President Pranab Mukherjee must be a man in a hurry. He called up Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to his residence, aka the Rastrapati Bhawan, pronto. The urgency in the president’s voice unsettled the prime minister. He hot footed it to the presidential abode, not an adobe house.
When the two met, the prime minister found that it was a matter of life and death, not of either of them, though one is on his political death bed, but of the people on the death row.
“Hey MMS, have you read about the Supreme Court judgment commuting the death sentence of 15 death-row inmates to life imprisonment? The Chauhan verdict.”
“Yes PM, and my first reaction is these judges do not know how busy the executive branch is.”
“That is precisely right. Why would I, or you for that matter, take on fast rack the mercy petitions of criminals? Let the murderers stew in their own juice for a while – 5, 10 or 15 years, who cares – and we will pull the lever suddenly. That is what they deserve, surprise hanging.”
“Yes again. You have gained a good reputation as the hanging president  – not unjustified. Your legacy would have been further enhanced without this unnecessary overreaching by the Supreme Court.”
Pranab was beaming when the legacy issue was mentioned with his name attached to it.
“Yes, it is not only the first family of the country who can showcase its legacy … I can too. Indeed, if only our laws had allowed I would have had the skeletons of the hanged hanging in my glass door trophy case. It will obviously be tall, but will be broader too than those of my predecessors. Skeletons take space, you know. I will show it to all the visiting dignitaries!”
“Don’t be so fast PM. You would have had to pick and choose who you will invite to see this. No European head of state. The European human rights softies will not take to one of them visiting your skeleton cupboard all too kindly. Only Xi, Li or your good friend, Barack.”
“Thanks MMS for warning me. I must have been a little too absorbed with my legacy to overlook this simple fact.”
“But PM, discussing about your legacy must not have been the matter for which you called me urgently.”
“Oh, yes, of course not. I got sidetracked. You see, my legacy is in danger of being foreshortened. I am ready to reject the mercy application of every one on death-row but the current judgment – by the way, are you doing something about asking for a review of this judgment? I think you should …”
“No, not as of now. Let whoever follows us in the hot seat, we will leave it up to them. That is my legacy, isn’t it?”
“Ha, ha, ha! A fine sense of humour! But, getting to the point, how I wish you would have brought the files of all whose mercy petitions are pending. I would have rejected them all en masse.”
“Oops, I failed to read you right this time. I was wondering what could have been the matter that I had to cancel my appointment with Soniaji and come here. Now I understand.”
“Good for you. Now go back to the Home Minister – do it before you are forced to give him the boot on some count or the other – get all the files and FedEx them.”
“Yes, yes, you don’t wish your legacy portfolio to be further thinned down; losing 15 skeletons is bad in itself. I understand. How many ever years you may have in this house, every skeleton that is lost, is a loss of face for you. We would not want that to happen, would we? Even if I have to kick Shinde out of the cabinet, I will make sure you get your files.”
“No, no, not my files, if you get my drift.”
“I do, I do, I have my own legacy as a drifter to be worried about. Hmm …”
With sirens blaring, Manmohan Singh was on his way to meet Madam Soniaji and as he was being driven down he was on the phone with Shinde, the man of quick action that Manmohan is.
1. The Hanging President, Raghuram Ekambaram (http://nonexpert.blogspot.in/2013/02/the-hanging-president.html)