Who Is India’s Next President?
The nation will elect a new Rashtrapati in July this year and by all reckoning the Presidential election will be a turning point in national politics.
Hemmed in by a string of losses in state elections, mired in charges of huge corruption both in the Centre and the states, confronted by an ailing leader who is unwilling or unable to take decisions, and a steadily growing attack on the congress-led UPA at the Centre, the presidential election will see the possibility of polarization and will also set the tone and tenor of what lies ahead for the ruling UPA in the months after the Presidential contest.
All political parties are on alert as moves and counter moves have begun by the regional chieftains to send the message, “main bhi hoon”. Just recently Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalitha sat in Tamil Nadu bhawan in Delhi and gave an audience to Naveen Patnaik and Narender Modi. It is learnt that the discussions veered around, “agla rashtrapati kaun” and which way the regional chiefs go and whether they can throw up a combined name which can be a force to reckon with.
Interestingly, it has been suggested that Jayalalitha threw Narender Modi a line which must have made him think long and deep into the night: that he should think of quitting from the BJP and floating his own party as he wins not because of the BJP but because he is Narender Modi.
This suggestion has opened the flood gates of possibilities of a Fourth-front and the fact that regional formations may be the driving force in forming the next government at the Centre with the Congress descending more and more into chaos and the BJP unable to come out of its existing chaos.
Akhilesh Yadav, the new kid on the block who is hogging all the headlines after his party’s striking victory in Uttar Pradesh has made the comment that there has never been an OBC President in the country. The Samajwadi Party will be an important player with regional leaders as well as the Congress wooing them to make up the numbers.
Kiranmay Nanda the newly elected Rajya Sabha MP from West Bengal on the samajwadi party ticket met Mamta Banerjee and invited her to hold discussions with Mulayam Singh Yadav on the Presidential issue. Mamta has accepted the invitation and will be meeting the SP leader. While Mulayam appears to be using Mamta to pressurize the congress party, it is probably well known to Mamta Banerjee that the SP enjoys a close and warm relationship with the left parties. Mulayam Singh and Prakash Karat were seen holding hands when the latter came to Lucknow for the swearing in ceremony of Akhilesh Yadav as Chief Minister.
For the moment the Congress is keeping its cards close to its chest. But the internal arithmetic of the party says that it needs both Mulayam Singh Yadav and Mamta Banerjee to make up the numbers to get the new president elected. But the catch is that Mamta is part of the government and unless the Congress uses the Presidential election as an excuse to get rid of Mamta Banerjee, it may not be easy to sideline the highly strung chief minister of West Bengal.
The Congress which believes in form and protocol would certainly not want the kind of headlines which scream that its own ally votes against its candidate. It was the same thinking which led the Congress to withdraw its Rajya Sabha candidate from the fray in West Bengal because he was winning and that made Mamta frown.
The Congress thinks it can do business with Mulayam Singh Yadav but at the moment he is also flexing his muscles and the party would have to either agree to his candidate or give him the vice presidentship in return.
The BJP has been more than willing to strike a deal with the Congress party. It has put out some through well meaning intermediaries that they can discuss a package which includes the President, the vice president and the deputy chairman of the Rajya Sabha which is coming up for renewal. The BJP’s selling point is that the two national parties should join hands to get their nominees through rather than share political space with regional parties which will only be strengthened at the cost of both congress and BJP, if too much weightage is given to them in terms of letting them dictate who the candidates should be.
Sound logic say a number of Congress leaders but then at the end of the day, Sonia Gandhi would not like to be seen as striking a deal with the BJP, particularly when the minorities have deserted the Congress in a big way in a state like UP where their vote went to a non congress non BJP party which romped home with huge numbers.
While two candidates in the Presidential fray would lead to a direct contest with the winning candidate needing 51 per cent of the vote, the ruling party would find it easier if there were three candidates in the fray. According to the calculations available the Left may be only too happy to oblige by putting up a third candiadate. In that scenario, in the event no candidate gets 51 per cent of the votes, second preference votes would be cast. And since a political party cannot give its own candidate second preference votes, the Left can vote for the congress candidate and the congress can vote for the Left candidate. This would ensure that the tally adds upto 51 per cent of the votes.
