In her second coming as the West Bengal Chief Minister, Mamata Banerjee while departing a bit from the set norms of oath taking as laid in the Constitution might have done a Barack Obama in 2009. The US President had to take his oath of office for the second time "because a word was out of sequence when he was sworn in" for the first time on 20 January, 2009.
According to Reuters, "Chief Justice John Roberts, who first administered the oath to Obama on Tuesday on the steps of the US Capitol, administered it again to the president on Wednesday in front of reporters and a few members of the president's staff."
Coming down to West Bengal, Mamata Banerjee's politics is a mirror image of the party symbol — flowers and grass. The Trinamool Congress chief relies on an earthy, street-smart brand of socialist politics free of any doctrinal rigidity which leaves her with plenty of room for improvisation.
As she began her second consecutive stint as the Chief Minister of West Bengal in a grand ceremony in Kolkata on Friday, a small, barely noticed gesture during the oath-taking ritual gave a peek into the way Mamata has used lateral thinking throughout her career to now emerge as a formidable force in regional and even national politics.
While being administered the oath of office by Governor Keshari Nath Tripathi, Mamata raised eyebrows by pledging to both "Ishwar" and "Allah" while taking the vow. "I, Mamata Banerjee, do pledge by the name of Ishwar and Allah that I shall…"
Taking her cue, a few other ministers also took a similar pledge.
The practice of taking the names of both 'Ishwar' and 'Allah' during the oath of office is rather unusual and seems to be a departure from what is laid down in the Indian Constitution.
Schedule 3, Para V of the Indian Constitution mentions the oath of office for a minister for a state thus:
“I, A.B., do swear in the name of God/ solemnly affirm that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the Constitution of India as by law established, 1 [that I will uphold the sovereignty and integrity of India,] that I will faithfully and conscientiously discharge my duties as a Minister for the State of ..........and that I will do right to all manner of people in accordance with the Constitution and the law without fear or favour, affection or ill-will.”
Similarly, Schedule 3, Para VI states the oath of secrecy for a Minister for a State:
“I, A.B., do swear in the name of God/solemnly affirm that I will not directly or indirectly communicate or reveal to any person or persons any matter which shall be brought under my consideration or shall become known to me as a Minister for the State of ....................except as may be required for the due discharge of my duties as such Minister.”
The different forms of oaths or affirmations for different offices — be it the President, Prime Minister, Chief Ministers of states or other ministers — are clearly prescribed in the Schedule 3, Part I of our Constitution and those, according to experts, are mandatory and inviolable.
According to a noted Constitutional expert Firstpost's Shishir Tripathi spoke to, it is not right to take liberties with the oath.
“The third Schedule of the Indian Constitution provides the ‘forms of oath and affiliation’ for various offices and one cannot modify it or improvise it. The Governor in case of chief minister and his cabinet, administers the oath, as directed in the third schedule and no one can take liberty to modify it. No one can depart from the version that is there in the third schedule and nobody can hold office unless they take the oath as stated in the third schedule. A writ of quo warranto can be issued in such case where the oath is not administered properly”, the legal scholar said.
Interestingly, when Mamata Banerjee had taken the first oath of office as Chief Minister in 2011, she had stuck to the script.
Ministers, while being administered the oath, rarely depart from what the Constitution has prescribed as can be evidenced here when Manmohan Singh took his vow during his second stint as Prime Minister:
Or when Narendra Modi took the oath to replace him as the Prime Minister in 2014:
Or when Modi expanded his cabinet and inducted 21 new ministers:
President Pranab Mukherjee, while taking his oath of office, also did not depart from the norm.
Why did Mamata depart from practice
To understand what may have prompted Mamata Banerjee to make the improvisation, it is imperative to note the stress the TMC supremo has placed on identity-based politics throughout the entire length of her first term as CM.
And one of the main reasons why her party won a landslide victory in the 2016 Assembly elections is that she got unequivocal support from the state's substantial minority votebank.
According to Census 2011 data on Population by Religious Communities released last August, there are 6.4 crore Hindus in Bengal's 9.12 crore total population (70.53 per cent) while Muslims comprise 2.4 crore population or 27.01 per cent.
In three districts of Bengal, Murshidabad, Malda and North Dinajpur, the Muslim population has surpassed the Hindu population, says the data. In India, the Hindu population has dipped by 0.7 per cent but the drop is steeper in Bengal — 1.94 per cent. Correspondingly, if the Muslim population has increased by 0.8 per cent, in Bengal the growth has a higher rate — 1.77 per cent.
Last year, the TMC supremo became the first Bengal Chief Minister to attend a rally organised by the Jamiat-Ulema-i-Hind in Kolkata, which claims to have the support of 50 lakh Muslims and reportedly controls many state madarsas. It was seen as the clearest indication that Mamata was desperate to retain her popularity among the state's minority community ahead of the Assembly polls.
It was in that rally that Mamata won over the support of Jamiat secretary Siddiqullah Chowdhury, who had earlier been critical of the CM and subsequently fielded him as a candidate in the Assembly polls. Chowdhury won handsomely from Mangalkot and minority leaders have since been all praise for her:
“I campaigned for Mamata in various parts of the state. She has done a lot for the education and employment of Muslims in Bengal and her party is the only force capable of stopping RSS here,” Syed Md Nurur Rahman Barkati, Imam of Kolkata's Tipu Sultan Masjid was quoted, as saying in The Indian Express.
The improvisation during the oath-taking ceremony, therefore, is in line with Mamata's attempt to tap into the 'secularism' brand and reinforce her party's claim as the 'most secular' among a crowded market of similar claimants in Congress and the Left Front. It shows that she still remains as quick on her feet as ever.
Even as she starts her second innings, the very first gesture made it clear that Mamata will continue to stress on the areas that have brought her so much political dividends.
The only problem is the constitutional validity of the oath. In the US, when Chief Justice John Roberts had to administer the oath of office to Obama for the second time in January 2013, the two men were extremely cautious that they match the constitutional norms to a T to knock off any threat of constitutional invalidity.
Time will tell what's in store for Mamata — 'God' or 'Ishwar and Allah'.
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Updated Date: May 27, 2016 20:40:30 IST