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.
The Dominion of India wanted to get rid of the last shackles of British imperialism. By constituting India into a sovereign republic with a president as its own elected head of state, the Constituent Assembly removed India’s ties to the British monarchy.
The president of India is the titular head of the union executive and the Indian parliament. Although all laws and treaties are made and enforced in the name of the president, she has very little to do with the day-to-day administration of the country and acts entirely in accordance with the aid and advice of the prime minister and the council of ministers. However, the Constituent Assembly appears to have taken the need for a president as given—the records of the assembly’s debates reveal little discussion on the necessity of the post of the president.