Election to the post of President will be held in India on 17 July 2017, and counting will be done on 20 July, five days before the term of President Shri Pranab Mukherji expires. Ram Nath Kovind, former Governor of Bihar, has been announced as the candidate of the ruling BJP-led NDA alliance. Meira Kumar, the former Speaker of Lok Sabha, is the Congress-led opposition's candidate.
The President is elected by an electoral college consisting of elected members of both Houses of Parliament, the elected members of the Legislative Assemblies of 29 states and elected members of Legislative Assemblies of Delhi and the Union territory of Puducherry. The electoral college currently consists of 776 MPs and 4120 MLAs.
According to the Constitution, the President is the head of the Indian State. All executive power of the Indian Union is vested in him and is to be exercised by him either directly or through officers subordinate to him. The Supreme Command of defence forces is vested in him. The President appoints the Prime Minister.
All Bills after being passed by the two Houses of Parliament, must receive the assent of the President in order to become laws. When both Houses are not in session, he can promulgate Ordinances which have the same force and effect as laws passed by Parliament. All the high functionaries of the State including the Judges of the Supreme Court and of the High Courts, Governors, etc are appointed by him. The President has the power to promulgate a National Emergency (under Article 352), a State Emergency (under Article 356), or a Financial Emergency (under Article 360) and suspend fundamental rights.
Article 74 of the Constitution
It would appear from the above that the Constitution vests sovereignty in the President. However, the Constitution also stipulates, in Article 74, that the President is bound to act according to the advice of the Council of Ministers headed by the Prime Minister.
Whatever the Cabinet proposes, the President is bound to approve. He or she can send a proposal back to the Cabinet for reconsideration, but if the Cabinet submits the same proposal again, the President has no choice except to sign on the dotted line.
Why is this anachronistic feature being maintained in the Constitution and political process where a President is formally vested with sovereign powers and yet is bound to act by the advice of the Council of Ministers? This has a deliberate and conscious purpose. This enables the ruling class to use the authority of the President to legitimize the arbirtrary exercise of executive power by the Cabinet. For example, the ruling class uses the authority of the President to promulgate ordinances and bypass Parliament when it is not able to get Bills passed due to a lack of consensus between the ruling and opposition parties.
The President has an important role to play in times of political crisis, such as when the ruling class is unable to sort out contradictions within its ranks through elections. In a situation when the elections to parliament result in a “hung Parliament”, with no party having a majority, the President has the power to decide which party to invite to form a government and demonstrate its majority in Parliament. Similarly, when a government loses its parliamentary majority, the President has the power to decide which party to invite to form a government.
Constitutional pundits keep on debating endlessly on where sovereignty vests in India. However they cannot hide the fact that sovereignty is not vested in the people, despite the fact that the Preamble of the Constitution begins with the words “We, the People”.
The reason the Indian political system stands in disrepute is not merely to do with the character of the people who occupy Constitutional posts like President or Prime Minister. It has to do with the fact that the system deprives people of any role in decision-making. The people are not sovereign. Their role in the political process is confined to voting every five years in parliamentary or assembly elections and legitimizing Cabinet rule.
This supreme power and its structures and mechanisms ensure that the dominant class interest gets served. The reality is that about 150 capitalist monoply houses are effectively deciding the fate of 125 crore Indians, through the existing political system and process. To hide this, the ruling class and its political parties carry out constant deceptive propaganda that the existing system and process reflects the “will of the people”.
In the context of the 2017 presidential election, the ruling BJP is highlighting the fact that it selected a dalit candidate, while the Congress and some other opposition parties claim that their candidate is committed to secularism. Both sides are covering up the truth that the election of the President has nothing to do with addressing the problem of caste oppression or the problem of communalism and communal violence. Such deceptive propaganda serves to divert attention from the real problem, i.e. that people have no say in deciding their future within the existing system.
The issue is not who gets elected as the President, but where sovereignty must vest. At the heart of the crisis of India is that the political system and process deprives people of sovereignty. The crisis of India can be put an end to only by vesting sovereignty in the people.
There is need to establish a modern democracy, consistent with the need of the people to exercise control over their lives. If sovereignty has to reside in the people as a whole, it cannot exist as a supreme decision-making power which rules over them.
The urgent task of today is to build unity around the aim and program of replacing the existing capitalist democracy with a superior system of democracy, in which supreme power must be in the hands of the working people. The right to select and elect their representatives, the right to recall them and the right to initiate legislation must vest in the people. The executive power must be subordinate to the legislature and the legislature must be subordinate to the electorate. The new system must ensure that the electorate does not hand over all powers to those elected, but retain decision making powers.