No one can seriously claim that India has had a proper presidential election. Ram Nath Kovind’s election was fixed. That brings no honour to a nation that claims to be a democratic republic.
The election was a non-starter because the votes were pre-determined. If Meira Kumar provided a temporal moment which could provide the possibilities of a contested match, it was dashed into the ground by majority politics.
India’s imitative, but otherwise interesting constitutionalism, did not know what to create for future head of the Indian state. Everything was copied: Federalism from the British Government of India Act 1935. Parliamentary democracy was based on the British electoral model. Accountability was based on British Cabinet principles.
But the Commonwealth provided no clue about the president. Britain’s head of state is a self celebrated monarchy. Governor-Generals were appointed by Her Majesty. India has no such alternative.
I guess the Nehrus were the only royal family India had. The depoliticisation of the Nehrus could have taken place by presidential office. I jest. The contribution of the Nehrus to Indian politics has been considerable even though the thought of Rahul Gandhi as a prime minister seems anathema.
In May 1947, the Constituent Assembly mulled over the discretionary powers of the president which would remain despite the cabinet system. But the president was carelessly discussed. There was discussion of even America’s presidential system.
Kovind is a Hindu ideologue. Totally grateful to Modi and Amit Shah to whom he will bend.
Now we know that in America a dimwit is less dangerous than a "Trump". In India, the reverse is the case, a manipulable dimwit is preferred by the politicians. Anyhow, Ambedkar was clear in December 1948 that the president was “the symbol of the nation... a ceremonial device on a seal by which the nations are known”. Is that all?
The thought occurs, and has been aired, why have him in the first place? Anyhow, some figure was needed and the election was to be done by MPs (Parliament) and MLAs (Assemblies).
This meant that politics would decide how presidents were to be elected and used. This could, as it has, make presidential election meaningless. The first three presidents (Rajendra Prasad, Radhakrishnan and Zakir Hussain) were every inch the ceremonial symbol required.
But Prasad did challenge the mighty Nehru on the Hindu Code. It does seem odd that Zakir Hussain allowed Mrs Gandhi to impose President’s Rule after her electoral losses in the state elections of 1967 and after.
Perhaps that is why Mrs Gandhi wanted VV Giri to be president. Although he was not the Congress nominee in 1969, she garnered support for him. Fakruddin Ahmad let the nation down when he went along to sign subversive anti-democratic measures.
The presidency had fallen in those Emergency years (1975-77) as had democracy itself. Sanjiva Reddy was anti-Congress and anti-Indira, who thwarted him earlier.
Venkataraman and Narayanan maintained a "yes-no" balance while acceding to prime minister pressures. Even Zail Singh put a "no" to the Postal Bill. By that time, the president’s prestige had fallen.
I lay less emphasis on Kalam even though he is credited to return some bills with advice. He was the "People’s President" because he met some influential people who influenced the people. I give Patil more credit than she has been.
Pranab exited Congress and was a bit of a martinet. He, too, succumbed to BJP government on President’s Rule in Arunachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand. One can see that since 1966, the president’s office has been an unprincipled office controlled by politics with limited areas of dignity and mortgaged discretion.
Kovind’s election in July 2017 was a non-event after a small ideological competition between the "Right" and the "Left". He will be confined to the President’s Palace with party whispers on how he should reign but not rule.
Meira Kumar was put into the fray too late after Nitish had already succumbed to Kovind. Meira would have given the office more, would have been more neutral and a greater credit to the office despite her political antecedents.
Kovind is a Hindu ideologue. Totally grateful to prime minister and Amit Shah to whom he will bend. Elections by political caucus is a terrible idea. Individual electors should be allowed to vote according to conscience, not party diktat.
As things stand, the president has interesting powers. The Constitution gives him the right to access all government information (Article 78), to remand matters (Article 78 (3) and 74 (1)) for reconsideration, especially after post-Emergency changes to the Constitution.
He can block President’s Rule and ordinances. He has a role in the appointment of governors. He is not a mere symbol but can be the powerful conscience keeper for the nation. This is why his post is important and should go beyond appointing stooges bereft of dignity.
Some years ago, an American (or French) style presidency system was canvassed for India. Leave aside America’s crazy of system of presidential election which gave the world Donald Trump — an evil man surrounded by evil.
That system can generate huge conflicts between the legislature and the presidency. Such a system for India would be a mistake. But leaving that debate aside, we do need to rebuild the Indian presidency.
Noticeably, the "people’s discourse" was missing on the Kovind election. Cows got more coverage. This high command presidential nominee system has to give way to a better system.
We have amended our Constitution for lesser reasons. Our Constitution, along with a devalued presidency, has been on drift for too long.
(Courtesy: Mail Today.)