We are in the midst of the Presidential Elections in India. There are two contenders and the winner is a bygone conclusion. The biggest quality that both the contenders posses apparently is their caste apart from their public service credentials. One of them is also daughter of a famous father.
Does it really matter who is the President? Does he or she have any real power. Isn’t the position that of a mere figure head or say a rubber stamp. Isn’t it a relic of the Raj? Why waste so much money on the upkeep of this facade? Why can’t we just do away with it and shall we say be a true blue democracy?
Well that could be a very poignant and a very practical point of view, but let’s look at this through another lens
I must admit, I am addicted to Netflix and The Crown is my latest binge. My affair with The Crown will be over tonight itself and then I will be onto Narcos.
Coming back to The Crown. The Crown has captured my attention and has given me a glimpse to the early years of the current Queen’s annointment. Her relationship with the government. Her relationship with her family and the Golden Cage that she lives in which is the title called “The Crown”. There is pretty much nothing that she could do of her own volition and she needs to take permission from her advisors and the cabinet for pretty much everything. It’s almost like she has to dress up, look the part, show up and read speeches written for her. She doesn’t even have the right to change the speech. The queen is pretty much the most galvanised prisoner there is. But is it so?
We get a glimpse of her power in one instance.
Winston Churchill, yes the man who caused the Great Bengal famine(I believe once when he was queried while diverting food for Bengal to the war and causing the great Bengal Famine, he asked “Did Gandhi die?”) Nevertheless… The old man is ill and there are pressing matters of the state without getting into specifics that he needs to attend to. The old man wishes to cling on to power till the last straw and conceals his health from the queen. This is in contravention to his duties as a Prime Minister.
The Queen calls Mr. Churchill and gives him a dressing down. A very significant occasion in the series as this is the rare instance when the young 25 year old figure head exercises but any power on the 77 year old statesman.
What is significant is the interpretation of the constitution that she draws from. She quotes from the book “The English Constitution” by Walter Bagehot which calls the elected govt and the Crown as the Efficient and the Dignified. Walter says that there is a reason why power has been gently balanced between The Efficient and the Dignified. For all practical purposes the power rests with the Elected Govt, but then they are running the Govt of the Crown and the Crown draws the power from well God. The interpretation is that the Crown in 99% of the time is just a figurehead but when the time comes it is the concience keeper of the nation. There are very subtle things that the crown can do which can rein in the elected govt if it steps out of line.
Power is a very subtle thing. And hence it needs to be balanced for any possible indescretions. Let’s look at a traditional Indian House hold. There is a Grand Father, who pretty much depends upon every one in the house for his daily chores. He is on a perenial support system. Can’t hear properly, can’t chew his food. The father runs the house, The mother manages internal matters. But when the elders are out of line, say too tough with the kids or do something that the kids can’t reprimand them for, like say a drinking habit or anything grave, this old almost indisposed person exercises power that till now lay dormant and the elders fall in line. The power is drawn from cultural conditioning and a shared societal value system.
Now let’s look at the Indian Presidency in this light.
There is no doubt that like the Westminster model the Indian President is largely a figurehead with not many real powers. However the President like the earlier eg can and has exercised powers when the elected or shall I say the Efficient has been out of line.
Let’s look at the few instances when the Indian President has exercised this right
Instance 1. Dr. RAJENDRA Prasad opposing the Hindu Code Bill, he warned Nehru that he would refer the bill to the supreme court, resulting in a watered down version of the bill being passed.
Instance 2. President Zail Singh exercised Pocket Veto in 1987 when he sat on the Post Office Bill passed by both houses of Govt which allowed snooping on all mail communication. His successor Shankar Dayal sharma also sat on the bill
Instance 3. President KR Narayanan sent back a proposal to declare Presidents rule in UP. In that breif period, Narayanan exercised higher authority than the minority govt headed by IK Gujral
Instance 4. President Kalam exercised suspensive Veto when he refused to sign the Office for Profit bill and sent it back to the cabinet, only to be cleared post ammendments.
Instance 5. The current President, Pranab Mukherjee warned the govt on passing legislation through money bills and asked them to take the parliamentary route.
Power is a very subtle thing and true welfare can only be achieved when the power is balanced and each constituent stays within its rights.
While it is almost akin to asking for Utopia,the role of the President is primarily as conscience keeper of the Constitution. If all is in order he is just a figure head, but when the constitution is in crisis he has to step in and reprimand like the Grand father of the house.
This govt has dismissed two state govts, Arunachal & Uttarakhand and imposed President’s rule. The Governor’s role in both of these states has been highly questionable, the courts had to step in and reverse the order. This is one instance where the President should have played conscience keeper and avoided the govt the ignominy of judicial reprimand.
Hence it is extremely important that the President of the Country be someone of impeccable stature and have a standing distinct from the govt of the day.
Till such time both candidates can brandish their caste on their chests as a medallion and prove their credentials.
If it were England, one would have said, “God save the Queen…” But this is India so let’s say “Satyamev Jayate”