Some Random Thoughts on the office of – President of India, Governor of a State and Member of Rajya Sabha (Upper House of Parliament)

Raisina Hills in Delhi

Ramesh Chander

(Asian Independent)- India is a democratic country with parliamentary system of government. It is also a ‘Union of States’ with Federal structures in normal times and with a sort of Unitary bias in times of constitutional emergency. In its 72nd year after the promulgation of the Constitution, India has come a long way on the path of constitutional governance. It is a matter of satisfaction. Of late, with the changing times, it appears that some reforms and transformation in the organs of the state has become due in the process of keeping the lofty idea of ‘Tryst with destiny’ rolling for further progress and prosperity of India The forthcoming Presidential elections in July,2022, the recent elections to Rajya Sabha Membership and issues pertaining to the conduct of Governors (with reference to Governors of West Bengal and Maharashtra) and related matters gave me an opportunity to think and say my mind, not as a constitutional or legal expert but as a common citizen of India. It is in the interest of India to make and maintain the polity of India as a dynamic and functional parliamentary system of government on one hand and a robust and functional federal state on the other. The aspects which I would touch have a direct bearing on the subject.

President of India –  

Keeping with the tenants of parliamentary form of government, President of India, the first citizen of the country, is the ‘Head of the State but not of the Executive. He represents the nation, as a symbol of the nation, but does not rule the nation’. These provisions in the constitution have stood the test of time. So far, it is so good. It is a matter of gratification to note that over the years philosophers, scholars politicians, statesmen, diplomats, scientists from Rajendra Prasad to Ram Nath Kovind representing various religions, different ideological belief, both the gender, diversified socio-economic and cultural backgrounds adorned the high office of the President of India – The Mahamahim of India that is Bharat. It is my pleasure and honour to add here that during the course of my diplomatic career, I have had the opportunity to see, meet and interact with some of the Mahamahims – Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed, Dr. Shankar Dayal Sharma, Giani Zail Singh, K.R.

        Greeting President Pratibha Patil at Rashtrapati Bhawan

Narayanan, Pratibha Patil, APJ Abdul Kalam and Ram Nath Kovind – and I cherish those moments and memories. President of India ought to be a non-party, secular, non-biased, democratic leader of stature with high social and moral standing who is able and capable of upholding and defending the constitution of India in its letter and spirit. May be our forefathers, the constitution makers, were too idealistic, as there was no other way, thought that our political system and the players in it would be men of substance and committed to the constitution values. Babasaheb Ambedkar rightly said, “However good a Constitution may be, it is sure to turn out bad because those who are called to work it, happen to be a bad lot. However bad a Constitution may be, it may turn out to be good if those who are called to work it, happen to be a good lot.…The Constitution can provide only the organs of State such as the Legislature, the Executive and the Judiciary. The factors on which the working of those organs of the State depends are the people and the political parties they will set up as their instruments to carry out their wishes and their politics.

Anyway, I have no point in going to the negative side of the matter. The fact is that the office of President has increasingly become a tool in the hands of the Executive. The moral authority of the incumbent office holders, which is considered as an important element of the powers and functions of the President, has increasing come under scanner, as has been observed in the past experience; be it Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed for signing the declaration of emergency in 1977 without any question or Sanjiva Reddy discriminating again Jagjivan Ram for not giving him chance to prove his majority on the floor of the Lok Sabha when Charan Singh resigned without facing Parliament, Giani Zail Singh appointing Rajiv Gandhi as PM in 1984. There may be many more instances when Presidents might not have acted as was expected of them. As already said, I am not writing this as a political analyst but as a layman. Political forces are getting polarized not only on the basis of hardcore and ill-placed ideologies but also on communal and narrow sectarian considerations. The ruling political dispensations tend to have their own man in the Rashtrapati Bhawan who could be used in case of need to further their own scheme of things. Generally, such nominees to the highest office of the country lose the will and standing to be the ‘guardian and custodian’ of the constitution. It is no aspersion on the acumen and integrity of individuals to occupy the august office but the fact remains as asserted by Babasaheb Ambedkar ‘the man is vile’. With a view to ward off the inherit likelihood of reaching a ‘less desirable’ to the Raisina Hills and smoothen the process, I have the following to say:-

