Swear­ing-in Cer­e­monies

Our Con­sti­tu­tion spells out the oaths to be sworn by the Pres­i­dent and Vice-Pres­i­dent in Ar­ti­cles 60 and 69, and those for min­is­ters are given in the Third Sched­ule. Ex­cept for a vow to “pre­serve, pro­tect and de­fend” the Con­sti­tu­tion, no sym­bols or cer­emo

The Economic Times - - The Political Theatre - VIKRAM DOC­TOR

Naren­dra Modi won’t even get a sash. Through the elec­tion cam­paign he hap­pily draped him­self in dif­fer­ent rit­ual shawls, donned dif­fer­ent sym­bolic head­gears (ex­cept one) and took part in dif­fer­ent com­mu­nity cer­e­monies de­signed to show him in a com­mand­ing and vic­to­ri­ous way. Yet now that he has tri­umphed the of­fi­cial mo­ment to mark it, his for­mal swear­ing in by the Pres­i­dent, will es­sen­tially be over in a minute. He will stand by the Pres­i­dent’s side and read the oath of of­fice and that will be it. In the past such in­au­gu­ra­tions in In­dia have fea­tured protests and cel­e­bra­tions and lots of back­room drama and in­trigue, yet the ac­tual event has al­ways been dis­ap­point­ingly plain. Mr. Modi will not be pre­sented with any­thing like the gold chains of of­fice of the Pres­i­dents of France and Rus­sia. He will not have his pre­de­ces­sor hand over a sash pat­terned in na­tional colours as is worn by Latin Amer­i­can pres­i­dents and quite a few in Africa (some wear both chain and sash). He will not have to wear the fine see-through shirt of pineap­ple fi­bre worn by the Pres­i­dent of the Philip­pines (mer­ci­fully, with an­other shirt be­low). Mr Modi will not be given a cer­e­mo­nial spear and shield like the Pres­i­dent of Tan­za­nia. He will not take the oath salut­ing a por­trait of the founder of the Repub­lic as the Pres­i­dent of Tai­wan does be­fore a por­trait of Sun Yat­Sen. He does not have to hold or kiss a flag as do the Pres­i­dents of Hun­gary and Poland. Most swear­ing-ins in­volve a book, ei­ther the coun­try’s Con­sti­tu­tion or a rel­e­vant Holy Book. In In­done­sia, the Ko­ran is held over the Pres­i­dent’s head as he takes the oath. Rit­u­als like these were cre­ated as monar­chies gave way to republics. Monar­chs were crowned with elab­o­rate rites to mark their em­bod­i­ment of the state in both sa­cred and sec­u­lar ways. Republics re­moved most of this, but still felt the need to give their tit­u­lar head some vis­i­ble mark of distinc­tion. Since in­de­pen­dence was usu­ally won in bat­tle they of­ten adapted mil­i­tary re­galia like the ban­dolier cross­ing the body from shoul­der to hip which is the prob­a­ble ori­gin of the pres­i­den­tial sash. Repub­li­can move­ments, par­tic­u­larly in Latin Amer­ica, were of­ten anti-cler­i­cal, which is why they fea­ture no re­li­gious el­e­ment. But oth­ers al­low space for re­li­gion, or have fully in­cor­po­rated it. In Spain, the Pres­i­dent swears with hand on the Con­sti­tu­tion, but there is a bi­ble and cru­ci­fix close by. Pak­istan now re­quires of­fice­bear­ers to swear to be­ing a Mus­lim and a be­liever in the Ko­ran, in Muhammed be­ing the last of the Prophets, in the Day of Judge­ment and all the teach­ings of the Ko­ran and Sun­nah.

