Two persons with a legal background have emerged as frontrunners for this year’s presidential election. By July 20, we will know who out of Supreme Court Advocate-on-Record Ramnath Kovind and law graduate Meira Kumar will become the fourteenth President of India.
We will also know which of the above will likely face a round of litigation before the Supreme Court of India.
If there has been something almost as certain as death and taxes over the last few decades, it is a challenge to the election of the President of India. The election of all but two Presidents – Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan and Pratibha Patil – have been challenged before the apex court. Apart from this, Rajendra Prasad’s first term also went unchallenged.
And one man has, more often than not, been at the forefront of these challenges.
The undisputed champion of these election petitions, Supreme Court Advocate-on-Record Charan Lal Sahu, has attempted to challenge the election of as many as seven Presidents.
Sahu started his law practice in 1964 at the Jabalpur Bar, and before he went on to become an AoR at the Supreme Court in 1974, he filed his first petition challenging the election of VV Giri, who was elected President in 1969.
The main reason behind filing these petitions? Sahu has always dreamed of being President himself.
It is his argument that the procedure for electing the President of India prevents him from realising this dream. A common thread running through all his petitions is a challenge to the Presidential and Vice-Presidential Elections Act, 1952, a legislation that governs the procedure by which the Presidential election takes place.
More specifically, he has challenged Sections 5B and 5C of the Act. The former provision requires a Presidential candidate to have at least 50 Members of either House of Parliament or any Legislative Assembly to propose his name, and an additional 50 Members to second his name. This, Sahu says, is unconstitutional.
“I find that the rule which requires 50 proposers and 50 seconders is ultra vires Articles 14 and 21 of the Constitution. The judges have never decided on the Constitutional aspect of my petitions. Therefore, politicians are taking undue advantage.
For election as a Member of the Lok Sabha, there is only one proposer. Why can’t the same rule be followed here also? Secondly, it is not possible for a common man to get 100 signatures from MPs and MLAs.”
Once the petition against VV Giri’s election failed, an undeterred Sahu challenged the election of the next President, Fakhruddin Ali Ahmad. The dismissal of that petition did not stop him from challenging the subsequent elections of Neelam Sanjeeva Reddy and Giani Zail Singh. Though Sahu took a break for the next two Presidents, R Venkataraman and Shankar Dayal Sharma, Mithilesh Kumar Sinha would take up the baton, only to be similarly dismissed by the apex court.
Then, in 1997, Sahu and Sinha would join forces to challenge the election of KR Narayanan. However, this time, the apex court would decide that enough was enough.
A Constitution Bench headed by Justice SC Agarwal held that the petitioners had no locus to file the election petition, since as per Section 14A of the Act, only candidates to the election could challenge such elections. Moreover, as was the case in previous petitions, the challenge to Sections 5B and 5C were dismissed. Additionally, costs of Rs. 10,000 were imposed on Sahu. The Bench noted,
“It is a matter of regret the petitioner No.1, who happens to be an advocate himself, has been persisting in this past time knowing well that such conduct on his part amounts to an abuse of the process of law…
…It is high time that the petitioners who have persisted in filling this petition in spite of the law laid down authoritatively by this Court in the earlier decisions are saddled with costs.”
With that decision, one would think that Sahu would stop filing these petitions. One, however, cannot fathom just how badly he wanted to be President.
And so, the election of APJ Abdul Kamal found itself before the apex court. This time, the Supreme Court could barely contain its contempt for Sahu. The very first para of the judgment reads,
“It is regrettable that in spite of being cautioned four times by this Court not to challenge election of the President of India in a cavalier and light-hearted manner, the petitioner, who is an advocate has filed the present election petition challenging the election of Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam…
…Our regret is compounded by the fact that petitioner is an advocate. He does, we presume, know the value of earlier binding precedents declaring the law by the highest court of the land.”
After customarily dealing with the issues in the petition, Justice Ashok Bhan would impose costs of Rs. 25,000 on Sahu.
The veteran AoR claims that he had also filed a petition against current President Pranab Mukherjee, but there appears to be no record of the same.
Over the course of more than four decades, Sahu has been fighting for the right to be President, knowing enough about the procedure to write a book about it. Quite literally. He plugs,
“For more information on this topic, you can refer to my book.”
So, how will history remember Sahu? As a mere publicity monger? Or as one of those people who are boneheadedly passionate about a cause they feel is just? His final statement alludes to the latter.
“[The rules] have made it very difficult for an independent candidate or a citizen of India to become President. Every citizen has the right to fight the election, whether he wins or loses.”
On being asked whether he will challenge the upcoming election, he says,
“This time I have not yet filed a petition.”
Going by his track record, the word “yet” is enough to wager that we have not seen the last of Charan Lal Sahu’s election petitions in the apex court.
Image of Sahu taken from here.
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