The first President of independent India was Dr. Rajendra Prasad. Mrs. Pratibha Patil is the present President. Other occupants of this high post were Dr. Sarbapalli Radhakrishnan, Dr. Zakir Hussain, V. V. Giri, Dr. Fakiruddin Ali Ahmed, N. Sanjeev Reddy, Zail Singh, R. Venkataraman, Dr. S. D. Sharma, Dr. K.R. Narayanan and A.P.J. Abdul Kalam.
All of them were great persons. They had excelled in different fields of life. The present President is equally great. It is thus clear that the post of President of India has always been occupied by great persons.
Of all the Presidents of India, past and present, all but three belonged, to the Congress party. The three exceptions were V. V. Giri, Sanjeeva Reddy and Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam. However, it may be pointed out that even Giri and Reddy, for most parts of their political career, were Congress leaders. The following discussion will throw light on this debatable issue.
Election of the President
The President is elected for a term of five years. His term starts from the day he assumes his office. He may also resign before his term expires. He has to send his resignation letter to the Vice-President who has to communicate immediately the resignation of the President to the Lok Sabha Speaker. The President may also be removed from office through impeachment.
Qualifications of the President
According to Article 57 of the Indian constitution, the candidate for the post of President shall have the following qualifications.
1. He must be a citizen of India.
2. He must have been at least 35 years of age.
3. He must have necessary qualifications to become a member of the Lok Sabha.
4. He must not be a member of either House of the Parliament or of a state legislature. If he is a member of the Parliament or of the legislature of any state, he will be required to vacate his seat before he assumes the office of the President, in case he is elected as the President.
5. He must not, at the time of election, hold any office of profit under the Government of India or under any state government or local authorities.
Articles 54 and 55 deal with the process of the election of the President of India.
In the Constituent Assembly there was debate on the election of the President. Some members of the Constituent Assembly favoured direct election of the President on the ground that he is the head of the country.
They gave the example of the American President who is directly elected by American voters. But this suggestion of direct election was rejected. A great majority of the members of the Constituent Assembly opposed direct election of the President on the following grounds:
1. As the size of the Indian electorate is huge, it would be very difficult to organize direct election of the President.
2. Direct election will be very expensive.
3. Direct election would be superfluous and unnecessary, because the President is at best a figurehead without exercising any real powers.
The Constituent Assembly, therefore, supported indirectly electing the President by an electoral college. The Electoral College comprises (1) the elected members of both Houses of the Parliament and (2) the elected members of the State Legislative Assemblies.
This means that the nominated members of the Parliament, the nominated members of State Legislative Assemblies and the members of State Legislative Councils are not eligible to take part in the election of President.
Procedure of Election
Article 55 of the constitution says that the election of the President of India shall be in accordance with the system of proportional representation by means of single transferable vote. The constitution has taken care to ensure that there is parity of votes between the total number of votes cast by the members of the Parliament and the total number of votes cast by the members of all State Legislative Assemblies.
The parity principle has been introduced to strengthen federalism by providing for balance between the centre and the states. Another significant feature of the Presidential election is the weighing of votes. Each ballot has some value and this value is assigned according to a formula provided in the constitution itself. The formula is:
1. Every elected member of the Legislative Assembly of a state shall have as many votes as there are multiples of one thousand in the quotient which one gets by dividing the population of that state by the total number of the elected members of the Legislative Assembly.
2. An elected member of the Parliament shall have as many votes as the quotient obtained by dividing the total number of votes cast by all elected members of State Legislative Assemblies by the total number of elected members of the Parliament.
In presidential election each voter will give preference for candidates. To give the first preference for a candidate he will indicate 1 against the name of that candidate in the ballot paper. Similarly, he will indicate 2 against the name of a candidate whom he wants to give the second preference. In this way he will give as many preferences as many candidates are there.
At the time of counting, the first preferences are first counted. If a candidate gets absolute majority (at least 50 % of total votes + 1), then he is declared elected. If no candidate gets absolute majority, then the candidate getting the lowest votes is eliminated and the second preference votes of those voters who had given their first preferences for him are counted.
In other words, the second preference votes of these voters are transferred to other candidates. After this transfer of votes is done, counting of votes is done in order to see if any candidate gets absolute majority. If any candidate gets absolute majority, the counting stops. But if nobody wins absolute majority, the candidate getting the lowest votes is eliminated and the third preferences of those voters who had voted for him are taken into account.
