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Tuesday, Oct 26, 2021
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The Giani And The Sea Of Changes

Assertiveness hasn’t often been a presidential trait. But, as Zail Singh showed in 1987, it can be learnt.

The Giani And The Sea Of Changes
Ashok Vahie
The Giani And The Sea Of Changes
outlookindia.com
-0001-11-30T00:00:00+05:53

As the sun sets on a forgettable Pratibha Patil presidency, which comes to an end on July 25, speculation mounts on who will succeed her. Veteran parliamentarian Piloo Mody, speaking to us, the 1974 civil services batch, at the Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration, Mussoorie, four decades ago, said the best address in Lutyens’ Delhi was Rashtrapati Bhavan, on Raisina Hill, but it was reserverd for a “rubber stamp”.

The president’s office is fashioned after the British sovereign, who, since the Magna Carta in 1215 and the English Bill of Rights of 1689, has progressively ceded power to parliament. The Fixed Term Parliament Act of 2011 even eliminated the sovereign’s power to dissolve the House. The Indian president’s powers are enshrined in the Constitution, though circumscribed by conventions, precedents and amendments. The president, however, names the prime minister, following an election or the resignation of an incumbent, significant in the coalition government era. He also has, to quote Walter Bagehot on the British sovereign, “the right to be consulted, the right to encourage and the right to warn”. The prime minister’s corresponding duty (under Article 78) is to inform the president of all decisions of the council of ministers and provide all information sought. The president can insist that any minister’s decision is submitted for cabinet consideration.

Dr Rajendra Prasad, the first and only two-term president, wrote in March 1950 to prime minister Nehru, enquiring if the president could act independently of the aid and advice of the council of ministers. Attorney-general M.C. Setalvad pronounced that, like the British sovereign, he must never do so. Indira Gandhi codified this in 1976 (the 42nd constitution amendment) during the...

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