17 June, 2021

All The President’s Hangmen

Presidents have by and large dilly-dallied on mercy petitions. Not so Pranab Mukherjee.

All The President’s Hangmen

In a highly unusual intervention in 2010, the Union home ministry sent a strongly worded letter to President Pratibha Patil. The letter contained an opinion by then attorney-general Goolam Vahanvati on the long list of mercy petitions from death row convicts that were awaiting a decision. The ministry was exasperated at the lack of response from Rashtrapati Bhavan on the petitions, and the letter made it clear that the President was bound by the advice of the council of ministers (in this case the home ministry) and she would have to act.

Getting no response, then home minister P. Chidambaram and prime minister Manmohan Singh sought time with the President, urging her to act on the mercy petitions. Patil offered a valid justification. She was going by the record of her predecessors. President K.R. Nar­ayanan (1997-02) received 10 petitions but disposed of only one. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam (2002-07) inherited nine petitions, ano­ther 16 were added during his term. He disposed of only two out of 25. Kalam, like Pra­tibha Patil, was against the death...

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