Yesterday, the BJP announced its candidate for the upcoming election of the President, which is scheduled to be held on July 17. In light of this, we take a look at the manner in which the election to the office of the President is conducted, given his role and relevance in the Constitutional framework.
In his report to the Constituent Assembly, Jawaharlal Nehru had explained, “we did not want to make the President a mere figurehead like the French President. We did not give him any real power but we have made his position one of great authority and dignity.” His comment sums up the role of the President as intended by our Constitution framers. The Constituent Assembly was clear to emphasise that real executive power would be exercised by the government elected directly by citizens. It is for this reason that, in performing his duties, the President functions on the aid and advise of the government.
However, it is also the President who is regarded as the Head of the State, and takes the oath to ‘protect and defend the Constitution and law’ (Article 60 of the Constitution). In order to elect a figure head who would embody the higher ideals and values of the Constitution, the Constituent Assembly decided upon an indirect method for the election of the President.
The President is elected by an Electoral College. While deciding on who would make up the electoral college, the Constituent Assembly had debated several ideas. Dr. B.R Ambedkar noted that the powers of the President extend both to the administration of the centre as well as to that of the states. Hence, in the election of the President, not only should Members of Parliament (MPs) play a part, but Members of the state legislative assemblies (MLAs) should also have a voice. Further, in relation to the centre, some members suggested that the college should comprise only members of the Lok Sabha since they are directly elected by the people. However, others argued that members of Rajya Sabha must be included as well since they are elected by members of directly elected state assemblies. Consequently, the Electoral College comprises all 776 MPs from both houses, and 4120 MLAs from all states. Note that MLCs of states with legislative councils are not part of the Electoral College.
Another aspect that was discussed by the Constituent Assembly was that of the balance of representation between the centre and the states in the Electoral College. The questions of how the votes of MPs and MLAs should be regarded, and if there should be a consideration of weightage of votes were raised. Eventually, it was decided that a ‘system of Proportional Representation’ would be adopted, and voting would be conducted according to the ‘single transferable vote system’.
Under the system of proportional representation, the total weightage of all MLA votes equals the total value of that of the MPs. However, the weightage of the votes of the MLAs varies on the basis of the population of their respective states. For example, the vote of an MLA from Uttar Pradesh would be given higher weightage than the vote of an MLA from a less populous state like Sikkim.
Under the single transferable vote system, every voter has one vote and can mark preferences against contesting candidates. To win the election, candidates need to secure a certain quota of votes. A detailed explanation of how this system plays out is captured in the infographic below.
Sources: Constitution of India; ECI Handbook; PRS.
Coming to the Presidential election to be held next month, the quota of votes required to be secured by the winning candidate is 5,49,452 votes. The distribution of the vote-share of various political parties as per their strength in Parliament and state assemblies looks like this:
Note that the last date for filing nominations is June 28th. In the next few days, political parties will be working across party lines to build consensus and secure the required votes for their projected candidates.
[The infographic on the process of elections was created by Jagriti Arora, currently an Intern at PRS.]
On June 13, 2022, the West Bengal government passed a Bill to replace the Governor with the Chief Minister, as the Chancellor of 31 state public universities (such as Calcutta University, Jadavpur University). As per the All India Survey on Higher Education (2019-20), state public universities provide higher education to almost 85% of all students enrolled in higher education in India. In this blog, we discuss the role of the Governor in state public universities.
What is the role of the Chancellor in public universities?
State public universities are established through laws passed by state legislatures. In most laws the Governor has been designated as the Chancellor of these universities. The Chancellor functions as the head of public universities, and appoints the Vice-Chancellor of the university. Further, the Chancellor can declare invalid, any university proceeding which is not as per existing laws. In some states (such as Bihar, Gujarat, and Jharkhand), the Chancellor has the power to conduct inspections in the university. The Chancellor also presides over the convocation of the university, and confirms proposals for conferring honorary degrees. This is different in Telangana, where the Chancellor is appointed by the state government.
The Chancellor presides over the meetings of various university bodies (such as the Court/Senate of the university). The Court/Senate decides on matters of general policy related to the development of the university, such as: (i) establishing new university departments, (ii) conferring and withdrawing degrees and titles, and (iii) instituting fellowships.
The West Bengal University Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2022 designates the Chief Minister of West Bengal as the Chancellor of the 31 public universities in the state. Further, the Chief Minister (instead of the Governor) will be the head of these universities, and preside over the meetings of university bodies (such as Court/Senate).
Does the Governor have discretion in his capacity as Chancellor?
In 1997, the Supreme Court held that the Governor was not bound by the aid and advice of the Council of Ministers, while discharging duties of a separate statutory office (such as the Chancellor).
The Sarkaria and Puunchi Commission also dealt with the role of the Governor in educational institutions. Both Commissions concurred that while discharging statutory functions, the Governor is not legally bound by the aid and advice of the Council of Ministers. However, it may be advantageous for the Governor to consult the concerned Minister. The Sarkaria Commission recommended that state legislatures should avoid conferring statutory powers on the Governor, which were not envisaged by the Constitution. The Puunchi Commission observed that the role of Governor as the Chancellor may expose the office to controversies or public criticism. Hence, the role of the Governor should be restricted to constitutional provisions only. The Statement of Objects and Reasons of the West Bengal University Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2022 also mentions this recommendation given by the Puunchi Commission.
Recently, some states have taken steps to reduce the oversight of the Governor in state public universities. In April 2022, the Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly passed two Bills, to transfer the power of appointing the Vice-Chancellor (in public universities) from the Governor, to the state government. As of June 8, 2022, these Bills have not received the Governor’s assent.
In 2021, Maharashtra amended the process to appoint the Vice Chancellor of state public universities. Prior to the amendment, a Search Committee forwarded a panel of at least five names to the Chancellor (who is the Governor). The Chancellor could then appoint one of the persons from the suggested panel as Vice-Chancellor, or ask for a fresh panel of names to be recommended. The 2021 amendment mandated the Search Committee to first forward the panel of names to the state government, which would recommend a panel of two names (from the original panel) to the Chancellor. The Chancellor must appoint one of the two names from the panel as Vice-Chancellor within thirty days. As per the amendment, the Chancellor has no option of asking for a fresh panel of names to be recommended.