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The controversy over how to address the President: The ‘Rashtrapatni’ controversy, how to address the President

The BJP has accused Congress of insulting President Draupadi Murmu after MP Adhirranjan Chowdhury called her a “first lady”. The terms President and Speaker (Speaker) are used in a gender-neutral manner in the Constitution of India. And that is why the BJP protested in different parts of the country.

BJP leadership has also submitted a memorandum to Madhya Pradesh Governor protesting Congress Leader Adhirranjan Chowdhury’s comments about President Draupadi Murmu in Bhopal on July 28, 2022 (Thursday). Not only did they submit the memorandum, but BJP MPs also caused a ruckus by presenting it to both Houses of Parliament. They did not back down from Adhir Chowdhury’s personal attack.

However, Adhir Chowdhury said he made a mistake using the term. It slipped from his mouth. But the BJP leadership did not calm down. Lok Sabha minister Smriti Irani, led by Nirmala Sitharaman in the Rajya Sabha, strongly protested Adhir Chowdhury’s comments. Furthermore, they demanded that Adhir Chowdhury and Congresswoman Sonia Gandhi apologize for these comments. Smriti Irani alleged that Congress is in fact anti-tribal and anti-women. Not only that, Congress also “insulted” the Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces.

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When Pratibha Patil was president
Draupadi Murmu is not the first. India once had a female president. This was also the case when we first had a female president. When the UPA decided to run former Rajasthani governor Pratibha Patil in the 2007 presidential election, there were still discussions and speculation surrounding the issue.

At that time, there was a small debate on the correct way to address the head of state. Because, according to some, ‘president’ has a ‘masculine’ connotation. However, the Indian Constitution at the time defined terms such as President and Speaker (Speaker) as gender neutral. And, with that, the debate quickly ended. Various rights activists and feminists opposed the proposed word “mother mother” at the time. They alleged that the use of these terms for a constitutional office was “sexist”.

Constitutional expert Subhash Kashyap said at the time that Rajya Sabha Vice President Najma Heptulla was still referred to as “Vice President”. This is how President Patil can be called “Rashtrapati Mohdaya”. India then got two more presidents, Meera Kumar and Sumitra Mahajan. Both, however, have repeatedly been referred to as “president”. Then-Shiv Sena supremo Balasaheb Thackeray again offered to address Pratibha Patil as ‘president’. However, Pratibha Patil is still called president. His term ended in 2012.

What happened in the Constituent Assembly
The Constituent Assembly also discussed how to address the president. During a debate in the Constituent Assembly in December 1948, HV Kamath objected to a modification of the original draft submitted by Jawaharlal Nehru on July 4, 1947. He asked why (then) Article 41 had been changed from “the Federation will be headed by the President (President)” to “there will be a President of India”? During the debate, it was also suggested to use the word ‘leader’ or ‘leader’ instead of ‘president’. But Nehru suggested that the term “president” be finalized.

Read the whole story in English

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