A s expected Pranab Mukherjee became India’s 13th President, defeating Purno Sangma by a huge margin of 3, 97,776 value votes. By virtue of being the President, he is now the first citizen of India and the supreme commander of the Defense Forces.
Nobody will question Pranab Mukherjee’s (fondly called as Pranab da) political acumen, who has been playing different roles in the field of politics for almost five decades now. So, if any constitutional crisis arises, the new President is expected to resolve the crisis with ease.
Though many critics view presidential election as unimportant, yet a close look at the election reflects the changing nature and scope of Indian politics.
One interesting trend of Indian politics, particularly after the 90’s is the rise of regional parties in different parts of India and their growing influence on national politics. This phenomenon is not particularly surprising anymore, given the diverse country we have with pluralism as its main characteristics.
What is surprising is the amount of influence they have on their major alliance partner, when it comes to policy making. The run-up to the presidential election shows how regional parties like Trinamool Congress or Janata Dal (United) exert pressure on their respective major partners.
Let us not forget how Mamata Banerjee initially was reluctant to see Pranab Mukherjee as President and it was the Samajwadi Party who saved the Congress from further embarrassment.
However, what is interesting, this coalition politics has been meandering in two ways – A) when it comes to financial relations between the State and the Union, Union Government clearly has an upper hand. B) But when it comes to policy making such as the recent debate of introducing FDI in retail or reforms in the railways or setting up off National Counter Terrorism Center (NCTC) – regional parties enjoy greater say, partly due to the magic numbers they possess.
The presidential election reflects the current love-hate relationship between our regional parties in relation to national parties and changing dynamics of our cooperative federalism.
President: a rubber stamp
The Indian President should neither be a rubber stamp nor super ministerial body. Our constitution is different from that of Chinese, where both President and Prime minister play a crucial role.
A close reading of article 74(1) and 75(1) with Article 111 reveals that by virtue of being the head of the State and custodian of the Constitution, the President enjoys a midway position.
According to article 74(1) the President needs to act in accordance with the advice given by the Council of Ministers, headed by the Prime Minister. After the 42nd amendment act, this advice has been made mandatory, limiting the scope of the President.
However, article 75(1) still gives the President an opportunity to ask the Council of Ministers to reconsider such advice.
The most significant power the President possesses is through article 111 – assent to bills. This power of the President is very significant in the sense that the moment the President refuses to sign a bill and sends it for reconsideration, it creates a debate in public domain in respect to the bill. The office of profit bill, returned by APJ Abdul Kalam to the cabinet, created a public debate regarding the merit of the bill. In a democracy, a healthy discourse is crucial to policy making and a wise President can utilize this veto power to check any faulty bill in becoming an Act.
Further as stated in article 78, it is the duty of the Prime Minister to communicate to the President all the decisions of the Council of Ministers relating to the administration of the affairs of the Union and the proposals for legislation.
So when institutions like Supreme Court or President expresses their views and opinion regarding polity, these are not directives to the government, but they create public opinion and puts pressure on the government to act.
In a democracy each and everything cannot be found in the law book and shouldn’t be either dictated by law. Powers and functions of the President is codified in the Constitution and the post of the President is more or less ceremonious. Yet, if the President wants to be a proactive one, he/she can become a people’s President and earn respect from both its citizens as well as from the government.
Whether Presidential election should be scrapped?
Every time a presidential election approaches, some sections of media and academicians opine that presidential election should be scrapped. The presidential system has been a part of our Republican form of government. It is based on convention and maintains a checks and balance role, designed by our constitution framers.
Besides in the historic Keshavananda Bharti case (1973), Supreme Court identified that Republican form of government is a part of “basic structure” of our Constitution and cannot be altered by the Parliament. Hence to discuss deletion of the post of President is nothing but a waste of time and reflects lack of understanding of our Constitution.
(The writer can be reached at email@example.com)