The third preference votes of these voters are transferred to other candidates. In this way the counting continues until one of the candidates gets absolute majority of total votes and gets elected as the President. As each voter has a single vote having several preferences and as that vote is transferable, it is called the single transferable vote system.
Between 1952 and 1997, ten presidential elections were held and only once in 1969 no candidate was declared elected after the counting of first preference votes. In that year, the candidates were V.V.Giri, N.S. Reddy, C.D. Desmukh and others. V.V.Giri got 4, 01,515 first preference votes. Reddy and Desmukh got 3, 13,548 and 12,799 first preference votes respectively. Giri was short of 16,654 votes to get absolute majority.
After the counting of second preference votes, Giri got 4, 20,077 votes which was more than absolute majority and Reddy got 4, 05,427 votes only. Giri was declared elected as the President of India.
In the Presidential election held in July 1997, K.R. Narayanan was elected as the President. He achieved the distinction of polling the highest number of votes in a Presidential election. He got the support of 4231 elected MPs and MLAs whose value votes came to 956, 290 constituting 94, 97 per cent of the total. His opponent, T.N. Seshan received the votes of 240 legislators accounting for 631 value votes. In other words, Seshan got only 5 03 per cent of the total value votes cast. Incidentally, he lost his security deposit.
In July 2002, A.P.J. Abdul Kalam was sworn in as the eleventh President of India. In the election held on 18 July 2002, he defeated Mrs. Laxmi Sehgal, the candidate of Left Parties. Mr. Kalam got 89-58 per cent of votes.
It is worth pointing out that Dr. Abdul Kalam was the first person to successfully contest in the Presidential election without any experience in politics. It also needs to be emphasized that Mrs. Laxmi Sehgal was the first woman candidate in the presidential election of India. It is further worth pointing out that Mrs. Pratibha Patil is the first women President of India. She belongs to Congress.
Criticisms of Election System
Some of criticisms leveled against the system of Presidential election are stated below.
1. The single transferable vote system, followed in the election of India's President is not rational. This system is generally followed when several persons are to be elected through the same election. But, in the election of President of India, only one person is to be elected.
2. Some legislators are unduly excluded from the Electoral College. The members of Rajya Sabha which is the upper house of the Parliament are included in the Electoral College, but those of Legislative councils, which are the upper house of the legislature of concerned state, are not included in the Electoral College.
3. The President is the head of state. Those who contest for this post should have possessed rare qualities, but many undeserving persons are becoming candidates in this election.
Oath or Affirmation
Before entering upon his office, the President of India or any person acting as the President of India is required to take an oath in the presence of the Chief Justice of India or in his absence, the seniormost Judge of the Supreme Court available.
By making affirmation in the prescribed form, the President swears (i) to faithfully execute the office of the President or discharge the functions of the President; (ii) to preserve, protect and defend the constitution and (iii) to devote himself to the service and welfare of the people of India.
Term of Office
The President holds office for a period of five years. He is eligible for reelection. But a convention has grown that no President would seek reelection beyond his second term. A President can resign before the expiry of his term. He has to address the letter of his resignation to the Vice-President of India.
The President of India can be removed from his office by impeachment. At least one- fourth of the members of either House of Parliament can prefer charge against the President with a 14 days' notice. After 14 days, vote is taken in the House which starts the impeachment proceeding.
If the impeachment resolution is passed by at least two-thirds of the total member of that House, the resolution is referred to the other House of the Parliament to investigate. During investigation the President may be present in person or his representative may attend it.
If the investigating house also approves the resolution by not less than two-thirds majority of the total members of that house, the President stands impeached. He stands removed from his office from the day of passage of this resolution. However, no President of India has been impeached so far.
When the office of the President falls vacant due to his removal, resignation, and death or otherwise, the Vice-President functions as the President during the period of vacancy. The vacancy has to be filled up by fresh election within six months at the maximum.
The President draws Rs. 1, 50,000 (One Lakh and Fifty thousand) as his emoluments per month and he gets Rs. 3, 00,000 (Three lakh) as annual pension on retirement. His emoluments cannot be reduced during the period he holds office.
The Rashtrapati Bhawan is the official residence of the President of India. The British government built it in 1930 on the land of 400 acres. This consists of 314 rooms. The Moghul Garden which has historic importance is part of this bhawan. The monthly maintenance cost of Rashtrapati Bhawan is around Rs. One Crore.
The President of India is entitled to certain personal and legal immunities. He is not answerable to any court for the exercise of his powers and functions. No criminal proceeding can be initiated against the President. He cannot be arrested or imprisoned during the terra of his office. However, a civil suit can be started against him with a two-month notice.