Human conduct affects the working of a political system. A political system influences human conduct. There is continuing interaction between the two. A democratic system is intended to ensure self correction through its checks and balances. When a system fails to function because of human misconduct one must ask why its self correcting mechanism is not working. Today there is wide perception that the Indian democratic system has failed to perform. Consider briefly the broad salient facts.
Two ministries are the latest subjects of controversy in a period of unending scams that have tainted this government for the past many years. In the first case there were allegations of corruption in the Coal Ministry even during the period when it was directly under charge of the Prime Minister. The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) was probing the allegations. In violation of a Supreme Court directive that the CBI should not share information pertaining to investigations related to allegations against the government the Law Minister, the Attorney General and officials of the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) not only accessed information related to the CBI probe but also amended its status report before it was submitted to the Supreme Court (SC) which was overseeing the investigation. The Law Minister and the Attorney General did this after the SC had been assured the contrary. The amendments introduced in the CBI status report sought to deflect responsibility from the PM and the Coal Ministry for questionable decisions taken for the allocation of coal block licenses during the period when corruption was alleged. Regardless of claims about the right of the Law Minister to intervene and the non-culpability of the PM these facts cannot be denied even by defenders of this government in the light of the affidavit presented to the SC by the CBI Director.
In the second case it has been established that the Railway Ministry made an appointment of an official to a post after a bribe had been paid to a relative of the Railway Minister for the express purpose of doing it. It is established that the Minister’s relative has close family ties with the Minister. It is established that the appointment in question would enable the official to influence railway contracts worth crores. The Minister denies knowledge of or benefit from the bribe paid for the appointment by him of the official. But he does not deny the close relationship he has with the bribe taker.
Both the above cases have led to demands for the resignation of the Ministers pending a full and credible investigation. This is where the Indian system seems to be failing.
The government refuses to sack the ministers neither of whom is prepared to resign. The UPA Chairperson Mrs. Sonia Gandhi has stated that the opposition can always move a no-confidence motion in parliament if it wants the ministers to resign. She is right. The opposition cannot do it because it does not have the numbers. Two parties that can provide the requisite numbers for unseating the government have both their respective leaders undergoing long pending CBI investigations for having disproportionate assets. One of them, Mr. Mulayam Singh Yadav, made a public statement accusing the government of misusing the CBI to blackmail opposition politicians. West Bengal Chief Minister Miss Mamata Banerjee offered indirect encouragement to the targeted leaders by stating that the CBI could not be used after the next election because the government will be defeated. Nevertheless the government continues to have a majority in parliament and the PM and other ministers refuse to resign. The public is disenchanted with a system helpless to extract accountability from errant officials.
Where then is the flaw in the system which permits such arbitrariness without any check to stop it? Does the Indian democratic system not have checks and balancers to ensure self correction in the face of human perversity? Is there no way this impasse which makes mockery of basic democratic norms can be terminated?
The short answer is that the impasse will continue unless the dereliction of responsibility in a crucial post is not ended. It is the failure of the President to discharge his duty which has created this crisis and can prolong it with permanent damage to democratic functioning.
Right at the time of Independence Jawaharlal Nehru subverted the Constitution by assigning the role of the President to that of a titular head like the British Sovereign in spite of the written text of our Constitution holding a contrary view. Indira Gandhi, aware of the glaring gap between what the Constitution wrote and how it was being implemented, tried to remove this gap. She introduced a Constitutional Amendment making it incumbent on the President to follow the advice tendered by the Union Cabinet. However, despite this Amendment the President is not prevented from initiating any step that is not under the purview of the Union Cabinet.
Two explicit provisions of the Constitution make it incumbent on the President to discharge his responsibility in this current crisis through intervention.
First, the President is the only official in the Republic of India under oath to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution and the law”. All others, including the Prime Minister, are under oath only to abide by the Constitution.
Secondly, Article 75 (2) of the Constitution states: “The Ministers shall hold office during the pleasure of the President.”
In the light of these two explicit Constitutional responsibilities of the President is it not incumbent upon Mr. Pranab Mukherjee to extract a suitable response from this government related to the current crisis? Is President Mukherjee preserving and protecting the Constitution and law? If our system is not working it is because the President is not discharging his responsibilities. Our system will continue to flounder and decline until the President ceases to be a titular head confined to ceremonial duties. No wonder the late BS Ambedkar, the main architect of our Constitution, on September 2, 1953, while deploring the role of the Governor being reduced to a ceremonial office under dictation of the Chief Minister, disgustedly said in the Rajya Sabha that as far as he was concerned this Constitution had become a worthless scrap of paper to be thrown in the trash.