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How India elects its President

The presidential elections scheduled in July 2022 will be held under a new dispensation as Jammu and Kashmir no longer has a legislative assembly. Selecting a president is an elaborate exercise involving a vast electoral college. Disputes relating to election of president are decided by the Supreme Court.

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By Vivek K Agnihotri

Recently a news item added a new dimension to the presidential elections. It was reported that in the presidential elections scheduled in July 2022, the value of the vote of a member of Parliament is likely to go down to 700 from the present 708 due to the absence of the legislative assembly in Jammu and Kashmir. It inspired a cartoon in which a member of Parliament is being told that it is not only the value of rupee that is going down, his status too is getting devalued.

Article 54 of the Constitution of India states that the president shall be elected by the members of an electoral college consisting of (a) the elected members of both the Houses of Parliament; and (b) the elected members of the legislative assemblies of the states and of NCT Delhi and the Union Territory of Puducherry.  The nominated members of both the Houses of Parliament as well as legislative assemblies are not entitled to vote in the election of the president nor are members of the legislative councils in the states.

The election of the president of India is not held on party basis and, therefore, political parties cannot issue any whip to their MPs and MLAs for this election. The electors can vote according to their conscience. The ballot paper too does not carry any symbols and has only two columns, the first containing the name of the candidates and the other for the electors to mark their preferences.

In order for a nomination for the post of the president to be valid, inter alia, it must be proposed by at least 50 electors and seconded by another 50 electors. The security deposit for the presidential election is Rs 15,000.  Till 1974, only one elector as proposer and one elector as seconder were need for filing a nomination paper and there was no security deposit. Changes in the Presidential and Vice-Presidential Act, 1952, in this regard, were made from time to time and the current requirements mentioned above were introduced in 1997. No elector can subscribe, whether as proposer or seconder, more than one nomination paper at the same election. Further, not more than four nomination papers can be filed or accepted on behalf of one candidate.

Article 55 specifies the manner or the procedure of the election of the president, which would be in accordance with the system of proportional representation by means of a single transferable vote and the voting at such election shall be by secret ballot. The Constitution also provides for weighting of votes based on two fundamental principles: first, to secure as far as possible, uniformity in the scale of representation of different states of the Union, which emphasizes the similarity in the status of the states; and, secondly, to secure parity among the states as a whole and the Union in order to buttress federalism. In accordance with Article 55, a formula has been evolved to calculate the value of votes of each member present in the Electoral College.

Each member of the Electoral College, who is a member of a state legislative assembly, will have his number of votes calculated as follows: total population of the state (as per 1971 census) divided by total number of elected members in the assembly and further divided by 1,000. If the remainder is 500 or more, then the value is increased by one. For illustration, let us take the case of the state of Andhra Pradesh (AP). The number of MLAs in the AP legislative assembly is 175. The population of the state as per 1971 census was 2,78,00,586; dividing it by 175 x 1000 we get the figure of 159, which is the value of the vote of each MLA. The total value of the votes of the MLAs of Andhra Pradesh, therefore, works out to 27,825.

For assigning value to the vote of a member of Parliament, the total number of votes assigned to the elected members of the state assemblies (5,49,495 for 2017 election) is divided by the total number of elected members of both Houses of Parliament (776 for 2017 election). The value of vote of each MP was thus 708.

During the 2017 presidential elections, the total value of votes of all the MLAs (4,120) came to 5,49,495 and for MPs it was almost equal in number, i.e. 5,49,408. The grand total of values of all the eligible votes thus came to 10,98,903.

The method used for the election of the president is generally known as the “alternative vote in a single member constituency”. Under this system, any candidate who secures the necessary quota of votes is declared elected. “Quota” is arrived at by dividing the total number of valid votes cast by two and adding one to the quotient. In case two or more candidates are contesting, for a vote to be valid, inter alia, the elector must, at least, indicate his first preference. He can, of course, mark his 2nd, 3rd etc. preferences, depending on the number of candidates.

If, therefore, the total value of valid votes (in terms of value of votes) for the candidates is, say, 10,00,000 in a particular election, in order to get elected, the winning candidate has to secure 5,00,001 votes, i.e. 10,00,000 divided by 2, plus 1 (one).  If a candidate is able to secure 5,00,001 or more first preference valid votes in his favour, he/she is declared elected and there is no need to take a second or subsequent count. If none of the candidates gets this number, the candidate getting the least number of votes among all the candidates is eliminated, and his votes are distributed across the remaining candidates on the basis of the second preferences marked on them. This process is mutatis mutandis repeated till such time as one of the remaining candidates gets the magic figure. In this manner, theoretically speaking, it is possible that a candidate, in spite of securing less first preference votes may still get elected on account of having a total of first and second preference votes, which is higher than the total of the other candidate(s).

In the 2017 election, however, there was no need to use this complicated scheme for counting of votes since there were only two candidates and Ram Nath Kovind, the former governor of Bihar, won by a handsome margin of more than 31% over his rival Meira Kumar, former speaker, Lok Sabha. In the past 13 elections, there have never been more than two candidates in the final run-up. In 1974, Neelam Sanjeeva Reddy won the election without any contest. Dr. Rajendra Prasad (president of India from 1952 to 1962) got 99% votes in his second term (1957-62). In the previous election (2012), Pranab Mukherjee got 69.3% votes as compared to his rival (PA Sangma), who got 30.70% votes. So far, there has been only one instance of putting the system of “proportional representation by means of a single transferable vote”, that is during the election of VV Giri in 1969, when the counting of first preference votes did not result in either of the candidates (the other one being Neelam Sanjeeva Reddy) getting the necessary quota (50%+1) of the votes polled.

As a matter of fact, the system of election through proportional representation by means of a single transferable vote is not quite appropriate when only a single candidate is to be elected. It is normally used when more than one candidate have to be elected through a single electoral exercise. Thus, for example, it would have made more sense to prescribe the proportional representation system if both the president and the vice-president of India were to be elected together. But that is another story.

The election of the president of India is organised under the superintendence of the Election Commission of India. The Election Commission appoints election observers for the purpose. Further, it has been an established practice that the secretary-general of the Lok Sabha or the Rajya Sabha is appointed as the returning officer (by rotation) along with one or more assistant returning officers. For the 2017 presidential election, the secretary-general, Lok Sabha, was appointed as the returning officer. For 2022 elections, thus, it is the turn of the secretary-general, Rajya Sabha, to be appointed as the returning officer.

Disputes relating to election of the president are decided by the Supreme Court. In 2012, the election of the out-going president, Pranab Mukherjee, was challenged by the defeated candidate (PA Sangma) on the ground that at the time of filing of nomination, Mukherjee held an office of profit by virtue of being the chairman of the Indian Statistical Institute. However, the Supreme Court dismissed the petition.

A petition calling in question a presidential election may be presented to the Supreme Court by any candidate at such election, or by 20 or more electors joined together as petitioners. Any such petition may be presented at any time after the date of publication of the result, but not later than 30 days from the date of such publication. Further, as per Article 71(4), the election of a person as president cannot be called in question on the grounds of any vacancy in the Electoral College.

 —The writer is former Secretary-General, Rajya Sabha

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