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Mainstream, VOL L, No 29, July 7, 2012

Much Ado about Rashtrapati

Tuesday 10 July 2012

by HARGOPAL SINGH

The President of India (Rashtrapati) is not vested with any powers worth the name—executive, administrative or other—under the Constitution of India. Articles 53, 74, 75 and 79, if read in conjunction with one another, make this abundantly clear. The Constitution (Forty-fourth Amendment) Act 1978 leaves no scope for any misunderstanding about the actual position of the President. It reads: “There shall be a Council of Ministers with the Prime Minister at the head to aid and advise the President who shall in the exercise of his functions act in accordance with such advice.

“Provided that the President may require the Council of Ministers to reconsider such advice, either generally or otherwise, and the President shall act in accordance with the advice tendered after such reconsideration.”

The Constitution of India came into force on the January 26, 1950. Its practice so far fully reinforces the same status of the President as was sought to be scripted in the parliamentary form of government by its founding fathers. Still there have been controversies among the jurists, academicians, politicians and their ilk over this issue of presidential powers. Even Dr Rajendra Prasad, the first President of India, is known to have had serious differences with the first Prime Minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru, in this regard. The first ever controversy between them had erupted over the enactment of the Hindu Code Bill in 1951 itself. But Nehru stuck to his guns and did not yield.

Dr S. Radhakrishnan had gone to the extent of criticising Nehru’s foreign policy after China had attacked India in 1962. He had equated non-alignment with neutrality and further called it immorality. The President’s right to do so was widely questioned. It was again Nehru, the Prime Minister, who gave a deserving rebuttal.
However, for the sake of additional support to the relevant Articles cited above, a re-read of an extract from the speech of Dr Ambedkar, the Chairman of the Drafting Committee, may not be out of place: “In the Draft Constitution there is placed at the head of the Indian Union a functionary who is called the President of the Union. The title of this functionary reminds one of the President of the United States. But beyond identity of names there is nothing in common between the form of government prevalent in America and the form of government proposed under the Draft Constitution. The American form of government is called the Presidential system of government. What the Draft Constitution proposes is the Parliamentary system. The two are fundamentally different.

“Under the Presidential system of America, the President is the Chief Head of the Executive. The administration is vested in him .Under the Draft Constitution the President occupies the same position as the King under the English Constitution. He is the head of the State but not the Executive. He represents the nation but does not rule the nation. He is the symbol of the nation. His place in the administration is that of a ceremonial device on a seal by which the nation’s decisions are made known.”

Perhaps it is natural that the President, both rightly and wrongly, has earned such epithets from time to time as a white elephant, rubber stamp, showpiece, puppet, tool etc. Giani Zail Singh, as an incumbent President of India (1982-87), had called himself a prisoner in the golden cage. But there are still others who maintain that the President is the custodian of the Constitution and conscience-keeper of the nation.

To cap it all, the President of India has to be placed in the parliamentary framework envisaged in the Constitution of India. His actual position has to be understood and assessed within that context. Article 79 is unambiguous and unequivocal in this respect. It inter alia says that “There shall be a Parliament for the Union which shall consist of the President and two Houses to be known respectively as the Council of States and the House of the People.”

IT sounds ironical that the fiercest ever political battle was fought over the selection and election of the President of India in 1969. It was none other than the daughter of Jawaharlal Nehru, Smt Indira Gandhi, who trounced her opponents in it. As a sequel to that the Indian National Congress was split into two and the course of politics underwent a radical change thereafter. It is yet debatable whether the President was really the issue then to merit such a turmoil.

In the present case there is an inclination in some quarters to draw a parallel with the 1969 presidential election. Undoubtedly, the three main combinations, that is, the UPA, NDA and LF, are divided over upport to the two main candidates –Pranab Mukherjee and P.A. Sangma. It would be naïve to assume that all those involved in the game are ignorant of the constitutional status of the President of India. Even the aspirants seem to be unduly over-enthusiastic to occupy the Rashtrapati Bhavan. Is that not much ado about the Rashtrapati?

And also, striving for a consensus candidate is being paraded as the wisest counsel. It amounts to negating the fundamentals of party politics. While doing so the manner of the election of the President under Article 55 is unwittingly overlooked. Clause 3 of Article 55 meets the requirements of a consensus candidate both in letter and spirit of the Constitution. It says: “The election of the President shall be held in accordance with the system of proportional representation by means of the single transferable vote and the voting at such election shall be by secret ballot.”

Above all, in a political set-up no office, high or low, is beyond the pale of politics. There is definitely intra- and inter-party politics in the election of the President of India. Stretching it further would be an exercise in futility and also unconstitutional under the supreme law of the land—the Constitution of India.

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