The President of India, Shri Pranab Mukherjee, has modified the protocol on the ground it smells of colonialism. So the colonial and feudal “His Excellency” will cease to be in practice. It is good that the President has decided to “shed” this colonial tag, whereas many of the Governors representing the President in India in the states have really “lost” it. They neither understand the significance of constitutional office nor the dignity attached to it. They have been behaving extra constitution and even unconstitutional more than once. They had brought discredit to the office of the Governor and it was humiliating to address them as His Excellency The Governor, when invited to (dis)grace any occasion. That made these men and women of straw swollen headed. The result was that good governance suffered because of them. They failed to win the respect of the people because of such indecent behaviour. Some of them do it only to get rid of their ornamental responsibilities so that they could get into the union cabinet once again and wangle an ATM ministry. But the decision of the President is important from another point of view.
When Shri Pranab Mukherjee was elected as President of India, I had posted on this site my views anticipating change in the role of the President of India vis- a- vis the Prime Minister of India. Under the Constitution of India, the President is all powerful, so much so that he can convert the federal structure into a unitary one, if an emergency so requires. He appoints the Prime Minister and all other ministers. He is the Commander in Chief. He appoints the judges. He convenes the Parliament. The question that has been the subject of seminars for more than 62 years is whether the President enjoys real powers or is just a titular Head of the State, a mere decoration piece? This question was never decisively answered, though it was subsequently made obligatory for the President to act on the advice of the council of ministers. President Pranab Mukherjee’s tenure will test this constitutional fiction. Is the President really bound by the “advice” of the council of ministers? What happens if the Prime Minister is caught red-handed accepting bribe? Is the President bound by the advice of the council of ministers , who don’t want the PM to be dismissed? Or can the President exercise his own mind and discretion and discharge his constitutional obligation by dismissing such a Prime Minister? The case may not be so clear for the President to decide, yet he may have to give a fair decision. It is not like umpire fixing in the cricket world. The President has “decided” to modify the protocol and simply conveyed to the Ministry of Home Affairs for further action. Another decision the President has taken is about official functions to be held in the Rashtrapati Bhavan only, where the President is the Chief Guest. Earlier the Presidents used to go out to the other venues in Delhi, which gave them the opportunity to move out of the fortress called the Rashtrapati Bhavan- secluded, isolated grandeur in red Karauli stone (sand stone).
It is just the beginning. We may see more. He is an active politician and can’t be simply declared a senior citizen, expected to rejoice in retirement. His council of ministers has been facing corruption scams on a regular basis. This may lead to mid term polls. There might also arise situations where the President may be called upon to take decisive action on his own without consulting his government, such as financial emergency (to which a reference has been made last week only by the Union Finance Minister P. Chidambaram). If there ever arises a conflict between the party and the government, the role of the President will get sharpened. That situation might not be far away, if the developments taking place are any indication. Remember, this President takes decisions. That can cause worries to any properly elected Prime Minister, though the appointee PM or the proxy PM can enjoy the privileges in their enigmatic silence, which they can call their virtue.