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Constitutional Reforms!
by Rajinder Puri Bookmark and Share

Much is suggested about economic reforms, political reforms, systemic reforms and social reforms. But nothing seems to work. No improvement in any aspect of governance emerges. There persists a yawning gap between precept and practice that defines India as a failing society. I think a possible solution exists. To remove the dichotomy between precept and practice, why not attempt Constitutional Reforms? If we cannot change political conduct to conform to existing law, why not change law to conform to political conduct? This of course has on occasion been done but with an ad hoc approach.

Why not attempt total Constitutional Reforms?

Ever since its proclamation the Constitution’s explicit powers of the President were blatantly ignored in functioning. Everybody was aware of it but refused to confront or address this anomaly. Only after Indira Gandhi developed differences with her colleagues did she betray her awareness of her vulnerability regarding the President’s actual powers. Therefore she insisted that the President must be the PM’s chosen blind loyalist for smooth functioning. That was not achieved. That is why she worked against her party’s own presidential candidate proposed by her and ended up by splitting her party. That is why she imposed dictatorship through a fraudulent Emergency and changed the President’s role as envisioned in the Constitution by introducing the 42nd Amendment.

This was of course not an isolated case of changing law to suit political whim and convenience. There are innumerable other examples across the board. Another glaring example relates to elections to Parliament’s Upper House. The Constitution intended proportional representation of the states in the Rajya Sabha. Therefore only permanent residents of a state were allowed to contest Rajya Sabha elections.

What happened?

Mr. Manmohan Singh solemnly affirmed under sworn affidavit that he was a permanent resident of Assam in order to get elected to parliament. He was following the practice of a large number of other members to make a patently false claim under oath. Mr. Arun Jaitley swore he was a permanent resident of Gujarat.

Eventually such blatant falsehoods became so widespread that even our thick skinned ruling class got embarrassed. A solution was required.

Quite simply, the law was changed to allow a resident of any state to get elected to the Rajya Sabha from any other state. The intention of the founding fathers of the Constitution to ensure proportional state representation in the Rajya Sabha was thereby thrown in the trash can.

Instead of tinkering with the Constitution here and there whenever expedient, why not reform entirely the world’s longest and most frequently amended Constitution to change it once and for all? Does not living a perpetual lie through deeds that run counter to words contained in law and Constitution corrode the character of a people? Do not politicians suffer a twinge of conscience whenever they violate sworn affirmations through an oath or affidavit?

Today we are in a mess because our political class is dishonest, dishonourable and subservient to foreign powers. By changing law to conform with prevailing conduct this will not end. But as Socrates said, he was wiser than others because he knew he was a fool while others did not. Similarly would not our rulers be more honourable if they acknowledged that they were dishonourable instead of pretending they were not?

How then might we start to initiate Constitutional Reforms?

I think we should start with the fountainhead of our system. The President is the only official under oath of office to preserve, protect and defend the law. That is something that prevailing political practice does not allow. We cannot do away with an oath of office. But why not amend it? Presently the President’s oath of office states:

“I, XYZ, do swear in the name of God (or solemnly affirm) that I will faithfully execute the office of President (or discharge the functions of the President) of the Republic of India, and will to the best of my ability preserve, protect and defend the Constitution and the law, and that I will devote myself to the service and well-being of the people of Republic of India.”

This can be changed to:

“I, XYZ, do swear in the name of God (or solemnly affirm) that I will faithfully execute the office of President (or discharge the functions of the President) of the Republic of India, and will to the best of my ability preserve, protect and defend the interests of the Union Cabinet despite violation of the law, and that I will devote myself to the service and well-being of all the Ministers of Republic of India.”

Will this not improve matters by removing the dichotomy between precept and practice? Given current political trends such an oath will surely render the lives of future Presidents much less complicated.

More by :  Rajinder Puri
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