THE SAFFRON STRATEGY
The BJP just wants to make one point loud and clear in this year’s Presidential Polls that the ruling Congress is in no position to appoint anyone of its choice as the next President as its popularity is sliding!
In other words, Congress chief Sonia Gandhi or her son, Rahul Gandhi, cannot have their way to cherry picking their nominee for Rashtrapati Bhavan.
That’s not a good news for the Congress ahead of the 2014 Lok Sabha polls. That too when the Congress has been unable to show that it has broken the cycle of losing polls in Mumbai, UP and now, Delhi.
Sonia Gandhi would certainly like to have somebody as the next President who is friendly to the Congress when Rahul Gandhi makes his bid for the top job. enior BJP leaders candidly admit that they have no one in mind as the BJP and even the NDA does not command enough number in the electoral college that chooses the President.
So, their strategy to is force a situation on the Congress, in which it has to negotiate with the opposition or agree on a name of a person who is not strictly a die-hard loyalist of the Gandhi family.
Left to herself, Sonia Gandhi would like firm loyalists like A K Antony, Sushil Kumar Shinde, Tarun Gogoi or even Meira Kumar. But, as BJP leaders see it, she would be forced to consider other names.
The Congress’ choice will ultimately be decided by the preferences of Samajwadi Party boss Mulayam Singh Yadav or Trinamool Congress’ chief Mamata Banerjee. In fact, it is no surprise that the Congress leaders have begun to informally sound the name of Vice-President Hamid Ansari, who was originally the Left’s choice in 2007. The BJP leaders say the Congress’ calculation would be to go for a Muslim name so that neither Yadav nor Banerjee rejects it easily as they are heavily wedded to the minority vote bank. However, Banerjee is not agreeable to Ansari’s name, as she told Uday India a few days ago. “Why, Ansari is not the only Muslim candidate,” she said.
But BJP leaders are aware that Union ministers are feverishly working on Banerjee to soften her opposition to Ansari, promising her more money from New Delhi to tide over West Bengal’s debt of over Rs 22,000 crore.
Therefore, BJP leaders have thought of another plan. They would not mind Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee as the next President. But he is not acceptable to the Gandhis. Mukherjee has himself told his friends that the Congress chief would prefer Antony.
In April first week, when senior BJP leader Arun Jaitley flew to Chennai for an audience with Tamil Nadu chief minister Jayalalithaa, he reportedly sounded her the name of Punjab chief minister Parkash Singh Badal for the President and Nationalist Congress Party leader P A Sangma.
Jaitley also apparently indicated to her that former President AJ Abdul Kalam could be persuaded to contest again if he is assured of victory. In response, Jayalalithaa wanted more discussions on the names with other possibile allies. Bihar chief minister and JD(U) leader Nitish Kumar has also been talking to leaders of some “secular” and regional arties. No wonder, when Jayalalithaa hosted chief ministers of Gujarat and Odisha, Narendra Modi and Naveen Patnaik, on April 16, there was intense speculation that their discussion centred on the Presidential polls.
Incidentally, senior BJP leaders have also not ruled out the possibility of the Congress directly approaching them for supporting a candidate of its choice in exchange for backing a BJP leader for the post of Vice-President. In fact, BJP chief Nitin Gadkari is said to have sounded out Murli Manohar Joshi, who did not like the idea at all as he thought it was a ploy to edge him out of the Prime Minister race in 2014. A Jaipur-based astrologer apparently told Joshi that he must stay on in active politics as his stars were bright when the Lok Sabha polls are held.
In 2002, Kalam chosen to serve as the 11th President after BJP leaders did quickly proposed his name after Mulayam Singh Yadav floated his name first. Yadav remembered Kalam as he had headed the Defence Research Development Organisation (DRDO) when he was Defence Minister in the United Front government between 1996 and 1998. Kalam won the 2002 elections with an electoral vote of 922,884, surpassing 107,366 votes won by Lakshmi Sehgal who was propped up by the Left.
The Congress was forced to back as Kalam the NDA nominee after the Samajwadi Party announced its support for him. K R Narayanan, whom the Congress wanted to give a second term in office, had to bow out as the Congress could not be seen as opposing a Muslim. Kalam served from 25 July 2002 to 24 July 2007.
