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Chronicling the role of institutions | HT Editorial – editorials


In his final memoir, The Presidential Years; 2012-2017, published posthumously this week, the late former president Pranab Mukherjee has candidly written of the decline of his former party, the Congress, and its political mismanagement in the final years in power. He has enumerated the strengths and weaknesses of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. And he has given a glimpse of his own decision-making process — of advising the government privately, while being publicly supportive of it. And he has offered views on demonetisation — which he believed did not meet its objectives — and the Goods and Services Tax — which he saw as transformative.

The book’s value lies in the behind-the-scenes accounts the late President offers into conversations at the highest levels of the Indian State — as well as the engagement of India’s leadership with foreign interlocutors. But its greater value — beyond the insights on parties and individuals — lies in its assessment of the institutions.

Mr Mukherjee, a long-term parliamentarian, noted the trend of parliamentary disruptions and wrote how “appalled” he was with the “callousness” with which disruptions were used. This, he argued, ends up hurting the Opposition more because it loses its moral authority to question the government. The late president’s concerns on the subject must be internalised by all political actors at a time when the functioning of Parliament, for various reasons, has come under criticism. At the same time, Mr Mukherjee also warned against judicial excesses and the need to reform the appointment process of judges — once again, a key concern at a time when the role of the judiciary has come under criticism. Restoring institutional functioning is essential for democracy — that remains the key takeaway from the presidential memoir.

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