India get's it's (yes, it's not her...my supervisor insists, countries should not be personified.) 13th President. A political man,... it is immaterial which party belongs to. He can hardly do any further damage to the perception of President-ship...his predecessor has done him a favour. So though he is a political man, and therefore tainted somehow (anyone seen an untainted politician?). [His critiques say he blackened his hand during Emergency (1976), the only time India's misnomer in the name democracy was suspended] he hasn't much to lose.
So India's 13th President Mr. Pranab Mukherjee, is in good tidings. He gains the highest Constitutional post in the largest democracy (sounds nice, no?) of the world. But this endeavour, to ventilate my thoughts, isn't really about the man. It's about the post...and the genesis of the post since the Constitution was penned down. Our Constitution may not be the most original....but at least, we must thank our Founding Fathers for collating the best from the rest of the world. Unachievable in most cases...but hey..we have the largest (mark the superlative?) written Constitution of the world.
Anyway, to go back to the beginning...why do we have a President? A mere "ceremonial" head? Well, we have a Parliamentary form of democracy which always has a Real (de facto) head and a Nominal (de jure) head. [Elementary Civics..hehe..I don't claim to know more than u guys ;)] If you look around, for egs...take our Ex-"Colonial" rulers. They have a PM (vested with real power...unlike our PM at the moment) and the Queen vested with..err..."ceremonial" power. So in Parlimantary form of Goverment (also known as Cabinet form and Responsible from govt) we always have a PM with real power and a ceremonial head. This nominal/ceremonial head can be a Queen like UK or if you want to make a pose as a Republic, then the nominal head is an elected President. We by the way, were under the ceremoniousness of the Queen till Jan 26th, 1950. From then we become the 'Republic of India' [Check your passport...it proudly says so :)] Now, the point is why did we have Cabinet/Parliamentary form of govt....the frustrating part here is no Political Scientist ever answers all that..they do attempt though (it is said that, Nehru felt, since we were under the Brits, who used Parliamentary form of governance...we are more suited for that form) but in the final analysis it boils down to...Nehru wished so. (Why India is called so...also Nehru wished so) Never mind..Nehru's wish is our command..and we have a Republican, Parliamentary from govt...thus a President (...if I recall my Political Science lessons...Nehru felt that we shouldn't have a "hereditary" nominal head...here he diverted from the Brits)
The Constitution clearly earmarks the role of the President, the First Citizen of country. S/he has very little power though. [Even Governors have discretionary powers in calling Emergency but not President] Some call the President a 'magnificent cipher' (J.C. Johari, if I recall correctly) some even call him/her a Rubber Stamp (so named as President's signature is required for passing Bills...but it is expected s/he will sign...very rarely, there has been any aberration.) But a lot of pomp and grandeur, that the Presidential Post has. S/he is the Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces by the way. Mark of the highest respect from Bapu's India ;) Constituionally the President is the head of the State while the PM is the head of the Govt. So Constitutionally the President is superior in presitge than the PM (the state= Govt+people+territory+sovereignty), and the PM heads only ONE aspect of the state. Constitutionally again, the President represents the entire state (the party in power, the Opposition, the people, the respurces etc.) and thus cannot be close to the Govt in Power.
But that was what Dr.Ambedkar may have envisaged...what happened was far from Baba's vision. We have Presidents selected by the party in power and this the Rubber Stamp degenrates into the Yes Boss appointee. But it reaps great benefit to the party in power in crucial times...[do recall how Gyani Zail Singh called Rajiv Gandhi to become the PM post-Indira's demise. Happens in Monarchies, no? Also note Rajiv Gandhi wasn't even a Member of Cabinet at that point. Nota Bene: Our President today, was legally, Constituionally the next in line then...but he was sidelined by the then loyal President Zail Singh...and sulkily Mr. Mukherjee had floated a party...but those are bygones]
What was "perceived" and what was "conceived" of the President's Post alas has become poles apart. The President has no real power (as s/he is not directly elected by "We the people") but was vested with a lot of prestige and dignity. S/he was meant to be an unbiased radar of the ship (read Govt). But the distance the post was supposed to keep with murky politics...got blurred...deliberately. And it lost the dignity it was vested with...But it seems, from the fervent passion of Presidential Election (had noted this feverish pitch only once in a Derby...), the dignity it lost, has been replenished with the power, it was never intended to have.