On Saturday, almost every media outlet carried with prominence the story of President Pranab Mukherjee signing the Enemy Property ordinance for the 5th time. And yet, every headline was desperately suggestive of just how upset Mukherjee was while having to sign the ordinance 5th time despite the Centre’s Narendra Modi government not following the parliament route for the same.
Indian Express headline said, “President OKs enemy property ordinance, but raises questions.” The paper’s second headline said, “His office also seeks details on passage of tax law change.”
Even though the Indian Express report was authored by two correspondents with their bylines, almost every information on Mukherjee’s ‘alleged’ annoyance was attributed to sources.
The paper reported, “Sources said Mukherjee wrote a note to the effect that he is clearing it only because it is a matter of importance for the country but it is not in the order of things that an ordinance should be repeatedly promulgated and the present instance should not be treated as a precedent. No ordinance has ever been promulgated five times.”
The Hindu’s report on the subject too carried almost a similar quote, again attributed to sources.
The paper, which had carried the ordinance story with prominence on its front page on Saturday, wrote, “He had expressed similar reservations on August 30 this year, when it was done for the fourth time.”
And the Rashtrapati Bhawan ‘sources’ or spin doctors weren’t only telling two of the most reputed newspapers to build a favourable narrative about Mukherjee.
The story also found prominence on the NDTV website and the headline was not too different from that of the Indian Express. The NDTV’s headline read, “President Pranab Mukherjee Upset As Ordinance Comes To Him For Record 5th Time: Sources” (sic)
Just like The Indian Express, the NDTV too had relied on too many sources in Rashtrapati Bhawan for its story. And their similarity extended to the use of language too when the NDTV reported this, “The President, say sources, signed the ordinance to amend the Enemy Property Act as it involves national interest and “in view of the pending cases which will come up in the Supreme Court in January”.
The Enemy Property ordinance aims to block claims of succession or transfer of properties left by those, who chose to migrate to Pakistan and China post wars. An enemy property is the one that belongs to, held or managed on behalf of an individual or firm, who is now a subject or the property (in case of firms) of the enemy countries i.e. Pakistan and China.
The first time the Modi government proclaimed the ordinance on enemy property was on 7 January this year. The Lok Sabha passed it two days later, but it was later referred to the Select Committee of Rajya Sabha.
Many MPs in the Upper House found the amendments anti-people and, therefore, refused to pass. The BJP lacks majority in the Rajya Sabha.
The Modi government re-promulgated the ordinance once again on 2 April. The 3rd time it was done was on 31 May when it incorporated the amendments suggested by the Rajya Sabha Select Committee. On 28 August the ordinance was to lapse, but the President chose to promulgate the 4th time just one day before it was to expire.
So, why did Mukherjee keep signing the same ordinance five times and not return it? He surely did not need the help of a spin doctor to create a favourable narrative in the media had he simply done what he did to Manmohan Singh in 2013.
In October 2013, Mukherjee had refused to promulgate the UPA government’s ordinance on convicted lawmakers despite it being cleared by the cabinet. Under the provisions of the ordinance, convicted MPs and MLAs would have been protected from immediate disqualification.
Modi government has often been accused of bypassing the parliament to push through key legislation, that it fears may not get majority in the Rajya Sabha, through ordinance routes.
In fact, passing the ordinance was among the first acts of Modi after he became the prime minister. Within two months of taking charge, Modi government amended the Telecom Regulatory Authority or TRAI Act to enable the appointment of former telecom regulator Nripendra Misra as his Principal Secretary. He did so after the bill faced stiff opposition in the parliament with MPs raising questions citing the provisions of the TRAI Act, which barred its chairman to hold any government post after retirement.
An adamant Modi simply couldn’t care much and chose to change the provisions of the Act by bringing in the ordinance.
The Enemy Property ordinance was the 24th since Modi became the prime minister on 26 May 2014. During Manmohan Singh’s second full term as the PM between 2009 and 2014, only 25 ordinances were promulgated.
Surely, media outlets have reported what they’ve been fed with by Mukherjee’s spin doctors in the Rashtrapati Bhawan. If the reports of Mukherjee being upset are indeed true, then one wonders why, under Modi regime, he’s lacking the courage, which was on display in abundance during Manmohan Singh government.