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Needed: people’s President

Opinion seems to be divided on the role of the President, particularly in terms of coalitions, writes Kumkum Chadha.
None | By Kumkum Chadha, New Delhi
UPDATED ON MAY 30, 2007 05:17 PM IST

Ahead of the presidential elections next month, a debate is raging on the kind of President a vibrant democracy like India needs. Outside the political parties, which are mustering support for their respective candidates, there seems to be a politician fatigue. This is due to the 'negative connotation' that the word 'politics' carries as well as the failure of politicians to see a national perspective.

Opinion is divided on the role of the President, particularly in the context of coalition governments. But constitutional experts agree the President should either be a “non-politician” or at least a “positive politician”.

Comparing the Indian President’s role with that of the Queen of England, constitutional expert KK Venugopal says, “Like the Queen of England, the Indian President has no executive powers. But he has a role to advise and caution. He is a father figure who advises the Prime Minister and his Council of Ministers. Therefore, he must be a statesman who has common sense, is an intellectual and, more importantly, has a heart which bleeds for the poor.”

Venugopal feels the negative connotation of politics has made people averse to politician-Presidents. “But a person in politics who is a statesman, wise, puts national interest above petty politics and is a positive politician is acceptable,” Venugopal says.

While Venugopal feels the era of coalition politics should not make any “qualitative difference” to the role of a President, since he counsels the Prime Minister and his Council of Ministers and not individual parties, CS Vaidyanathan, formerly Additional Solicitor General, thinks coalition politics puts a greater responsibility on the President.

“In the absence of a majority for any party, it is vital that the President acts dispassionately and is above partisan consideration. But there are enough examples when Presidents have ignored national interest. The most shocking is the assent to the imposition of Emergency,” Vaidyanathan says.

He says a politician in Rashtrapati Bhawan would be “counter-productive”. While others refrained from naming anyone, Vaidyanathan feels President APJ Abdul Kalam fits the bill for being wise, apolitical and a people’s President.

Contrary to the perception that the President is powerless, Dr NM Ghatate, formerly vice-chairman of the Law Commission, says the President has a very important role. “People want a thinking President who uses his wisdom in the interest of the country. Political parties want a rubber stamp President who would go along with the unconstitutional decisions of the government of the day. A President should be what the people want and need and not one thrust by the politicians and political parties,” Ghatate says.

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