None of this was deemed ap­pro­pri­ate when sec­u­lar and avowedly non-vi­o­lent In­dia first cre­ated its state in­sti­tu­tions. Our Con­sti­tu­tion spells out the oaths to be sworn by the Pres­i­dent and Vi­cePres­i­dent in Ar­ti­cles 60 and 69, and those for min­is­ters are given in the Third Sched­ule. But the words are very sim­ple, with just a vow to “pre­serve, pro­tect and de­fend” the Con­sti­tu­tion and to be de­voted to the “ser­vice and well­be­ing of the people of In­dia”. No sym­bols or cer­e­monies are re­quired be­yond that.

The one choice that the Con­sti­tu­tion al­lows is for the per­son be­ing sworn in to in­voke God or sim­ply “solemnly af­firm”. In the Con­stituent As­sem­bly this was a mat­ter some of the more ex­citable mem­bers, like HV Ka­math made much of and read­ing the de­bates one gets a sense of the ir­ri­ta­tion felt by some of the leading mem­bers, like Jawa­har­lal Nehru and BR Ambed­kar, at the time be­ing wasted on what they clearly felt was an unim­por­tant, even di­vi­sive, is­sue.

But the mat­ter did al­low for an en­ter­tain­ing mo­ment when Sar­dar

IN PAK­ISTAN Of­fice-bear­ers need to swear to be­ing a Mus­lim, a be­liever in the Ko­ran and in Muhammed be­ing the last of the Prophets

Bhopin­der Singh Mann coun­tered Mr Ka­math’s in­sis­tence on putting God in the oath by ask­ing if any steps had been taken “to as­cer­tain the wishes of God Him­self on such a vi­tal mat­ter”. Mr Mann said he was not op­posed to the idea of God, but wor­ried that such facile use of His name could be de­mean­ing. He also won­dered what God might think of it all, which was why He should be asked. “To­mor­row, the whole labour will be lost if He with­draws his con­sent and refuse to be as­so­ci­ated with your Con­sti­tu­tion,” warned Mr Mann.

No such con­sul­ta­tion seems to have been made and God’s view of the In­dian Con­sti­tu­tion and the use of His name in it re­mains un­known. Both op­tions were re­tained and Modi will prob­a­bly swear in God’s name. It is sim­ply a mat­ter of cau­tion. Pupul Jayakar, in her bi­og­ra­phy of Indira Gandhi writes that when she first took of­fice in 1966 she chose to af­firm, but by the time of her last oath in 1980 she opted for God: “Indira was no longer a rebel against su­per­sti­tion and tra­di­tion; in the past she would have de­fied the stars, but now she was wary, pre- ferred to tread with cau­tion.” An­other rea­son Mr Modi’s op­tions for in­au­gu­ral rites are limited is be­cause he is Head of Govern­ment but not Head of State. This again was much dis­cussed in the Con­stituent As­sem­bly in the con­text of whether to elect the Head of State, the Pres­i­dent, by uni­ver­sal fran­chise. But a fairly clear con­sen­sus ex­isted to fol­low the Bri­tish model of a sym­bolic Head of State who would grant the real power to a Head of Govern­ment, the Prime Min­is­ter, elected via the Par­lia­men­tary sys­tem. In the Bri­tish sys­tem, this grant­ing of pow­ers is given sym­bolic form by the PM “kiss­ing the hand” of the monarch in grate­ful ac­knowl­edge­ment of the gift of power. This has prob­a­bly been made eas­ier in the last six decades by the monarch be­ing a Queen and the prime min­is­ters mostly men. What Mar­garet Thatcher did has never been re­vealed, but it is worth not­ing that Buck­ing­ham Palace now says that ac­tual kiss­ing is not re­quired. But some PMs still at­tempt it, though not al­ways suc­cess­fully. Cherie Blair has re­vealed that when her hus­band Tony first did it he “stum­bled over the car­pet, and so ended up sort of warmly em­brac­ing the queen’s hand in a way that he wasn’t sup­posed to do.” What­ever their wishes for in­au­gu­ral cer­e­monies might be, both Prime Min­is­ter­elect Modi and Pres­i­dent Pranab Mukher­jee must be pro­foundly re­lieved that this was one Bri­tish con­ven­tion we did not re­tain.

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