Presidential Election: Canvassing is not undue influence

Though the present election for the office of President cannot be described as tough, the election of VV Giri was the keenest ever contest. The electors should not vote carelessly making their votes invalid.
Presidential Election: Canvassing is not undue influence

Madabhushi Sridhar

Legislators and Parliamentarians have to elect the President according to their individual conscience and our Constitution. They have to hear the call of conscience, understand the constitutional responsibilities of President and find out how to cast valid vote avoiding shame of invalidation of his vote. The people directly elect their representatives. The directly elected are electors to directly elect the head of the nation. Very interestingly the elected electors are free to elect any candidate. The anti-defection law will not apply and the MPs or MLAs need not fear the whip. Whips cannot be issued by the Legislature and Parliamentary party leaders.

President has to promise to protect Constitution

The President is required to make and subscribe in the presence of the Chief Justice of India (or in his absence, the senior-most Judge of the Supreme Court), an oath or affirmation that he/she shall protect, preserve and defend the Constitution as follows:

I, (name), do swear in the name of God (or solemnly affirm) that I will faithfully execute the office of President (or discharge the functions of the President) of the Republic of India, and will to the best of my ability preserve, protect and defend the Constitution and the law, and that I will devote myself to the service and well-being of the people of the Republic of India. (Article 60)

Indira Gandhi’s call for Conscience Vote

After nominating Neelam Sanjeev Reddy as Congress nominee for Presidential position, the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi asked MPs to vote by conscience. That indicated that she changed her mind and supported the other candidate V V Giri, who was ultimately elected. The Congress MPs voted non-Congress candidate as conscience (!) drove them so. Indira Gandhi has, in fact, called her MPs to defy the party discipline. There were no anti-defection disqualifications at that time as tenth Schedule was not added to the Constitution. But Mrs Gandhi’s call to defy party candidate acted like a ‘whip’ and MPs overwhelmingly voted non-Congress candidate Giri, defeating the official candidate.  However, the voting in President’s Election has to be strictly a secret process. None knows who voted whom, and there is no disqualification threat.

No challenge to Rajendra Prasad

Though party discipline demands that all MPs should go by the line of the party, cross voting is not ruled out. Depending on situations, it was engineered, example is again Giri’s election.

Almost all elections, except two, were challenged by the defeated candidates. First election of Rajendra Prasad was not challenged by Mr K T Shah, a renowned personality who contributed in making of Indian Constitution. However, Prasad’s election second time was challenged. However it was rejected [Dr N B Khare vs Election Commission – AIR 1958 SC 139]. Dr. Sarvepalli Radhakrishna and Pratibha Patil’s elections also remained unquestioned. The election petition against the President can be heard only by five-member bench of the Supreme Court.

Zakir Hussain: Canvassing is not undue influence

Babu Rao Patel alleged undue influence exerted by the PM and cabinet ministers by openly canvassing for Zakir Hussain and thus there was no free conscience vote as mandated by Presidential and Vice-Presidential Elections Act, 1952 was violated. Supreme Court did not agree and rejected the petition saying canvassing could not be considered as ‘undue influence’. [AIR 1968 SC 904]. As Zakir Hussain suddenly died in 1969, election to President became essential.

Scurrilous Pamphlet against Sanjeev Reddy

Indira Gandhi was in logger heads with the traditional leadership of the Congress and fielded Vice President V V Giri against the N Sanjiv Reddy, the candidate of the high command.  In this election only she gave a call for ‘conscience driven vote’ by MPs. Mr Shiv Kirpal Singh alleged that Indira Gandhi and her ministerial colleagues misused their authority in Central Government to get VV Giri elected. One of the contentions against election was that a pamphlet containing scurrilous and vulgar allegations was circulated openly in the Central Hall of Parliament. The pamphlet also said that Reddy would destroy democracy with his dictatorial methods. As the ‘connivance’ or ‘consent’ of Giri in the printing and circulation of the pamphlet was not established, the petition was defeated. Supreme Court for the first time asked President to answer the allegations. SC could not find enough evidence to say that there was misuse of official machinery, and petition was thrown out [AIR 1970 SC 2097].

Sahu challenges many a President

After this one Mr Charan Lal Sahu was contesting every election and unsuccessfully challenging the elections to the office of President. The petitions against election of Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed, N Sanjiva Reddy and Giani Zail Singh rejected. This petitioner himself challenged elections of KR Narayanan and APJ Abdul Kalam. The SC has angrily warned him against non-serious contest and subsequent challenge to the office of President.  The election of Shankar Dayal Sharma and R Venkataraman were also challenged by Mithilesh Kumar Sinha, without success.

Suitability issue in Zail Singh Election

The BJP, Lok Dal, Democratic Socialist Party of India and Janata Party having strength of 27 MPs together fielded Justice Hans Raj Khanna against the Congress candidate Zail Singh. Main allegation by MPs against Zail Singh was that official machinery was misused at massive scale. They also alleged that Zail Singh was not suitable to the highest office as he proclaimed loyalty to Mrs Gandhi by saying he was ready to sweep the floor with broom if she commanded so.

Former Chief Justice of India M H Beg, has posed a counter challenge to suitability of his former colleague Justice Khanna to contest the election for Presidentship. During emergency Mr Beg was with majority decision in ADM Jabalpur case, that fundamental rights can be suspended while Khanna gave historic dissent saying right to life and personal liberty cannot be suspended during emergency. Mr Beg tried to make out points of defects in Khanna’s dissent order and alleged that made him unsuitable. Mr Beg became chairman of Minorities Commission in 1982.  Deciding on the point of suitability, the Supreme Court said: “Suitability of a candidate is for the electorate to judge and not for the court to decide. Suitability is a fluid concept of uncertain import. The ballot box is, or has to be assumed to be, its sole judge.” How can anybody define or decide on suitability which is a fluid concept. The apex court dismissed the petition [1984 (1) SCC 390]

Pranab Mukherjee: Office of Profit issue

Recently the election of Pranab Mukherjee was also challenged by former speaker P A Sangma who contested the election.  He alleged that Mukherjee held an office of profit being chairman of the council of Indian Statistical Institute in Kolkata. Parliament had found it to be an office of profit and included it among exempted ones to prevent disqualification of MPs. That post was indeed an office profit. Three judges held that he was not having any profit from office hence not disqualified. But two judges held otherwise. They said on December 11, 2012: “Categorising it as an office of profit did not really make it one, since it did not provide any profit and was purely honorary in nature.” Pranab Mukherjee scraped through to Rashtrapathi Bhawan.

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