Coming to this year’s elections, the BJP would like use the platform of the NDA to reach out to a large number of regional parties and take their views into account before deciding its mind. Already, the BJP leaders say they would not mind even a Left choice if the name appealed to everybody else. The BJP’s main purpose is to embarrass the Congress. That will be the first step towards emerging as the most favoured party to lead a coalition post-2014.
By Sri Chakra
While speculation has reached fever pitch on who would be the next President, senior congress leaders say at the moment there are only 2 strong candidates from the Congress side. They are Pranab Mukherjee and Hamid Ansari. The rest they say are mere speculations which include Karan Singh, Sam Pitroda, Shivraj Patil, Gopal Gandhi etc.
While on the face of it, anyone and everyone across the political spectrum admits and accepts that Pranab Mukherjee is the most outstanding choice and a deserving one since he was denied the presidentship last time even though the Left had proposed his name. The Congress also admits that it would be prudent to have a political person as the next president of India. A person who can keep the political balance in the event that the congress is voted out of power from the Centre, which is looking more and more likely to most Congressmen.
In the category of eminence, and political power play Pranab Mukherjee is head and shoulders above others but the only drawback being mentioned against his name is “who will run the government if he is sent as President”. He would probably turn around and retort: then why not make me the prime minister, if I am in any case running the government”.
But senior muslim leaders of the Congress have floated a new line which is in support to make Hamid Ansari as the President. They say that whenever a party has appointed someone as the Vice President, that person is always elevated as the president if the same political party continues to be in power. They give the example of Bhairon Singh Shekhawat who could not be elevated to President because the NDA had been voted out of power and Krishan Kant who died while in office. He was the vice president.
These leaders are now saying there is nothing against Ansari and that he must be made the President since the Congress is in power. They add that Pranab Mukherjee is a good choice but then who will run the government? But the problem is that since Ansari was the choice of the Left parties at the time of the last election and the Congress adopted his name; but knowing Mamta’s aversion to the Left, any name proposed by the left will automatically be deposed by her.
CAN NEXT PRESIDENT CHANGE INDIA?
Home Minister Mr P Chidambaram has repeatedly said that the Maoists pose the biggest security threat to the Indian nation. He is right but not necessarily for the reasons that led him to say this. Except for the Maoists all other terrorist groups support separatist demands. It is only the Maoists who demand a change of the system. Never mind if the system they promote is horrendous. The fact that a systemic change is being espoused while an increasing number of citizens is coming to believe that the present system does not deliver, gives resonance to their demand. This magnifies the Maoist threat for the entire nation. The best way to counter the Maoists is by pre-empting them. The system should be changed desirably to nip their movement in the bud.
A vague start is being made in that direction by several chief ministers who are bonding together against the Central government in order to promote federalism that is implicit in our Constitution. As yet their criticism provides scant hope. They are focused on just one aspect of a much larger problem. They focus on the Centre’s proclivity to violate the spirit of the Constitution by encroaching on the state’s rights. The problem is much bigger. It is the lack of governance and absence of the rule of law that mars the whole nation. The state governments are no better than the Central government in observing the letter and spirit of the law when it comes to governance. Unless this failure is redressed there is little hope of either ushering in genuine federalism or indeed adequate rule of law for India to qualify as a healthy democracy. How might such change be introduced?
The widely held unspoken hope is that the regional parties unite to create a new national alternative that might improve governance and deliver a more participatory democracy. There is little in the performance of any regional leader to strengthen this hope. The truth is that all politicians cutting across party and region are caught up in the prevailing political culture. As yet the regional parties seem to strive only for yet another unstable coalition. The goal of a stable federation has still to be articulated. A federation unlike a coalition would contest parliamentary elections under one symbol in order to ease pressures and blackmail against the Central government by the federal partners. Therefore the hope of immediate change will come about only through altering the present system of governance. A significant start to initiate such change can be accomplished through one stroke by the regional parties if they seek reform and not just power.
As repeatedly pointed out by this writer, the system will achieve desired reforms not by changing the Constitution but by obeying it. We must follow the Constitution. The Chairman of the Constitution’s Drafting Committee was Babasaheb Ambedkar. He was a brilliant student who studied Law in America. The startling similarities between the sub-continental, multi-ethnic nations of America and India could not have escaped him. At the same time he could not have ignored the evolution of India under colonial Britain, committed to the Westminster form of parliamentary democracy. So he married the two systems to create a model best suited to the genius of India. He created a Presidential system in which the executive was accountable to parliament.
