B D Jatti was only Acting President — between February 11 and July 25, 1977, following the death of Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed — when he gave some anxious moments to the Janta Party government of Morarji Desai on its decision to dissolve the Assemblies of nine Congress-ruled states.
Jatti sought time to consider the matter. He felt the government’s advice, in April 1977, was unprecedented and unwarranted. The Governors of these states had reported no breakdown of constitutional machinery to him, and he sought detailed information on the circumstances of the recommendation. Jatti did relent subsequently, mindful of the prevalent public mood against the Congress in the aftermath of the Emergency.
Notwithstanding the popular perception of the President as a ceremonial figure who occasionally rides a majestic horse carriage with state regalia, he can be far from being a pushover, if he so chooses.
“There shall be a President of India”, says Article 52 of the Constitution, and explains, in the next Article, his role and position: “The executive power of the Union shall be vested in the President and shall be exercised by him either directly or through officers subordinate to him in accordance with this Constitution.”
He appoints and removes high constitutional authorities, including the Prime Minister and the Council of Ministers, judges of the Supreme Court and High Courts, Governors of states and Lt-Governors of Union Territories, the Attorney General, Comptroller and Auditor General, Chief Election Commissioner and Election Commissioners, and Chairman and members of Union Public Service Commission.
He is the Supreme Commander of the Defence Forces, and appoints their Chiefs. The country declares war in his name. He can declare a state of Emergency on the recommendation of the Council of Ministers after satisfying himself that the country’s security or financial stability is in danger.
Technically, Parliament comprises the President, Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha. The President nominates 12 members to Rajya Sabha from amongst people having a special knowledge or practical experience in the fields of literature, science, art, cinema and social service. He convenes sessions of Parliament. The first session in every calendar year, called the Budget Session, begins with the President’s address. In case of an impasse between the Houses during the legislative process, he summons a joint session to resolve the issue through a combined vote.
A Bill passed by both Houses becomes an Act after the President gives his consent. The government has to obtain prior sanction from him before introducing legislation for creating a new state, or making changes in the boundary or name of a state. Any Bill dealing with fundamental rights has to be cleared by the President in advance. He promulgates Ordinances when Parliament is not in session. He can ask the Council of Ministers to reconsider a Bill sent to him for consent; he has to, however, fall in line if the Council of Ministers sends it back to him. The same holds good with regard to the recommendation for the invocation of Article 356.
India’s ambassadors and high commissioners represent him and foreign envoys present their credentials to him.
Article 72 vests in him the power to grant pardon to a convict. He can seek the advisory opinion of the Supreme Court on legal and constitutional matters, and on matters of national and the people’s interest as per Article 143. He can ask the Attorney General to attend parliamentary proceedings and report any unlawful functioning to him (Article 88).
The President authorises the presentation of the union Budget. Money Bills can be introduced in Lok Sabha after his consent. He can take advances from the Contingency Fund of India. He constitutes a Finance Commission after every five years to recommend distribution of taxes among the Centre and states.