OffStumped For All Things Right of Center, Bringing a Right of Centre Reality Check to Indian Politics, News Media Reporting and Opinion now in Hindi अब आप के लिये हिंदी मे.

NDTV is reporting that Pranab Mukherjie and Shivraj Patil are thought to be the UPA’s frontrunners for the post of President. A meeting between the Communists and the allies in the UPA is expected on June 11. Senior BJP leader Sushma Swaraj, in an excusive interview to CNN-IBN, has said that the NDA would support Vice President Bhairon Singh Shekhawat but he cannot be projected as a single party’s nominee. Meanwhile in Hyderabad, former Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu has brought together a few more ex-chief ministers to once again revive the idea of a third front ahead of the Presidential election. The Telugu Desam, the AIADMK, Samajwadi Party, MDMK and four other regional parties immediate plan is to be relevant in the Presidential polls. According to NDTV The eight regional parties together constitute around eight per cent vote share of the electoral college and could play a decisive role.

As the political games begin to claim the Presidential sweepstakes, Offstumped examines the largely ignored economic costs underlying the ceremonial Presidency to argue why this is the most irrelevant election of our democracy.

Offstumped did some digging around on the Union Budget since 1998-1999 to the current times to understand the cost of the ceremonial Presidency the Constitution has burdened our Democracy with. The 1997-1998 budget estimated the cost of the Presidency at 5.62 crores while ending up spending 6.89 crores resulting in the 1998-1999 budget planning to spend 7.76 crores on the Presidency. In 1999-2000 the planned was 8.04 crores and the actual costs were 8.81 crores resulting in the 2000-2001 budget upping the budget to 9.21 crores. The break up makes for interesting reading. Now remember the salary of the President is fixed so all of these costs go towards the Secretariat and the Household expenses. The President’s salary accounted for a paltry Six Lakhs. The Secretariat a fairly expensive 2.76 crores. But the bulk of the expenses go towards the pomp and keeping the show going at a whopping 5.22 crores of the total of 8.04 estimated in 1999-2000. By 2002 2003 the pomp cost an extra 60 Lakhs taking the budget to 5.84 crores for other expenditure. Well 2003-2004 saw a quantum leap in the budget for the bells and whistles going up to 9.80 crores. 2005-2006 saw this go up even further by 4 crores to 13.20 crores with the actual costs being 13.70 crores. The financial year that just ended saw the budgetary estimate at a whopping 18.51 crores for other expenditure, which is more than 3 times the budget estimate 10 years back. The secretariat costs doubled as well in the same period. The actual expenses thankfully were only 13.73 crores and the budgets for the current year hover around 12.32 crores.

The total cost of the ceremonial Presidency was budgeted at 17.64 crores with a major chunk, 12.32 crores going towards other expenditures. With a residence according to Wiki, Rashtrapati Bhavan is the biggest residence of any President in the world with more than 350 rooms one can only imagine the kind of staff that goes into its upkeep, leaving alone the real estate value of the lavish Presidential estate at the heart of Lutyen’s Delhi that goes with it.

When one looks at the current slate of candidates who will likely make President the one thought that crosses the mind is how undeserving each one of them is of this more than 10 crore entourage with its associated pomp and splendor. Offstumped had earlier in the year examined Pranab Mukherjee’s resume in detail to highlight its mediocrity, if there is one thing Mr. Mukherjee has to his fame it is his utter lack of ambition and loyalty to the family. Cut over to the next hopeful the walking zombie of a home minister Shivraj Patil under who’s watch what little anti-terror infrastructure existed was dismantled in the name of equity of minorities.

 President Kalam the professional that he was perhaps did the most justice he could to this largely ceremonial Constitutional role by putting his foot down on the Office of Profit Issue. But even on that his intervention was promptly subverted by the political class by setting up a Joint Parliamentary Committee on the issue and ensuring it goes into permanent cold storage till the next occupant takes over.

Arun Shourie in his new book, The Parliamentary System: What we have made of it, what we can make of it,makes a strong case for empowering the executive. Restructuring the system so that the president is elected by the electorate and is empowered to select his/her own ministers, he argues, will improve governance. The Indian Express carried extracts from his book in a 2 part series. Offstumped fully endorses Arun Shourie’s position on this issue by calling for a strong executive directly elected by the people. The Nation can do without the  Ceremonial Presidency and its attendant costs. While we are at it Offstumped also expects the gubernatorial political stooges stationed in State Capitals to be stripped of their comforts as well. 

Offstumped Bottomline: None of these Presidential hopefuls have accomplished anything worthy in their public lives to earn the right to indulge themselves in this more than 10 crore a year pomp and splendor. Its time we showed them their place in our Democracy.

India does not need a Ceremonial Presidency that indulges in pomp and ostentation, India needs a functional Presidency that can govern and deliver.

Be Sociable, Share!