The Rashtrapathi Riddle
We are in the thick of public confabulations for the selection of the President of India. Many of us are so disillusioned by the Presidency of the current incumbent due to the various controversies that she had got involved in, that we have almost forgotten that this is the position of the Head of State, the Supreme Commander of the Indian Armed Forces, and the constitutional entity that represents India as a nation state.
It is imperative that we have the best possible person “selected/elected” for this position, one that makes each and every Indian feel proud. The reason I say “selected/elected” is because this is not really a fair “election”, as the candidates are “selected” by parties through consultation, and then elected by the MPs and MLAs from across the country.
When I hear the ugly tactical noises being made by various political parties and the media getting involved in “debates” on who should be the President, for me, it lowers the esteem of this top constitutional position. If people like Laloo Prasad Yadav are going to “negotiate” on who should be “nominated”, then there is something wrong with our current process.
We need a change in the process!
Before we talk about the changes we need, let’s first talk about changes that we do not need. I love the basic process that the founding fathers of our constitution created for the election of the President. All MPs and MLAs from across the country vote through a secret ballot, for the available candidates to elect the President of India. This concept has to remain unchanged. Rest, almost everything needs to change.
Let’s look at the three key things that we need to change.
- Nominating panel: A Presidential candidates nominating panel should be created consisting of the Prime Minister, the two LOPs (RS and LS), the Speaker of the LS, the Chief Justice of India, and five randomly selected CMs from the states of India. The panel will receive two recommendations from each of the members, to create the starting pool of potential candidates, and then through discussions and a “secret ballot”, finalize the list of at least three candidates that would be nominated for the presidential elections. An incumbent President in the first term of office should be a default candidate for nomination. The list of potential candidates should include politicians as well as non-politicians. An ex-officio member of the nominating panel cannot be a candidate for consideration. The proceedings of the discussions and the votes cast by the nominating panel should be minuted and then publicly released, so that the people are aware of the process.
- Value of votes: The value of votes of each elector (MP or MLA) is currently decided by the population of each state. This is highly distorting as the value of the vote of say an MLA from UP is 208, while for one from Sikkim it is 7! This is such a huge disincentive for the smaller states, that you might as well disenfranchise them. In any case, the large states have got a larger number of MLAs also, so why give them a double benefit. The value of the vote of each MLA should be the same, irrespective of the state to which he belongs. The larger states can still continue to get the benefit of the number of MLAs, but at least the double disadvantage to smaller states should be eliminated. Since there are 5 times as many MLAs in India as MPs, the value of a MLAs vote should be 1/5th the value of a MPs vote.
- Public interactions: In a democracy, it is imperative that the views of the public at large are taken into consideration during the entire process of selecting/electing the President of India. Each member of the Nominating Panel must accept recommendations and representations from the public at large for potential candidates for consideration (e.g. I want Ratan Tata to be nominated as a Presidential candidate but no one is listening to me!) J It is the prerogative of the member to finalize a list of recommendations, but taking into account the wishes of the people. Similarly, the MPs and MLAs are conceptually voting on behalf of the public. They should also conduct public consultation sessions and vote as per the wishes of the people and not necessarily as per “party whips”!
We Indians love our constitution, but loving it does not mean that we cannot change it, with an object of improving it. This will require constitutional changes, but will give us a process that we can be a bit more proud of.