Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Politicking Began With India’s Very First President


Politicking Began With India's Very First President




Courtesy of Photo Division, Ministry of Information and BroadcastingRajendra Prasad, the first president of India, ratifies the Constitution of India, Jan. 26, 1950.

The Long View

Current events through the lens of history.

A few weeks ago, when the names of the candidates in India's presidential race were only just beginning to be chalked onto the tote board, I was speaking with Chintamani Mahapatra, a professor of political science at Jawaharlal Nehru University.

When, I asked him, did parties start politicking so intensely over the appointment of the president – over a post that was mostly ceremonial?

Mr. Mahapatra traced these intrigues back to the beginnings of coalition governments at the center. "There are multiple parties competing, with no party getting the clear required majority," he said, and in such cases, the constitution left it to the president's discretion to invite a party to form the government. "There's no statute to say that if Party A has 160 seats and Party B has 161 seats, that the president has to choose Party B. Party A could, with coalition allies, still form a government."

But the ability to install a president is also a mark of political prowess, and where there has been the potential for a power game, there has been politicking – even as far back as the election of India's first president, Rajendra Prasad.

After India became independent, C. Rajagopalachari – Rajaji, as he was widely known – served as the titular head of state, holding on to the Raj-era designation of governor-general as the country transitioned into a republic. In the mind of Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, Rajaji was also the best candidate for India's first president.