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The current negotiations among key parties regarding nomination of the President led me to wonder about the exact role of the Presidents’ office in our country.

Here is an informative post on how the President is elected.

People say that in India, the President is nothing more than a virtual figure head, but on this chat on IBNLive, Subhash C. Kashyap says ‘If we have a person with stature, integrity and competence in the office of the President, he can be very effective even under the existing constitution.’

He goes on to say:

‘The constitution did not envisage Presidential elections being determined by party dictates. As it is nominations for Presidential elections are not on any party symbols. Members of the electoral college are elected by the people in case of Lok Sabha and state assemblies. They should therefore be responsive and responsible to the people and not so much to the parties. The constitution very clearly expects them to act freely, without fear, favour or any undue influence. For that reason the constitution has provided for voting by secret ballot. Nobody can know who voted for whom. The anti-defection law does not apply and no party whip is inforceable.’

Role and Responsibility of the President

The President of India is often regarded as the conscience-keeper of the nation by adding a sobering effect to the democratic fervour of our political system. The President of India is neither a real executive like the US President nor only a ceremonial head like the British monarch.

Executive, Administrative and Legislative Powers

Article 53 vests the executive powers of the Union in the President. All executive decisions of the Union are taken in the name of the President. These executive decisions, which are administrative in nature, are carried out by the different ministries and departments of the Government.

His administrative powers include the power to make appointment to certain offices under the constitution; like the Prime Minister and other ministers of the Union, the Attorney General of India, the Comptroller and Auditor General of India, the Governors of various states and other heads and members of various national commissions. The President has the power to remove some of the above-mentioned officials.

The President has legislative powers as well. Article 79 states that the Union Parliament shall consist of the President and the two Houses – Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha. Here our Constitution departs from the theory of separation of power (as given by Montesquieu).

The President of India, who is an executive head, at the same time also remains an integral part of the Union Legislature.

The President has the power to summon and prorogue each House of the Parliament. He may dissolve the Lok Sabha. The President may summon both the Houses for a joint sitting in case of a deadlock.

He may address the two Houses of Parliament jointly or separately. The President nominates two members from Anglo-Indian Community if he feels that they are not adequately represented in the Lok Sabha.

Similarly, he nominates 12 members to the Rajya Sabha from different walks of life. The President causes to be laid before the Parliament certain reports and statements including the Annual Financial Statement (popularly called the Budget), reports of CAG, Finance Commission, UPSC, etc.

Moreover, no Parliamentary Bill can become an Act without the assent of the President. Except in case of a money Bill, President has three options before him: (a) he may give the assent (in that case bill becomes an act); (b) he may return the Bill for reconsideration of the Parliament; (c) may withhold the Bill, i.e. may exercise the veto power.

If a Bill is returned to the President with or without amendments, he has no other option but to give his assent within 14 days. Therefore, by exercising the ‘suspension veto’, he can delay the enactment of a bill for some time.

He may also exercise an ‘absolute veto’ by refusing to give assent. Finally, since Indian Constitution does not prescribe any time limit within which the President has to accord his assent, he may even keep the Bill on his table indefinitely. This is exercise of a ‘pocket veto’.

The most important legislative power enjoyed by the President is the Ordinance making power. An ordinance can be promulgated when the Parliament is not in session and the President must be satisfied that circumstances exist which require immediate action.

In R C Cooper Vs Union of India (1970) the Supreme Court was of the opinion that the President’s satisfaction could be questioned in a court of law on the grounds of malafides.

An ordinance promulgated by the President has the same force and effect, as an Act of Parliament. However, it must be laid before both the Houses of Parliament within six weeks of their re-assembly.

The President by virtue of his office, is also the Supreme Commander of the armed forces. He has the power to declare war and peace and command the deployment of the Defence Forces.

However, this power is to be exercised within the parameters of the legislative control and on the basis of advice tendered by the Cabinet.

Diplomatic powers

Diplomatic powers of the President include the power to appoint ambassadors and High Commissioner too and receive them from different countries. All the international treaties are signed in the name of the President of India.

Judicial powers

Indian Constitution confers on the President certain judicial powers like to grant pardon, reprieves, respite or remission of punishment and to suspend, remit or commute the sentence of any person convicted of any offence by either a court of law or court martial.

Emergency powers

Finally, among the major powers enjoyed by the President, Indian Constitution includes the emergency powers. The President has the power to proclaim emergency on the grounds of threat to the security of India by war, external aggression or armed rebellion (Art 352).

The President may when satisfied that the Government of a state cannot be carried on in accordance with constitution by proclamation assume to himself all or any of the functions of the government of the state (Art. 356).

The President is empowered to declare emergency on the ground that the financial stability or credit of India is threatened (Art 360).

Discretionary powers

The President enjoys certain discretionary powers. Not everything in our Constitution is written in black and white. There are certain grey areas where President may have to use his wisdom and judgment.

For example, in case of a hung Parliament, the President has the power to decide who should be given the first opportunity to form the government and the amount of time to be given to prove majority on the floor of the House.

Conventionally, the leader of the single largest party should be invited first to form the Government in case of a hung Parliament.

Barring this and other exceptions where the President can exercise his discretionary powers, he has to act according to aid and advise tendered by the Council of Ministers [Art. 74 (1)). The 44th amendment Act, 1978 gave the President a new power to return such an advice for reconsideration of the Council of Ministers.

He is, however, bound to act on the re-submitted Bill accordingly second time. At the same time, Art 78 makes it mandatory for the Prime Minister to communicate to the President all decisions of the Council of Ministers relating to the administration of the affairs of the Union and proposals for legislative and to furnish him such information as the President may call for.

Finally, in a vast country as diverse as India – comprising of so many faiths, languages, political and geographical spread – the office of the President acts as a big unifying force.