On 13th December 1948, the Constituent Assembly took up Article 43 of the Draft Constitution (Article 54 – Constitution of India, 1950) and debated the following question: Should the President of India be directly or indirectly elected? Draft Article 43 – on the basis of decisions taken in the committee stages – called for the President to be elected through an electoral college that consisted of members of parliament and state legislative assemblies.
K.T Shah was the only member of the Constituent Assembly who was not happy with this mode of election. He argued that indirectly electing the President was not sufficiently representative of the people’s will. The Draft Article, according to K.T. Shah, would make the President a ‘creature of party majorities in the centre or the local legislatures’. He moved an amendment that proposed the President be elected by every adult citizen of the country.
K. Hanumanthaiya opposed the amendment. He said that K.T. Shah’s proposal of allowing every adult citizen to vote was problematic: it allowed even those who are not eligible to vote in the general elections – lunatics and convicts – to vote for the President. He responded to K.T Shah’s constant invocation of ‘the people’: governance is carried out by people’s representatives – not directly by people themselves.
K. Hanumanthaiya also pointed out that K.T. Shah’s desire of having a ‘non-party’ President was better served by indirect elections: a presidential candidate, who was to be directly elected by the people, would most likely be put up by a political party and would campaign across the country with the party’s backing and support; a President elected in this manner would not be able to ‘forget his party affiliations’.
Biswanath Das was the next speaker in the debate. He believed that that K.T. Shah’s amendment implied a presidential form of government like the one in the United States. He reminded K.T Shah that the Union Constitution Committee had already gone into the question of which system to adopt: the committee weighed both options – parliamentary and presidential – and in its report decided to go with the former; the report was accepted by the Constituent Assembly. K.T. Shah's amendment would require changing the entire structure of the Draft Constitution and would have implications on a number of other Draft Articles as well; it was too late for the Constituent Assembly to embark on this course of action.
Biswanath Das also took issue with K.T. Shah on the ‘party man’ question:
Sir, party system is the very basis of democracy. How on earth could you find a President who is non-party man? Even the President of the United States is not a non-party man….. If Professor Shah thinks of a non-party President, he will have to think of something other than democracy. Sir, Turkey had a sort of non-party government but it has given it up in preference to a party system of government and elections have been introduced. You have to think of a totalitarian state if you think of a non-party President. It is impossible in the very nature of things. Therefore his plea that the President is and ought to be a non-party man does not at all appeal to me…
Ambedkar made the last intervention in the debate and rejected K.T. Shah’s proposals. He argued that directly electing the President of India was not desirable on the following grounds: First, It was not practical – the administrative machinery in the country does not have the resources to conduct direct elections taking into account the immense size of the electorate. Second, he argued that if the President of India was similar to the President of the United States – then direct election by the people made sense. But the President of India, as envisaged by the Draft Constitution, is merely a figurehead and possessed no real executive and administrative powers.
The Draft Article was put to vote; K.T. Shah’s amendment was rejected. The Constituent Assembly decided to go ahead and provide for the President of India to be indirectly elected – by members of parliament and state legislatures.