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Will Next President Change India ?
|by Dr. Rajinder Puri|
Home Minister Mr. P Chidambaram has repeatedly said that the Maoists pose the biggest security threat to the Indian nation. He is right but not necessarily for the reasons that led him to say this. Except for the Maoists all other terrorist groups support separatist demands. It is only the Maoists who demand a change of the system. Never mind if the system they promote is horrendous.
A vague start is being made in that direction by several chief ministers who are bonding together against the central government in order to promote federalism that is implicit in our Constitution. As yet their criticism provides scant hope. They are focused on just one aspect of a much larger problem. They focus on the centre’s proclivity to violate the spirit of the Constitution by encroaching on the state’s rights. The problem is much bigger. It is the lack of governance and absence of the rule of law that mars the whole nation. The state governments are no better than the central government in observing the letter and spirit of the law when it comes to governance. Unless this failure is redressed there is little hope of either ushering in genuine federalism or indeed adequate rule of law for India to qualify as a healthy democracy. How might such change be introduced?
The widely held unspoken hope is that the regional parties unite to create a new national alternative that might improve governance and deliver a more participatory democracy. There is little in the performance of any regional leader to strengthen this hope. The truth is that all politicians cutting across party and region are caught up in the prevailing political culture. As yet the regional parties seem to strive only for yet another unstable coalition. The goal of a stable federation has still to be articulated. A federation unlike a coalition would contest parliamentary elections under one symbol in order to eliminate pressures and blackmail against the central government by the federal partners. Therefore the hope of immediate change will come about only through altering the present system of governance. A significant start to initiate such change can be accomplished through one stroke by the regional parties if they seek reform and not just power.
As repeatedly pointed out by this writer the system will achieve desired reform not by changing the Constitution but by obeying it. We must follow the Constitution. The Chairman of the Constitution’s Drafting Committee was Babasaheb Ambedkar. He was a brilliant student who studied law in America . The startling similarities between the sub-continental, multi-ethnic nations of America and India could not have escaped him. At the same time he could not have ignored the evolution of India under colonial Britain committed to the Westminster form of parliamentary democracy. So he married the two systems to create a model best suited to the genius of India . He created a Presidential system in which the executive was accountable to parliament.
As recently quoted in an article by former West Bengal Governor Mr. Gopal Gandhi, on November 4, 1948 Ambedkar said in the Constituent Assembly: “Under the non-parliamentary system, such as the one that exists in the USA , 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… Periodic assessment is done by the electorate at the time of elections… The daily assessment of responsibility…is far more effective than the periodic assessment and far more necessary for a country like India .” That is why in the world’s longest Constitution Ambedkar did not opt for a Westminster parliamentary system but a Presidential system in which the Executive is assessed by Parliament.
In that sense the Indian Constitution is closer to the French system. It gives executive power to the President and a watchdog role as well as legislative power to Parliament. That is why Article 79 of the Constitution describing the constitution of Parliament states: “There shall be a Parliament for the Union which shall consist of the President and two Houses to be known respectively as the Council of States and the House of the People.” The President is part of Parliament. That does not affect the President’s executive role. If the original non-amended Constitution were considered the President has a full executive power. One need not reiterate Constitutional Articles 75, 78 and 86 to recall that the President can direct the Cabinet to discuss any subject, can dismiss any Minister, and address one or both Houses of Parliament to proffer opinion on any subject. The Prime Minister must brief the President on all administrative matters as directed by the President. All promotions, transfers, demotions and dismissals of officials are under the President’s name and therefore subject to Presidential discretion. The President is Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces. The President may exercise executive power through officers subordinate to him. The Prime Minister and Ministers are subordinate to the President. At the state level the Governor ensures observance of law as the President’s agent not accountable to the Union Cabinet. The Supreme Court ruled that the Governor is not subservient to the Union Cabinet.
That is why India’s first President Dr. Rajendra Prasad had serious differences with Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. The latter wanted the President to be akin to a titular head like the British Sovereign. Dr. Prasad, a distinguished lawyer himself, pointed out that nowhere does our explicitly written Constitution state this. Later Indira Gandhi as Prime Minister was always conscious that legally Dr. Prasad was right and her father was wrong. That is why she was paranoid about insisting that only a totally subservient nominee of hers should be President. This paranoia led her to vote against her own proposed candidate Dr. Sanjeeva Reddy and have him defeated, and thereby split the Congress Party. Subsequently under her dictatorial rule during the Emergency she had Parliament introduce the 42nd Amendment by which it became mandatory for the President to follow the advice of the Union Cabinet. For the President to effectively exercise authority a deletion of the 42nd Amendment would be desirable. But regardless of this Amendment there are still sufficient powers with the President for the office to play a very decisive role in the governance of the nation. And despite the 42nd Amendment there is still the provision in Article 53 of the Constitution that allows the President to “exercise power directly”.
All the glaring deficiencies of Indian democracy such as the infringement against federalism, or the subversion of local governance, or the violation of law can be overcome by implementing the neglected provisions of our Constitution such as Article 263 for establishing the Inter-State Council, or the Directive Principles of State Policy such as the one making all local governance self sufficient. But for a game-changing start the first requirement would be to get a President who discharges the responsibilities assigned to the office by the Constitution. If that were done immediately, even under the existing amended Constitution the President would act as the Super Lokpal to ensure that all laws are observed and all official personnel policy conforms to rule and procedure. For the rest the President would exercise moral authority to advise the Union Cabinet and Parliament on all matters of state policy. The President would not be involved directly in governance but have a monitory and advisory role.
Thus far we have had presidential candidates on the assumption that the office is of a titular head. This can change if in the forthcoming Presidential election in July the parties put up candidates affirming their resolve to discharge the responsibilities of the office as described in our written Constitution. If the regional parties desire a genuine change this is their chance for a paradigm shift in Indian politics. Let them put up a candidate who is truly Presidential. The rest, including their effort to finalize the creation of a stable national alternative, can follow later. Are the Chief Ministers up to it?
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Comments on this Article
Dinesh Kumar Bohre
04/24/2012 05:56 AM
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