Powerless Indian Presidential Office Needs A Lot More Character

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Do you know the name of the current President of India?

If you know the name, don’t assume the question as dumb — because it’s not hard to forget the name once in a while. Even at the constitutional level there’s an understanding that the role is for the name’s sake only. In my case, I didn’t forget the name when my 10-year-old niece asked me the question — I just didn’t want to say it. As a matter of fact, for a long time I have stopped myself from accepting Pratibha Patil as the President of India, in my heart at least.


On the other hand, during Dr. Kalam’s days I used to carry his picture in my wallet, for inspiration, but mostly I was really proud of the fact that a rocket scientist is the President of India. I’m sure a lot of you also had a similar moment of pride associated with Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam.

Most people are not really sure about the powers vested (or the lack of) in a President by our constitution. An Indian President is neither a real executive like the US President nor just a ceremonial head like the British monarch. Article 53 vests the executive powers of the Union in the President. That is, all executive decisions of the Union are taken in the NAME of the President. These executive decisions are carried out by the different ministries and departments of the Government.

So, the President of India is the head of the government ON PAPER, which means NO ACTUAL POWERS. People often ask whether India really needs a post of the President with practically zero power… and the answer is YES.

Our constitution regards the President as the conscience-keeper of the nation, which means

  1. An individual who’s UNIVERSALLY RESPECTED and can be upheld as the FACE OF THE NATION.
  2. A modal citizen, who can be an INSPIRATION for all politicians and leaders.
  3. Someone who in the madness of the democratic procedures can keep the INTEREST OF THE COMMON MAN in perspective.

Democracy is a beautiful idea — a government of the people, by the people and for the people. But how true is that in practice? In reality, democracy is an ugly business and no other country can know it better than India, the largest democracy of the world.

When our constitution maintains a powerless President, it really means to symbolize the fact that the common citizen, though as powerless, deserves utmost respect and importance. A powerless President is a constant reminder that though the government may hold all the keys to the power but they still work for the president (ergo, the common man) and not vice versa.

The seat of president, though being symbolic, can play an important role at times. A people’s president would never have nodded to an emergency in 80s like Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed did. Neither would have arranged for a super-bunglow on Army’s land post retirement like Pratibha Patil did.

But, like everything else in this country, the power to appoint a President is often misused for strategic and political reasons – and we see presidents like Mrs. Pratibha Puppet (oops Patil), undermining the spirit of the constitution through her pettiness. Now-a-days, posts of Governors and President are used more as rewards to the political sycophancy and after-political-life insurance policies. Over the years, the office of the President has been devalued by installing puppet nobodies, so much that common man doesn’t expect much from their President.

The year 2012 will see another Presidential Elections – Where political parties are looking for political barters, ego massagess and strategic placements, people want a president who not only has a clean image, but also is not scared of batting for the interests of the common man. Who wins between the two will indicate where our country is heading…

... Written by Dr Bijoy Bagchi

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Indian Exponent: Powerless Indian Presidential Office Needs A Lot More Character
Powerless Indian Presidential Office Needs A Lot More Character
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