As recently quoted in an article by former West Bengal Governor Mr Gopal Gandhi, on November 4, 1948 Ambedkar said in the Constituent Assembly: “Under the non-parliamentary system, such as the one that exists in the USA, the assessment of the responsibility of the Executive is periodic. It takes place once in two years. It is done by the electorate. In England, where the parliamentary system prevails, the assessment of responsibility of the Executive is both daily and periodic. The daily assessment is done by Members of Parliament… Periodic assessment is done by the electorate at the time of elections. The daily assessment of responsibility is far more effective than the periodic assessment and far more necessary for a country like India.” That is why in the world’s longest Constitution Ambedkar did not opt for a Westminster parliamentary system but a Presidential system in which the Executive is assessed by Parliament.
In that sense the Indian Constitution is closer to the French system. It gives executive power to the President and a watchdog role as well as legislative power to Parliament. That is why Article 79 of the Constitution describing the constitution of Parliament states: “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.” The President is part of Parliament. That does not affect the President’s executive role. If the original non-amended Constitution were considered the President has a full executive power. One need not reiterate Constitutional Articles 75, 78 and 86 to recall that the President can direct the Cabinet to discuss any subject, can dismiss any Minister, and address one or both Houses of Parliament to proffer opinion on any subject. The Prime Minister must brief the President on all administrative matters as directed by the President. All promotions, transfers, demotions and dismissals of officials are in the President’s name and therefore subject to Presidential discretion. The President is Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces. The President may exercise executive power through officers subordinate to him. The Prime Minister and Ministers are subordinate to the President. At the state level the Governor ensures observance of law as the President’s agent not accountable to the Union Cabinet. The Supreme Court ruled that the Governor is not subservient to the Union Cabinet.
That is why India’s first President Dr. Rajendra Prasad had serious differences with Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. The latter wanted the President to be akin to a titular head like the British Sovereign. Dr. Prasad, a distinguished lawyer himself, pointed out that nowhere does our explicitly written Constitution state this. Later Indira Gandhi as Prime Minister was always conscious that legally Dr Prasad was right and her father was wrong. That is why she was paranoid about insisting that only a totally subservient nominee of hers should be President. This paranoia led her to vote against her own proposed candidate Dr. Sanjeeva Reddy and have him defeated, and thereby split the Congress Party. Subsequently under her dictatorial rule during the Emergency she had introduces the 42nd Amendment by which it became mandatory for the President to follow the advice of the Union Cabinet. For the President to effectively exercise authority, a deletion of the 42nd Amendment would be desirable. But regardless of this Amendment there are still sufficient powers with the President for the office to play a very decisive role in the governance of the nation. And despite the 42nd Amendment there is still the provision in Article 53 of the Constitution that allows the President to “exercise power directly”.
All the glaring deficiencies of Indian democracy such as the infringement against federalism, or the subversion of local governance, or the violation of law can be overcome by implementing the neglected provisions of our Constitution such as Article 263 for establishing the Inter-State Council, or the Directive Principles of State Policy such as the one making all local governance self sufficient. But for a game-changing start the first requirement would be to get a President who discharges the responsibilities assigned to the office by the Constitution. If that were done immediately, even under the existing amended Constitution the President would act as the Super Lokpal to ensure that all laws are observed and all official personnel policy conforms to rule and procedure. For the rest the President would exercise moral authority to advise the Union Cabinet and Parliament on all matters of state policy. The President would not be involved directly in governance but have a monitory and advisory role.
Thus far we have had Presidential candidates on the assumption that the office is of a titular head. This can change if in the forthcoming Presidential election in July the parties put up candidates affirming their resolve to discharge the responsibilities of the office as described in our written Constitution. If the regional parties desire a genuine change, this is their chance for a paradigm shift in Indian politics. Let them put up a candidate who is truly Presidential. The rest, including their effort to finalise the creation of a stable national alternative, can follow later. Are the Chief Ministers up to it?
By Rajinder Puri
HOW THE PRESIDENT IS ELECTED
Election process for India’s next President is scheduled to begin on June 16. The tentative date proposed for the President’s election is July 19, so as to complete the entire process, including the counting of votes, by July 21, four days ahead before incumbent Pratibha Patil completes her term as India’s first lady President.
