With the much-talked-about presidential race nearing its end, all eyes are on the person who will occupy the office of the Vice-President, which will fall vacant when the term of M Venkaiah Naidu ends on August 10.
Elections for Vice-President are scheduled for August 6, with the last date for filing nominations July 19.
The office of the Vice-president is a unique feature of India, which follows a parliamentary system, and has no exact parallel in other democratic countries, including the Commonwealth.
The second-highest constitutional authority after the President, the Vice-President draws his or her powers from Article 63 of the Constitution, which states that “there shall be a Vice-President of India”. Article 64 goes on to confer upon the post the power to be “ex-officio Chairman of the Council of States (the Rajya Sabha)”.
In effect, the Vice-President discharges duties of both the Vice-President and Rajya Sabha chairperson.
On December 29, 1948, while adopting the provision regarding the Vice-President, B R Ambedkar, chairman of the Drafting Committee of the Constituent Assembly, spoke of its implications: “Although the Constitution speaks of the Vice-President, he really is the Chairman of the Council of States (Rajya Sabha). In other words, so far as his functions are concerned, he is merely the opposite number of the Speaker of the House of People (Lok Sabha).”
Additionally, the Vice-President can act as the President, “in the event of the occurrence of any vacancy in the office of the President by reason of his death, resignation or removal”, or “until the date on which a new President…enters upon his office”, as per Article 65.
Under Article 64 (2), the Vice-President also discharges presidential functions when the President is unable to do so “owing to absence, illness or any other cause”. In this case, the Vice-President will “have all the powers and immunities of the President and be entitled to… (the) emoluments, allowances and privileges”.
The Election Procedure
Any citizen of India who is at least 35 years of age and a registered voter in a state or Union Territory can be a candidate for the post. At least 20 MPs need to propose the nomination and 20 other MPs need to second it. As per Article 66 (2), the Vice-President cannot be a member of either House of Parliament or of the Legislature of any state.
While the President is chosen by an electoral college consisting members of both the Houses of Parliament (MPs) and the legislators of all the state Assemblies (MLAs), the Vice-President is picked only by the MPs through a system of proportional representation by means of a single transferable vote. The voting is through a secret ballot.
So, the 524 MPs in the Lok Sabha and the 237 members in the Rajya Sabha, including Ilaiyaraja, P T Usha, Vijayendra Prasad and Veerandra Hegde, the four MPs nominated recently, will vote to elect the Vice-President.
Article 67 says that the Vice-President will hold office for a term of five years from “the date on which he enters upon his office”. However, according to the same provision, the Vice-President can continue to hold power “notwithstanding the expiration of his term” until his “successor enters upon his office”.
The Vice-President may leave mid-term by submitting a resignation letter to the President, and can also be removed from office by a resolution in the Rajya Sabha, passed by a majority of its members at that time and agreed by the House of the People (Lok Sabha).
Provision for if the post falls vacant
There is no direct provision in the Constitution on who performs the duties of the Vice-President if the office falls vacant before the expiry of his/her term or when the Vice-President is discharging the duties of the President.
However, the Constitution does have a provision on what happens if the chairperson of the Council of States falls vacant: the Deputy Chairman or any other member of the Rajya Sabha authorised by the President can perform the chairperson’s duties.
Vice-Presidents who became Presidents
S Radhakrishnan, the first Vice-President, served two terms in office, 1952-62. He was subsequently elected as the President in 1962. Other Vice-Presidents who went on to become presidents were Zakir Hussain (1967-69), V V Giri (69-74), R Venkataraman (87-92), Shankar Dayal Sharma (92-97) and K R Narayanan (97-2002).
After Radhakrishnan, Hamid Ansari — who held the post from 2007 to 2017 – remains the only Vice-President to have got a second term in office.