Active Presidents of India

Constituent Assembly Debates on Position of President

Several important members of the Constituent Assembly had expressed their opinion and held that the President was merely a constitutional head, and the real power was vested with the Union Council of Ministers. Alladi Krishna Ayyar, a member of the Drafting Committee of the Constituent Assembly, observed that the word “President” used in the Constitution merely stands for the fabric responsible to the Legislature” What he meant by the term President’ was the Union Council of Ministers which was declared to be collectively responsible to the House of the People.” 

Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, the Chairman of the Drafting Committee of the Constituent Assembly, explained the position of the President in the following words: The President is merely a nominal figure head. He has no discretion and no powers of administration at all. He occupies the same position as the King under the English Constitution. He is the Head of the State, but not of the Executive. He represents the nation but does not rule the nation. His place in the administration is that of a ceremonial device on a seal by which the nation’s decisions are made known. The President of India will be generally bound by the advice of the Ministers. He can do nothing contrary to their advice, nor can he do anything without their advice. 

Mr. Nehru, the first Prime Minister of the country, observed: We want to emphasise the ministerial character of the Government and that power really resided in the Ministry and in the Legislature and not in the President. At the same time, we did not want to make the President just a mere figurehead. We did not give him any real power, but we have made his position one of great authority and dignity. He is also to be the Commander-in-Chief of the Defence Forces.

In 1951, the President, Dr. Rajendra Prasad, expressed his desire to act in his individual judgment, in regard to giving assent to two Bills sent to him for his assent. It made Mr. Nehru, the Prime Minister, worried. He consulted the then Attorney-General Mr. M.C. Setalvad and Sir Alladi K Ayyer. Both these authorities expressed the view that the President had no discretion under Article 111 and that it would be constitutionally improper on his part not to seek and be guided by the advice of the Council of Ministers. Dr Prasad did not precipitate the matter and acted in accordance with the Council’s advice.

Active Presidents Of India

  • Giani Jail Singh: In 1987, he withheld assent from a controversial bill (Post Office Amendment Bill) passed by the parliament.
  • Shankar Dayal Sharma: Returned two executive orders to the cabinet in 1996 because they had been “inappropriately” issued before a general election. 
  • K R Narayanan: Mr Narayanan also sent back a proposal to impose direct rule in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh to the cabinet, asking the ministers to reconsider it. He bluntly said: “I am not a rubber stamp. He has asked the Central government on the manhandling of opposition in Tamil nadu by the police on the support of the ruling party.
  • APJ Abdul Kalam didn’t give his assent to the office of profit bill.
  • Pranab Mukherjee: He rejected 28 mercy pleas during his tenure, Mr Mukherjee defied the advice of the government and commuted the death sentence of four convicts. Pranab Mukherjee posed some questions pertaining to the imposition of the President Rule in Arunachal Pradesh and Home Minister Rajnath Singh had to personally go and explain the situation to him. 

Safeguards against the activist President:

  • The responsibility of the Council of Ministers to the House of People.
  • Parliament’s supreme power of legislation, taxation and appropriation of funds
  • Subjection of the exercise of Ordinance making power and also proclamation of Emergency to the approval of the Parliament. 

These constitutional provisions require that there should be in office a Council of Ministers which is in a position to secure Parliamentary approval, sanction and finance for its policies and programmes. It is, therefore, absolutely, essential for the President, to maintain in office, a Council of Ministers enjoying the confidence of the Houses of Parliament.

Though the President has no constitutional discretion, he has some situational discretion. In other words, the President can act on his discretion (that is, without the advice of the ministers) under the following situations:

  • Appointment of Prime Minister when no party has a clear majority in the Lok Sabha or when the Prime Minister in office dies suddenly and there is no obvious successor.
  • Dismissal of the council of ministers when it cannot prove the confidence of the Lok Sabha.
  • Dissolution of the Lok Sabha if the council of ministers has lost its majority.

The powers of the President flow from the oath he takes under Article 60 to ‘preserve, protect and defend the Constitution and submit himself to the service and well -being of the people of India’. Therefore, new norms can be devised and used to preserve the faith and belief of the common man in the system. These norms can be:

  • The Constitution is silent on the limitations on the President’s activities in public affairs. 
  • Public speaking of the president can initiate the debate in the society.
  • Use of pocket veto in the cases which are considered to be undermining the Constitution. 
  • Reaching out to the people of India. 

It would, however, be wrong to say that the President under the Constitution of India is merely a non-entity or an ineffective symbol. He does have marginal discretion in exceptional and abnormal circumstances in some matters like appointment of the Prime Minister, dismissal of the Council of Ministers, dissolution of the Lok Sabha. Being the Head of the State, the President is empowered to be informed of the affairs of the country. Article 78 expressly imposes a duty on the Prime Minister, to keep the President informed of the matters relating to the administration of the affairs of the Union and proposals for legislation. The President may call for any information relating to these matters and the Prime Minister shall be duty bound to furnish these to the President.

However, in all these matters, the President can exercise a persuasive influence on the Council of Ministers. Like the British Crown, the role of the President is “to advice, encourage and warn Ministers in respect of the recommendations which they make”

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