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The Presidential Options

We pride ourselves at being a Parliamentary democracy, but now more than ever before there are so many hinges on the role of the President. With results likely to be down to the wire, who will the President call to form a government?
President Pratibha Patil has been in touch with legal experts but individual parties are also consulting legal and constitutional experts.
President Patil is all set for her first political test of neutrality. With a hung Parliament widely expected, she has three options:

  • Invite the single largest party
  • Invite the single largest pre-poll alliance
  • Invite the largest post-poll formation with letters of support

She has been studying what her predecessors did in similar situations.
In 1989, president Venkatraman invited the single largest party, the Congress, which declined. VP Singh then formed the National Front government with support from the Left and the BJP.
Again in 1996, when Shankar Dayal Sharma invited the single largest party, the BJP, the government lasted a mere 13 days.
However, the most pertinent precedent was in 1998. President K R Narayanan insisted Vajpayee produce letters of support before appointing him Prime minister.
Which is why the BJP's stand this week is so important. They want President Patil to invite the single largest pre-poll formation first.
"The president must call the single largest poll formation and the single largest party," said BJP leader Ravi Shankar Prasad in a press conference.
Not wanting to be out maneouvered by the BJP's stand, the Congress is focusing on getting letters of support, rather than wait and see who the President invites first.
"We leave it to the President," said Congress leader Kapil Sibal.
Who President Patil invites first to form the government is critical. Will it be the single largest party? In which case smaller parties could gravitate towards it. Or will she invite the largest alliance?
Constitutional experts like Rajeev Dhawan say it will be President Patil's discretion, but the prime minister must convince her that he will be able to win a vote of confidence.
So if India does elect a hung Parliament, President Pratibha will play a critical role and every move she makes will be followed closely.

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