Q. The role of the President oscillates between that of a rubber stamp and as guardian of Constitution. Examine the position of Indian President and critically evaluate the evolution of this office.
A. In the parliamentary system of India, the President is regarded as the nominal head or the Head of the State. Every important authority mentioned in the Constitution is directly or indirectly attached-to him. The President of India enjoys far reaching executive, legislative (assent as well as ordinance), financial and judicial powers both under normal and emergency times. But nonetheless, the question of President’s powers has been the subject of debate among intellectuals, lawyers, and others because there is a wide gap between theory and practice. In our constitutional system, there are two views about the position of the Indian President which are opposed to each other. The first view is that, since the form of Government contemplated by the Constitution is on British Westminster model, the President should only function as a figurehead. Dr. Ambedkar asserted the fact that the Indian President is bound by the advice of Prime Minister and in the words of Granville Austin, is a mere constitutional head.
The powers of the President were further qualified in the RC Cooper case followed by the 42nd and 44th Constitutional amendments. However, a second view allows a limited sphere of autonomous functioning to the President considering him to be the guardian of Constitution. Over the years there has been an evolution of the role of the President depending on different variables:
• Personality of the person occupying the Office: The office of the President is one that commands respect and dignity. However, often the personality of the person occupying the office comes to shape the idea of Presidency. Dr. Rajendra Prasad was seen as an activist President whereas Dr. Kalam was regarded as the people’s President.
• Party system: Another major factor that has played a role in evolution of position of President is that of the party system. Under the Congress system, due to the dominance and popularity of one party, the President could not exercise his latent power. On the other hand, the advent of coalition politics has created a grey zone for the functioning of the Indian President.
• Government in power: The seats a government holds in the legislature as well as the popular state impacts the performance of tasks by the President. With the coming in of majority government, the President loses out on the wide ambit of power (imposition of national emergency in 1975). On the other hand Presidents have restricted the arbitrary imposition of President’s rules in states.
While the powers of the President have been severely curtailed, it is times of crisis that the position becomes a crucial one. The evolution of the position has witnessed massive politicisation of the post. It is necessary that while politics can’t be kept out of the highest office in the country it is necessary that the President performs his duty of defending the ideals envisioned in the Constitution of India.