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02 Aug 2017

Is the Indian President a rubber stamp?

Role of President in India

The hotly contested race that was India's 2017 Presidential elections, brought attention to the institution of Presidency, with discussions revolving around whether the President is a mere rubber stamp.

In his inaugural address, the winning NDA candidate Ram Nath Kovind, assured Indian citizens that he would "stay true to the trust that they have bestowed me".

What does the President stand for in India?

In context

Role of President in India


What is the President's role in Indian political set up?

India has a parliamentary form of government which implies that the President is the head of state while the Prime Minister is the head of the government.

President is also the supreme commander of armed forces and has powers to prorogue or dissolve the Parliament.

He/She further makes appointments to important posts including the PM, state governors and Supreme Court and High Court judges.

What does Indian Presidency symbolize?

Indian Presidency is symbolically similar to the British monarchy. Whereas the real power at most times resides with the legislature, the monarch's role is that of a 'political referee'. Similar presidencies also exist in Israel and Germany.

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Presidency in practice

So, what does it entail?

"Indian Presidents are not entirely rubber stamps", opines James Manor, Professor at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, London.

Along with urging ministers to reconsider their actions, President through public speeches can hint at discordance with the legislature and sway public opinion accordingly.

Where no party secures majority after elections the President has the freedom to dissolve the Parliament and call for fresh elections.

Who says Presidency is a rubber stamp? Not these Presidents!


Who says Presidency is a rubber stamp? Not these Presidents!

While India's first President Dr. Rajendra Prasad is known to have frequently disagreed with then PM Jawaharlal Nehru, seventh President Giani Zail Singh is known to have a rocky relationship with PM Rajiv Gandhi.

K R Narayanan, India's tenth President, famously told the Parliament that he is 'not a rubber stamp' while returning a proposal calling for imposition of President's rule in UP.

When Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed agreed to the 1975 Emergency!

Ahmed is believed to have succumbed to Indira Gandhi's wishes and signed the papers proclaiming emergency at midnight. A popular cartoon, which appeared on Indian Express the next day, depicted Ahmed signing the papers in his bath tub, referring to the absurdity of the situation.


When Pranab Mukherjee almost triggered a constitutional crisis

According to Prof. Manor, Pranab Mukherjee was more assertive than any of his predecessors.

Although he is known to have rejected 28 mercy petitions, a record number, he commuted four sentences, in defiance of the government's wishes and refrained from sending those back to the government for reconsideration.

The cabinet didn't make an issue out of it as his term was to end soon.

What would Kovind's Presidency be like? You'll never really know!


What would Kovind's Presidency be like? You'll never really know!

Kovind's victory in the recent elections was seen as an instance of NDA planting its flag in the Rashtrapati Bhavan, leading many to speculate on a weak Presidency.

While weak Presidencies have resulted historically out of strong ruling governments, this is not the only factor in assessing the President's assertiveness.

For now, it seems safe to assume that the President's office won't be undermined.

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