On 17 July, the election to the office of the president of India shall be held. A total of 4,896 representatives—the elected members of parliament and legislative assemblies in India—will elect the person who, for the next five years, shall be under an oath to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution and the law.” On 20 July, we citizens will learn the name of the person who will be charged with this task. But what we will not know is the why: on what basis did the electors choose one candidate over the other?
To answer that question, it would be relevant to revisit key aspects of Indian presidential history, and to understand why India was constituted as a republic with the post of a president. Post-Independence, the Constituent Assembly of India had the onerous task of drafting a democratic constitution for the nation. One of the key questions before the assembly was whether India should continue to be a British Dominion—a sovereign nation that continues to be a part of the British Commonwealth with the monarch as its head of state. On 13 December 1946, Jawaharlal Nehru tabled a resolution on the objectives of the assembly. In the ensuing debates on the resolution, when this question of whether India should continue as a British Dominion arose, Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, who went on to become the first vice president of India, said:
We are electing to go out of the British Commonwealth. May I say why? So far as India is concerned, it is not a mere Dominion like Australia, like New Zealand or Canada or South Africa. These latter are bound to Great Britain by ties of race, religion and culture. India has a vast population, immense natural resources, a great cultural heritage and has had an independent career for a very long time, and it is inconceivable that India can be a Dominion like the other Dominions.