  • Most of election procedure laid down in the constitution to elect the President of India seems fine except the nomination of candidates based on political considerations vested motivation. It may be changed with a view to screen the suitability and ability of the candidates to occupy the highest position.
  • Let there be no direct nomination. We may consider forming a High Power Committee under the administrative control of the Cabinet Secretariat who would consider the nomination to be a candidate for the Presidents’ office. The Committee may be headed by the Vice President with Prime Minister, Speaker of the Lok Sabha, Chief Justice of India, Leaders of Opposition in both the Houses of the Parliament, Secretary Generals of both Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha as Ex-officio Members. Cabinet Secretary may be made the Executive Secretary of the said Committee who would be responsible to make all administrative and procedural arrangements to make final nominations with the Returning Officer appointed by the Election Commission for the purpose.
  • Who can make a nomination to the said Committee? – All recognized national political parties, all political formations in both Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha having 5 or more members in the relevant House of Parliament, Any five independent and nominated members of Lok Sabha.
  • The High Power Committee would consider all the nominations made and short list three suitable nominees who could be nominated for the election of President. Accordingly, Cabinet Secretary/Executive Secretary of the Committee would complete the nomination procedure with the election machinery for election.
  • Voters in the Electoral College would vote and indicate their three preferences, as they please. The rest of the procedure remains the same as per the existing practice.
  • There should be no consecutive second term for the office of President.

This nomination procedure would obviate the chances of getting, a partisan or not-suitable aspirant, nominated to be a candidate for the highest office of the land, I hope.

 Governor of a State: – The constitutional provisions for the office of Governor of a State are: – The executive power of the State shall be vested in the Governor and shall be exercised by him either directly or through officers subordinated to him in accordance with the Constitution of India (Article 154). The Governor of a State shall be appointed by the President by warrant under his hand and seal (Article 155). In simple formulation one can say that ‘Governor is an agent or representative of the President of India and his Government headed by the Prime Minister in his Council of Ministers.

          Governors of West Bengal and Maharastra

The office of Governor remained an issue of debate and contention in the last 7 decades. It has been observed most of the time that Governors, allegedly, carried the dictates of the Central Government, rightly or wrongly, on political considerations without caring for the wishes of the duly democratically elected Government of the State. The problem comes to head when the State Government belongs to a party other than that of the Central Government. Keeping in view the federal system of the polity, the conduct of the Governor becomes all the more important to avoid the acrimonious tussle or friction recently seen in Maharashtra and West Bengal. The mode and procedure of appointment of Governor, to my mind, could not evolve a functional and fair edifice for the working of Governor. I suggest the following to bring about some relief from the existing avoidable friction and slugfest between the Governor and the concerned State government:-

  • Governor should be appointed (by the President) on recommendations of the High Powered Committee headed by the Prime Minister with Home Minister, Chief Minister of the concerned State, Vice Chairman of Rajya Sabha, Leader of the Opposition in Rajya Sabha as Ex-officio Members. Home Secretary may be appointed as the Executive Secretary of the High Power Committee.
  • Governor may not get consecutive second term of the same state or any other state.
  • Nominations for appointment of Governor may be made by Home Minister of the Central Government or Chief Minister of the concerned State or the outgoing Governor of the concerned State.
  • Governor once appointed may be removed only by a Resolution, moved by the Home Minister of the Central Government or Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha passed with two third majority by Rajya Sabha and sent to the President of India.

These suggested reforms may streamline the appointment procedure and help in getting suitable nominees avoiding the temptations to appoint defeated candidates and inconvenient political competitors to park them in Raj Bhawans on one hand and discouraging the incumbent Governors blindly following the dictates of the ruling outfit at the Centre.

Members of Rajya Sabha: – The Upper House or the House of Elders or the Council of States or Rajya Sabha, paradoxically, is neither Upper as the Lok Sabha has more powers nor Elder as, of late, as young members below the age of 30 are becoming the Members of Rajya Sabha nor Council of States as quite often Members of Rajya Sabha do not belong to the state concerned from where they get elected.

                      Recently elected Rajya Sabha Members of AAP

These aspects of the membership of Rajya Sabha are becoming a matter of controversy increasingly. The recent case of non-domiciled nominees of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) got elected from Punjab brought the issue to focus. Some of the objections and criticism appears to be valid, in this regard. I have the following suggestions to make:-

  • Rajya Sabha Members should represent the State of their domicile or origin, generally, to justify the name of Rajya Sabha or Council of States in the Federal structure of the country as stipulated in the Constitution of India.
  • With a view to not to deny ‘political expediency or available talent’ to the mandated ruling outfit, Prime Minister or any Minister who is not a member of any House may continue, as PM or a Minister, beyond 6 months and may be made an Ad-hoc member, by the President of India, of either Rajya Sabha or Lok Sabha without voting rights and other entitlements of a regular member till he or she remains the PM or a Minister.
  • The minimum age to become a Member of the Rajya Sabha may be fixed at 40 or more to make it a House of Elders with experience and maturity.

These are some of my off the cuff suggestions which may be considered and polished to introduce reforms in the polity to catch with the changing times in the 75th year of Independence – Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav.

(Ramesh Chander a retired diplomat. Last position held was: Ambassador of India to Belarus)

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