Contending that the grounds challenging the election of Pranab Mukherjee as President of India are misconceived and untenable, senior counsel Harish Salve, appearing for Mr. Mukherjee, sought dismissal of the writ petition filed by the NDA candidate P.A. Sangma.
Making his submissions before a five-judge Constitution Bench comprising Chief Justice Altamas Kabir and Justices P. Sathasivam, S.S. Nijjar, J. Chelameswar and Ranjan Gogoi, Mr. Salve rejected the argument that Mr. Mukherjee was holding office of profit on the date of filing his nomination. Referring to the contention that Mr. Mukherjee was holding the office of the Chairman of Indian Statistical Institute, which was an office of profit under the Government of India and thus he was disqualified, he said Mr. Mukherjee had resigned from that post on June 20.
He said, “The office of Chairman of ISI is an honorary office without any emoluments, and a resignation from such an office is a unilateral act, and such resignation did not require to be accepted. The delivery of the resignation letter itself was sufficient and the resignation came into effect immediately.”
On the second ground that he was holding the office of the Leader of the Indian National Congress in the Lok Sabha which was also an office of profit, counsel said the assumption of Mr. Sangma that as Leader of the Lok Sabha Mr. Mukherjee was entitled to any perquisites beyond those available to him as a Minister was factually incorrect as he was not entitled to any other perquisites. “This office (Leader of the Lok Sabha) is coextensive and thus co terminus with the term as a Minister,” counsel said, and added that Mr. Mukherjee did not accept or receive any perquisites in such capacity.
Mr. Salve said that Mr. Mukherjee, through a letter dated June 20, had not only resigned from the office of Leader of the Indian National Congress in the Lok Sabha but also from the Congress Working Committee (CWC) of the Indian National Congress and from the primary membership of the Indian National Congress. In fact, the CWC had held a function to bid farewell to Mr. Mukherjee on June 25, which was extensively covered by the media.
Mr. Salve said, “Either the Prime Minister is the Leader of the Lower House or he can nominate a Minister in his place … Mr. Mukherjee ceased to hold the office of Leader of the House as a result of his relinquishing the post from the Cabinet and hence the allegation that the Lok Sabha website showed Mr. Mukherjee as the leader even after filing of his nomination was of no consequence.”
He said, “If the Supreme Court has framed rules then the Civil Procedure Code (CPC) is on a different footing and will not apply to the petitions relating to the election of President and Vice-President.” Mr. Salve sought dismissal of the writ petition on the grounds of maintainability alone. In his reply, Mr. Mukherjee rejected the allegation that his signature was forged and said that like any other person, he had two or three types of signatures which sometimes reflected his full name and sometimes his initials.
Earlier, senior counsel Ram Jethmalani, appearing for Mr. Sangma, had argued that Mr. Mukherjee was not eligible to contest for the post as he was holding offices of profit. He said, “Mr. Mukherjee was holding the office of Chairman of ISI on the date of filing his nomination papers, date of scrutiny as well as date of declaration of his election as President, and he continues to hold the post till date.” Counsel alleged that the resignation letter of Mr. Mukherjee from the post of Chairman of ISI had been fabricated and signed by someone else. He said, “Mr. Mukherjee was also the leader of the Congress Party in the Lok Sabha which was an office of profit as the person holding this office was entitled to various facilities, in addition to the facilities available to him as a Member of Parliament.” The arguments will continue on Wednesday.