Interestingly, Chief Election Commission S Y Quraishi will commence the process, but he will retire before the election. His successor will sign the register of the newly elected President. The tentative calendar drawn up by the Election Commission contemplates that it will issue the notification for the election on June 16 while the last date for filing nominations will be on Saturday, June 30.
The scrutiny of nominations takes place on July 2. Withdrawals will be allowed up to July 4, a Wednesday, and polling, if necessary, will be held on July 19, a Thursday. In case of an election, the counting of votes will be held on July 21, another Saturday.
The electoral college for the Presidential election constitutes the elected members of the Lok Sabha, the Rajya Sabha and the legislative assemblies of all states, including Delhi and the Union territory of Pondicherry. The nominated members of the Rajya Sabha, Lok Sabha and legislative assemblies are not eligible to vote in this election.
The vote of each MP and MLA has a pre-determined value, which is arrived at on the basis of the population they represent. The value assigned to an MP’s vote is 708. The MLAs’ vote value varies, depending on the population of each state. The winning candidate must secure at least 50% of the total value of votes polled.
In Electoral College
In an electoral college with a total value of 10,98,882, UPA commands votes whose total value is 4,39,437. The value of NDA’s combined vote-share stands at 3,07,737, while that of non-NDA opposition (CPM+CPI+ RSP+Forward Bloc+AIADMK+BJD+ TDP+AGP) is pegged at 1,54,534.
It would be evident from the respective shares of NDA and the non-NDA Opposition in the electoral college that the total value of their votes would come to 4,62,271, which is more than that of the UPA. Congress, in order to ensure that its nominee is elected as the next president, will not only have to keep Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee in good humour, but will also have to warm up to either SP or BSP.
For the UPA to get its nominee elected, a lot will depend on which way parties like the AIADMK (35,960), Left (51,646) and BJD (29,507) swing. Then there are the five states (Goa, Manipur, Punjab, Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh). The total value of votes in all these states comes to about 1,03,756. In Uttar Pradesh alone, the total value of votes is at 83,824.
Evidently for the UPA, to push its candidate it will also have to keep the TMC happy as that ally controls about 45,484 vote value. And thereby hangs another tale. Congress’ plight has only worsened in recent times, with its key ally, Trinamool Congress, often joining hands with the Opposition. West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee has formed an ‘east coast axis’ with her counterparts from Bihar and Odisha. The TMC has 19 members in the Lok Sabha, and six in the Rajya Sabha. In the 294-member West Bengal assembly, it has a tally of 184 MLAs.
Of course, things will be differnt if the Congress gets Mulayam Singh on board and then decides to say good bye to the government and go for elections after the Vice Presidential poll which follows soon after.
Sources say that if Pranab is not made the President, he may be given another post of significance but that is still in the realm of speculation like the names which are doing the rounds.
The regional chieftains are going to meet in the beginning of May to put their act together and throw up a viable candidate. The BJP would also be looking to either put up a viable candidate or to muscle in on the name selected by the regional leaders and become a part of the bandwagon.
Here the alignment and realignment of political forces will come into play and would set the tone and mood for the next two years. The new President would be sworn in on July 25 while the notification is likely to be issued by june 4, giving 21 days for campaigning as well as for filing nominations etc. The election process has to be completed by July 18.
With the budget session ending on May 22 and the UPA set to celebrate its 3 years in power on the same day, having been re-elected in 2009, there is a buzz that the contours of the next President would clearly be outlined by May 22 when the UPA presents its report to the nation on its performance and governance.
But one person whom nobody is talking about in the Presidential context is Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh, highly placed sources in the Congress disclose that the wily Prime Minister also has a candidate up his sleeve and is very serious to send him to the sprawling Rashtrapati Bhawan. He is plugging for the eminent lawyer Fali Nariman who is from the minority, (he is a Parsi) and was earlier in the Rajya Sabha, again thanks to Dr Singh. Whether Sonia Gandhi agrees to his choice is not clear since the Congress would first have to finalise its choice for the top post, before they approach allies and near-allies and work on building a consensus with political parties to avoid the high speed race to Rashtrapati Bhawan.
By Renu Mittal