Next month, the country’s present Rashtrapati, Smt. Pratibha Devisingh Patil, will be demitting office, and a new Rashtrapati will take over. According to the election schedule announced by the Election Commission, the polling for this supreme office is to take place on Thursday, July 19. This will be free India’s Fourteenth Presidential Election.
The Constituent Assembly formally adopted the Constitution in 1950. The First General Elections to Parliament and the State Assemblies were held in 1952. The first Presidential election also was held the same year.
The subsequent twelve elections were held in : 1957, 1962, 1967, 1969, 1974, 1977, 1982, 1987, 1992, 1997, 2002 and 2007.
In political circles, it is fashionable these days to raise the question: should not an election to this high constitutional office be a unanimous election, based on a consensual agreement arrived at between Government and the Opposition? This question is often hurled at us in the BJP as if by deciding to support Shri Sangma sponsored by two eminent Chief Ministers against Congress’ Pranab Mukherji, we are doing something improper. I hold that the answer to this question depends entirely on the attitude of the ruling party.
When within minutes of Soniaji announcing the name of Shri Pranab Mukherjee, the P.M. phoned me to tell me that the U.P.A.’s candidate would be Pranab and requested for our support; my comment was: “You are now only informing us.; would it not have been better if you had consulted the Opposition before making the announcement?” His reaction was: “Well, it is never too late to mend.”
Shortly thereafter I received yet another phone call: from Pranab Da himself. He conveyed that he had been nominated. But he did not ask for support. He just reminisced about how since 1970 we had been together in Parliament, sharing bonds of mutual esteem and affection. “You may have forgotten” he said “but I do recall how on the day I retired from the Rajya Sabha you insisted on the two of us having lunch together in the Central Hall.” I well remember how warm and cordial our interaction was not just for that day, but has been for all these years.
Let me put on record, as a matter of fact, that out of the 13 elections held till now, it was on only one single occasion, namely, that of 1977, held after the country had gone through the traumatic experience of the Emergency, that Janata Party’s (ruling party) Presidential nominee, Shri Neelam Sanjiva Reddy, was elected unopposed! In all other cases there was an election – even where the ruling party’s candidate was of the stature and eminence of Dr. Rajendra Prasad, Dr. Radhakrishnan or Dr. Zakir Hussain.
Under the Constitution of India the President is to be elected by an electoral college consisting of elected members of both Houses of Parliament and elected members of all State Assemblies (in this case the Assemblies of Union Territories like Delhi and Puducherry are also included).
A special procedure is prescribed by the Constitution to achieve, as far as practicable, uniformity in the scale of representation of different states. As a result of this procedure, the value of an MP’s vote is 708, whereas the value of an MLA’s vote varies from state to state, from a value of just 7 in Sikkim to a value of as much as 208 in U.P.
For several decades since independence, the Congress Party’s vote share in the Electoral college was so overwhelming that I presume that they never even thought of consulting the opposition.
In contrast, when in 2002, the NDA as the ruling coalition thought of putting up Dr. Kalam as its candidate for Presidentship, Shri Vajpayee spoke to Soniaji and Mulayam Singh and brought them on board to support the NDA candidate. It was the left front, however, that chose to put up Smt. Lakshmi Sahgal against our nominee. Smt. Sahgal secured around one lakh votes as against over nine lakhs polled by Dr. Kalam.
Out of all the thirteen Presidential Elections held till now I regard the 1969 election as the oddest.
In 1969, the Parliamentary Board of the Congress Party decided that the party’s official candidate for Presidentship would be Shri Neelam Sanjiva Reddy. But I regard it as the oddest election in history because the Congress Party’s official candidate was defeated by the “conscience-vote” call given by Congress President and Prime Minister Smt. Indira Gandhi herself who put up Independent Shri V.V. Giri against Congress candidate Shri Reddy.
It was this election which Shri Ramgopal Yadav, a front ranking spokesman of the Samajwadi Party talked about when his party’s leader Mulayam Singh was accused of unethical behaviour, just for suggesting, along with Mamtaji, the name of Dr. Manmohan Singh, as the country’s President. A cabinet minister of the UPA Government questioned Mulayam Singh about this and described his proposal as “unethical”. Ram Gopal reacted angrily and said that a party which in 1969 defeated its own official candidate had no right to be sermonising to us about ethics.
I recall commenting on Smt. Gandhi’s conscience vote call at that time with a phraseology I had picked up from British Parliamentary history where ‘conscience vote’ is a well accepted practice in legislative parlance. I remarked that conscience vote in the singular is a virtue, but conscience vote in the plural is a conspiracy!
25 June, 2012