India stands out as a shining symbol of democracy amongst the nations that emerged as independent states after the demise of colonial rule post-World War II. India’s founding fathers, and I stress the plural, opted for the Westminster model of parliamentary democracy as practiced in Britain with some modifications. They did study the American and French presidential systems but opted for the Parliamentary system of government. If India has been a shining democracy, it is not because of any sterling contributions of its polity but despite them.
Probably in their wisdom and taking a long view as was available at that particular time, India’s founding fathers perceived that the parliamentary system of government would be best suited to bridge the vast disparities of India and provide opportunities for a more integrated India to emerge. They also believed that the generations of political leaders that would follow them and occupy their hallowed seats in Parliament would be men and women of equal noble vision and equal noble purpose.
India’s parliamentary democracy after more than half a century in existence today presents a sordid picture if the following features that have emerged are taken into account:
- Due to the compulsions of electoral arithmetic of a parliamentary system. India has become politically more divisive and fragmented.
- India’s political dynamics today are more driven by considerations of casteism, communalism and other sectarian factors.
- In India today no political party can claim to be a national party of stature. Their influence may be predominant in some regions and negligible or even non-existent elsewhere.
- India’s Congress Party claiming to be more than a century old has yet to nurture a leadership independent of the political dynasty that has held sway ever since independence. In election after election to ensure their success they look for their dynastic icon of the day to lead them.
- Election tickets for contesting elections are being given by all political parties to the progeny of existing political leaders, their wives, their kin or close aides down to personal assistants. Merit is not the consideration, nor a record of public service.
- The above has de-generated to the level of criminals, people charge-sheeted in courts and those having considerable muscle-power to contest elections on tickets of political parties whose sole consideration is how many seats can these notorious elements bring along.
- In the absence of clear mandates, India has entered the era of coalition politics where political defections are the order of the day and political loyalties are switched by the number of briefcase full of millions of rupees that can change hands.
- Crucial portfolios in the Central Cabinet have been given not on the basis of the professional competence of the Minister so appointed but by blackmail of withdrawing support to the coalition even though the Minister may be a tainted one.
- In such a milieu India’s foreign policies are getting communized and communalized and national security priorities are given a go-by.
In the system of checks and balances that were inserted in the Constitution by the founding fathers in relation to the powers vested in the President and the Supreme Court we see now these being questioned by those who should be setting exemplary standards to uphold them. The first blow was struck by Indira Gandhi by bringing in the 42nd Amendment Constitution to make it obligatory for the President to act on the advice of the Prime Minister.
The Parliamentary system of Government today in India stands deeply compromised and eroded from what was conceived by the founding fathers. They would squirm in their graves to see what hues the Parliament has acquired and the total compromise and distortion that has taken place of their Constitutional blueprint.
Financially also the Parliamentary system is a heavy drain on the Indian exchequer in terms of Jumbo Cabinets and over 800 members of both Houses of Parliament all to be maintained at five star luxury levels and millions of rupees spent on their perks and privileges. The same gets applicable at the States level. To this needs to be added the stupendous cost of frequent elections necessitated by fall of governments due to political defections.
The time has come for India to dispense with the Parliamentary system of Government as it has failed to prove its effectiveness and has outlived its utility. India must opt now for the Presidential system of Government in which the President is elected for a period of four years by a direct vote. He would be both the Head of State and the Head of the Government.
The above pattern should apply at the States level also with the Governor being elected by a direct vote. Both at the Central level and the States levels the number of lawmakers should be restricted to a given number in double figures.
Between the American and French systems of Presidential governance the American system is more preferable for India but with the important proviso that the President be elected by a direct vote of all citizens and not an electoral college. It would ensure that the person who emerges as Head of State and Head of Government of India would be the best bet that India has to offer. The qualifications for the Presidential candidate should incorporate excellence in intellectual attainments and personal integrity. It should have filters to keep out tainted and criminalized people. More importantly voting must be made compulsory for all citizens of India. This system would also facilitate millions of Indian expatriates to take part in determining India’s future.
The main opposition to this proposal will come only from the established polity as they stand to lose the most as their “Political Raj” like the “Mughal Raj” would come to an end. The solution would be to have a National Referendum on this issue as it was “We the People…. “ who decided the Parliamentary Form and now by a National Referendum “We the People….” Can decide that the time has now come for a Presidential Form of Government for India.
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