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Presidential farce?
Leaving Presidential elections in the hands of a few politicians destroys the very essence of the post

In July this year, as has been the norm in the past, the nation can expect a great deal of political wrangling and attempts to rebalance political equations. All political parties will be looking to make their candidate the honorary occupant of Rashtrapati Bhawan. But then again, as the norm has been in the past, expect the ruling party’s candidate to win the race head on, without much ado (read a related story later in this issue; Deciding on India’s First Citizen). And with that eventuality, our electoral college could well make a farce out of what is supposedly India’s most respectable and coveted position – and for the 13th time.

Unlike the US, India developed a very unique methodology to elect the President – not by the people but by an indirect system laid down in Article 54 of the Indian Constitution. This system has been discussed and debated in the Constituent Assembly time and again. Many members have opined that the election of the President by members of both houses of Parliament and the Legislative Assemblies of the States is not substantially representative of the people’s will. Therefore, a large proportion of members have preferred direct election by the people over the indirect Electoral College method. But still, the Constituent Assembly deliberately continues with the indirect Presidential election. Does it still hold any merit at all?

Our Constituent Assembly upholds its support for the indirect election method due to many reasons. Firstly, the role of the first citizen of India is ‘very technical’ and minimal number of voters would be competent enough to evaluate the technical abilities of such a candidate. Secondly, to be elected by the people, the candidate needs to conduct an election campaign and he/she needs a political party for the campaigning program.

However, these petty issues can be addressed by allowing the nominating party to conduct campaigns highlighting the very competency and worthiness of the candidate. One must note that the current system is heavily loaded with political bias and suffers from various structural flaws.

The Indian Constitution has put in its maximum effort to be unbiased and fair in choosing the President; thus making sure that he/she should not always be from the ruling party. But a trend analysis shows that the ruling party nominee always wins irrespective of whether he/she is the most deserving candidate. Current President Pratibha Patil was nominated for Presidency by the ruling UPA; in the past, APJ Abdul Kalam, too, was chosen by then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Thus the President elected (read: selected), becomes a mere puppet of the ruling government in most cases. Even our Constitution has not laid down any guidelines pertaining to Presidential election by the Electoral College. Political parties select their candidates for the post to fulfil their own political interests; thus reducing the authority of this chair, which is also expected to maintain checks and balances on both houses of Parliament.

Over the last 62 years, the Constitutional head of the country has played a significant role in changing the nation’s future. Presidents like Dr. Rajendra Prasad, Dr. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan and Dr. Zakir Hussain, to name a few, have contributed immensely to the process of nation building. Dr. Kalam was the man who successfully even became the people’s President in spite of being indirectly elected and became a useful bridge between the people and their representatives.
It is evident that the Constitutional provision of Article 54 is at a crossroads, and it is of utmost importance to usher in reforms in the Presidential elections. To keep the political agenda behind the appointment of the Supreme Commander in Chief of our armed forces at bay, our Constitution should take away this power from a few politicians and hand it over to public at large; thus maintaining the spirit and essence of the ‘first citizen of India’.

By:- Amir Hossain

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