Presidential elections

Harihar Swarup

Presidential election is due in three months; In July this year, President Pranab Mukherjee completes his five-year tenure and retires. The exercise to choose a new President has already begun but, this time; the presidential elections are going to be most difficult and toughest. The BJP which rules the centre and has absolute majority in the Lok Sabha, does not have requisite numbers in the Rajya Sabha and on its own, the BJP cannot ensure the victory of its candidate without getting the support of others. The new Rashtrapati will have to be a consensus candidate. No doubt, BJP increased its numbers in Uttar Pradesh assembly and this will help but not to the extent of having its candidate in Rashtrapati Bhawan.
Gone are the days when the Congress used to have its own candidate in the Rashtrapati Bhavan. Even though Pranab Mukherjee was a Congress candidate, he has to take support of non-BJP parties like Mulayam Singh’s Samajwadi Party, TMC of Mamata Banerjee and the Left parties.
Shiv Sena spokesman, Sanjay Raut,  tried to float the name of RSS Chief Mohan Bhagwat for the President’s post and said that he would make an ideal candidate. Why? Because, according to Raut, Bhagwat would take the country a step closer “to Hindu Rashtra”.
Bhagwat himself forcefully denied that he would be Presidential candidate. “I will never accept any proposal to contest Presidential election. I am a Swayamsevak first and I have responsibilities in the Sangh”.
There have been 13 Presidents since India became a Republic. Apart from these 13, three acting Presidents have also been in office for short periods. V V Giri became acting President in 1969 following death of Zakir Hussain, in office. Giri was elected President a few months later. He remains the only person to have held office both as President and acting President.
Except Dr. Rajendra Prasad, the first President, no other person had second term in Rashtrapati Bhavan. Even though Jawaharlal Nehru was opposed to a second term to Rajendra Prasad, other leaders in the Congress had their way. Nehru did not see eye to eye with Dr. Prasad on many isswues,but, like a  true democrat,  he bowed to the majority view.
Scholar-- philosopher, Dr. S. Radhakrishnan, became the second President and had a trouble free tenure. Though he was keen on a second term, Congress leaders denied him that privilege.
During Emergency time President was Fakhurddin Ali Ahmed. A Gentleman, he totally followed government dictat and signed on dotted like Indira Gandhi’s order. He signed the proclamation to declare the draconian measure like imposition of Emergency without raising any fuss. A cartoonist aptly portrayed the situation. The President was in the bath tub when a file was handed over to him through half open door. It was proclaiming Emergency. He signed it saying that if there are more papers, bring them later. He was truly a rubber stamp President.
He was the second president to die in office, on 11 February 1977. His death occurred after he collapsed in his office while preparing to attend his daily Namaz prayer. He was 72. Today his grave lies right across the Parliament next to the Sunhari Masjid, at Sansad Chowk, in New Delhi.
One of the most important functions of the President under the Constitution is in the appointment of a Prime Minister when no party in Parliament gets a majority. R. Venkataraman, who took over as President after Zail Singh, had the onerous task of appointing three Prime Ministers in two hung Parliaments during his tenure between 1989 and 1992. It is instructive to examine the basis on which he appointed the three.
Venkataraman evolved a rule that in a Parliament where no party had a majority, political parties in order of their strength should be given the opportunity to form a government and the President was not to consider the viability of a government so formed. According to him, that was to be left to the Lok Sabha.
He applied this rule in 1989 when he appointed V.P. Singh the Prime Minister as he was the head of the second largest party group, the Janata Dal/National Front — after Rajiv Gandhi as leader of the largest party, the Congress party, on his suggestion declined to form the government. Likewise, following the outcome of the general election in 1991, he appointed P.V. Narasimha Rao Prime Minister when the Congress party secured the largest strength but not a majority in the Lok Sabha.
In cases where other parties in combination have declared their opposition to the largest party, it would be futile for the leader of the largest party to even convene Parliament and only to be defeated straightaway. This was demonstrably shown when President Shankar Dayal Sharma invited A.B. Vajpayee to be the Prime Minister in 1996 because he was the leader of the single largest party in the 11th Lok Sabha without the support of any major party. Mr. Vajpayee had to withdraw his motion of confidence in the Lok Sabha and resign within 13 days when defeat stared him in the face.
Similarly, President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam called upon Sonia Gandhi to form the government in 2004 after the 14th Lok Sabha election only after he had ascertained the support of other political parties to the Congress party, which had secured the largest number of seats but not a majority. Meanwhile, one new rule was added that a party not having requisite numbers, if asked to form government, will have to prove majority on the floor of the house within a specified time.
The retiring president Pranab Mukherjee and  before him Mrs. Pratibha Patil (2007-2912) had a non controversial period as the Congress led UPA was ruling with a clear majority and this was followed in 2014 by a clear majority by the BJP led government at the centre. (IPA)

Tuesday, 11 April, 2017