore the
fact that the BJP-led alliance was forged before the polls and
the electorate had been told about it before the voting took
place. The BJP-led alliance has not hit the 272 figure, but it
has with its 250-plus strength come to acquire the status of the
single largest entity in the new Lok Sabha.

If stability is to be the President's concern in a situation
which is not ideal, he cannot ignore the fact that given the
emerging arithmetic of the twelfth Lok Sabha the government led
by Mr Vajpayee will last longer than a coalitional arrangement
the Congress and the United Front are working for.

The Congress has already brought down two governments of the
United Front in just 18 months, making a mockery of its promise
to provide a stable government at the Centre. The Congress
party's reliance on the United Front cannot provide a more stable
arrangement than was provided by two United Front governments
which unwisely depended upon Congress support.

There are also voices from within the Congress party that say
there is no point forming a government with the help of other
political parties like the CPI-M and the CPI or the regional
parties with whom the party has to contend with in various
states. Some voices from within the United Front are also not
encouraging for the Congress party.

The President cannot be impressed by such reports which indicate
only a reluctant support for a marriage between incompatible
partners who had until the other day been trading abuses against
each other.

The President cannot miss the irony of the fact that the Congress
party, which brought down the UF government on the Jain
Commission report only recently and forced the current election,
now wants to share power with it. Sleeping with the enemy is
neither comfortable nor has long-lasting possibilities. Even in
these days, when rank opportunism is rampant, it can be immoral
as well. Nor would it enjoy any credibility with the people.

Not that the President has no area of discretion available to him
while making his decision. Actually, he can legitimately ask any
Lok Sabha member to form a government if he comes to the
conclusion that the person he has invited can command the support
of a majority of members of the Lok Sabha. Mr Narayanan may not,
however, risk making experiments at this stage which may have
constitutional sanctity but which he may not be able to sell to
the political parties.

Unless the President decides to be suddenly innovative, he is
unlikely to go beyond the leaders of formations for making his
choice. While the political parties are certainly not popular
with the electorate, Mr Narayanan is unlikely to do anything that
may undercut support for the already fragile party system.

Whatever the President's choice, he is unlikely to favour a
government surviving on support from outside. This means that a
government of the Congress with the outside help of the UF, or of
the UF with the Congress supporting it from outside, may not get
a nod from Rashtrapati Bhavan.

Whosoever, the President may call upon to form government-Mr
Vajpayee or a nominee of the Congress and the United Front-he is
unlikely to give too long a time for taking a vote of confidence
in the Lok Sabha. Unlike in the past, the period between the
invitation and the confidence vote to be taken by the new Prime
Minister will thus be reduced. This is essential to prevent
horse- trading.

The President's task is not easy. While exercising his
discretion, he has to keep in mind constitutional provisions,
precedents and propriety. While he cannot be subjective, his
decision has to be credible, legitimate and meet the test of
viability. President Narayanan can certainly come out with a
decision that will enjoy wide acceptance.

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