BJP leader Mr. Rajiv Pratap Rudy has introduced a private member’s bill in parliament seeking a change of our system into virtually a presidential form of government. Presumably he would not have introduced this bill with its far reaching proposal without the approval of his senior leaders. It may be inferred therefore that the BJP is seeking a change of our democratic system. A demand for a serious reappraisal of our present system was long overdue. Governance has collapsed and all political institutions are crumbling.
... all Members of Parliament are advised to re-read the Constitution in order to consider reform of the system. To reform the system it is not necessary to change the Constitution. They would only need to change their minds.
Mr. Rudy’s bill according to media reports seeks direct popular mandates for the Prime Minister and all Chief Ministers. The bill seeks to delink the executive from the legislatures in parliament and in state assemblies by limiting the role of legislators to only making laws. The directly elected Prime Minister and all Chief Ministers would appoint Ministers from outside the elected legislators. Although the Prime Minister’s office would retain its nomenclature the post would for all practical purpose be like that of the American President.
It is welcome that the BJP wants to initiate a serious debate on the issue of systemic reform by seeking a parliamentary debate on the question. But the proposed bill seems to be impractical and incapable of implementation. Perhaps BJP leaders have not devoted sufficient thought to the problem. It is unlikely that Parliament could accept the proposals contained in the bill through amendments because it would imply a change in the basic structure of the Constitution. And parliament is not empowered to frame a new Constitution. That can only be done by electing a new Constituent Assembly. Given the fragile state of our polity, that appears to be a highly impractical and hazardous enterprise.
However there is a much simpler method of achieving the broad aims of the BJP bill without any serious political hiccups. All that parliament would need to do is to review the written text of our Constitution and revise the flawed current perceptions about our political system. It would be even better if that were done by reading the original un-amended Constitution and reappraise the necessity of retaining all the amendments made to it subsequently. I have repeatedly pointed out that our present political system can be changed dramatically not by making a new Constitution but by observing in letter and spirit the text of our existing Constitution.
Our Constitution was subverted from day one. It would be instructive to understand why this happened.
It happened because of our colonial hangover. Our written Constitution was rubbished in practice because the minds of our politicians and jurists were programmed to think only in the context of the Westminster model of government followed by our erstwhile colonial masters. Britain has no written Constitution. Democracy functions there through conventions accepted as law. India has a written Constitution. The Constitution cannot be flouted through conventions arbitrarily introduced in the system. And our Constitution was drafted primarily by BR Ambedkar who studied law in the US and was conscious of the close similarity between continental, multi-ethnic America and India. Aware of Britain’s colonial legacy in India and this nation’s similarity to the US he tried to synthesize the best qualities of both the parliamentary and the presidential systems. He created a Presidential executive that would be accountable to daily Parliamentary review.
Ambedkar explained his view in the Constituent Assembly. On November 4, 1948 he said:
“The parliamentary system differs from a non-parliamentary system inasmuch as the former is more responsible than the latter but they also differ as to the time and agency for assessment of their responsibility. Under the non-parliamentary system, such as the one that exists in the U.S.A. , the assessment of the responsibility of the Executive is periodic. It takes place once in two years. It is done by the electorate. In England , where the parliamentary system prevails, the assessment of responsibility of the Executive is both daily and periodic. The daily assessment is done by Members of Parliament, through Questions, Resolutions, No-confidence motions, Adjournment motions and Debates on Addresses… The daily assessment of responsibility which is not available under the American system is far more effective than the periodic assessment and far more necessary in a country like India .”
It should be clear from this passage that he sought an executive Presidential system accountable to Parliament. Such a system in fact does obtain in France.
One would not like to burden the readers by recounting all the Articles in our Constitution that explicitly empower the President to direct policy in Parliament as well as in the Union Cabinet, along with the right to dismiss Ministers or even the government. It should suffice to recall Article 53 (1) defining the executive power of the Union . It states: “The executive power of the Union shall be vested in the President and shall be exercised by him either directly or through officers subordinate to him in accordance with this Constitution.” (Emphasis added). Indira Gandhi during the dictatorial regime of the Emergency introduced Amendments making it incumbent on the President to accept the advice of the Union Cabinet. However, even those Amendments do not prevent the President from exercising power directly as still stated in Article 53 (1).
Despite such explicit direction how is it that our politicians in practice continue to flout the written text of the Constitution? In America no leader dare deviate from the written Constitution without raising a storm. Even deviation from its spirit if not from its text arouses controversy. Such cavalier treatment of the Constitution is allowed in India because of our colonial hangover. Our elite still remains pathetically conditioned by what our colonial masters practiced in their own nation which is governed without a written Constitution. This was brought out glaringly by the ridiculous and hugely flawed ruling of the Supreme Court when a petitioner invoked Article 53(1) of the Constitution to argue that the Governors and the President had executive power.
In its ruling on the Shamsher Singh versus the State of Punjab case in 1974 the Court stated: “In India , the Constitution establishes a parliamentary form of government as distinguished from the American Presidential type of government. The essence of the parliamentary type of government is that in it the head of the State is the constitutional head but the real executive powers are vested in the council of Ministers which is responsible to the lower house… The President and the Governors are only ‘constitutional or formal’ heads.” On what earthly evidence did the honourable Court arrive at this conclusion? The Court described the situation in the Westminster system in Britain which has no written Constitution or elected President. Did the Court consider the situation in France or in other nations which also have a parliamentary form of government? On such absurd logic and ignorance does our political system presently function!
BJP leaders and all Members of Parliament are advised to re-read the Constitution in order to consider reform of the system. To reform the system it is not necessary to change the Constitution. They would only need to change their minds.