Why is the President of India, Supreme Commander of the Indian Armed Forces? Why did the founding fathers not vest this supreme command in the council of ministers headed by the Prime Minister, given that they made a conscious choice that India would be a parliamentary democracy, not an executive presidency?


What are the constitutional provisions for the same?

  • Article 53 of the Constitution states that the executive power of the Union shall be vested in the President of India.
  • Article 53(2) says: “Without prejudice to the generality of the foregoing provision, the supreme command of the Defence Forces of the Union shall be vested in the President and the exercise thereof shall be regulated by law”.
  • The powers of the presidency are, of course, circumscribed by Article 74 which states that the president shall exercise his functions only on the aid and advice of the council of ministers headed by the prime minister.
  • Also, the term “defence forces of the Union” is nowhere defined in the Constitution.


Why did the President become Supreme Commander?

  • A clue as to why the supreme command came to be vested in the presidency can possibly be found in the articulation of KM Munshi in the Constituent Assembly debates.
  • While speaking on an amendment moved by Professor KT Shah on draft Article 42, Munshi argued that “The strongest government and the most elastic executive has been found to be in England and that is because the executive powers vest in the Cabinet supported by a majority of the lower house which has financial powers under the constitution. As a result it is the rule of the majority in the legislature for it supports its leaders in the cabinet which advises the head of the state namely the king or the President. The King or the President is thus placed above the party. He is made really the symbol of the impartial dignity of the Constitution.”
  • Probably, it was the un-verbalised desire of the founding fathers that the supreme command of the armed forces must vest in a constitutional entity that is perceived to be above partisan politics, thereby underscoring the apolitical character of the armed forces — that is, that they belong to the nation and not to any dispensation that may concurrently at a given point in time hold the reigns of executive power.


Was there any inspiration from other constitutions?

  • Our constitution makers they were also inspired by the both the French and American Constitution. In both the American and French constitutional schemes, the supreme command of the armed forces vests in the president, but they are executive presidencies.
  • In case of the People’s Republic of China, an interesting institution dating back to 1925 called the Central Military Commission was created. After China assumed its present avatar, the general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party has been invariably triple-hatted whereby he is also the president of the republic and chairperson of the Central Military Commission.
  • Interestingly, in Pakistan, Article 243-1A, as amended by the Constitution Eighteenth Amendment Act 2010, states: “Without prejudice to the generality of the foregoing provisions, the Supreme Command of the Armed Forces shall vest in the President” However, that has not stopped Pakistan from being convulsed by a series of coup d’etats going back to 1958.



It is, therefore, quite evident that rather than any deliberate plan or design to impose civilian control over the armed forces, as conventional wisdom or subsequent mythmaking make it out to be, the President of India ended up becoming the Supreme Commander of the Indian Armed Forces for the simple reason that the members of the Constituent Assembly decided to follow British precedent.


SourceThe Indian Express


QUESTION – Why did the constitution makers of India vested the powers of armed forces into the President of India by making him their Supreme Commander? Comment.