Last week Mr. LK Advani suddenly popped the idea that the Prime Minister should be a member of only the Lok Sabha, not the Rajya Sabha. It is a good idea, spoken by the wrong person, for the wrong reason, at the wrong time. The proposal very clearly is timed for the election in order to embarrass the Congress. Given Dr.Manmohan Singh's health and age the time is propitious to select his successor even if he continues as PM after the poll. That is a task the Congress would like to delay. Mr. Rahul Gandhi is not yet fully blooded as a cabinet minister.
Despite being transparently motivated Mr. Advani's proposal has merit. It also has a history which exposes the cynical expediency that has all but destroyed India's democratic system. It was accepted convention that only a member of the Lower House can become Prime Minister. This was breached for the first time after Prime Minister Shastri's death. Indira Gandhi as a Rajya Sabha MP was elected Prime Minister.
Even though our written Constitution is in no way circumscribed by Westminster conventions our leaders never tire of invoking the British Parliament when expedient: such as, when Presidents swear in the PM of a hung House. Britain itself breached its strong convention that the PM must belong to the House of Commons a little before Mrs. Gandhi became Prime Minister. Lord Home from the House of Lords had a brief tenure as British Prime Minister. Nevertheless Madhu Limaye introduced a Bill that the PM should be only from the Lok Sabha. Mrs. Gandhi, who had got elected to the Lok Sabha meanwhile, persuaded Limaye to withdraw his Bill on assurance that she would introduce a more comprehensive Bill. Limaye obliged. Indira Gandhi's Bill never saw the light of day.
Soon things got worse. After Rajiv Gandhi's assassination Narasimha Rao was sworn in as Prime Minister even though he was not an MP in either House. The mid-poll assassination trauma silenced all questioning voices. But this became a precedent. Subsequently Mr. Deve Gowda was sworn in as PM even though he was not an MP but an MLA in Karnataka. As Prime Minister he could not vote in Parliament although he would fly to Karnataka and vote as an MLA in the Assembly!
Gowda's elevation as PM was challenged in the Supreme Court. The petition was dismissed. This scribe wrote in The Statesman at the time that the SC ruling was horribly flawed. Nowhere is it written that the PM must be an Indian citizen. He merely takes oath to abide by the Constitution. Only an MP must be a citizen in order to contest polls. Thus by the SC ruling any foreigner could become PM for six months before facing the electorate, provided he obtained a majority in the House. Before six months expired he could resign and get re-assigned for another six months. The PM's post therefore was open to any foreigner, ranging from Bill Clinton to Dawood Ibrahim. One was gratified when a distinguished jurist, AG Noorani, subsequently revised his earlier opinion and disputed the SC ruling that a non-MP could become PM.
During all this period Mr. Advani remained silent on this issue. Now he seems to have discovered it. One would hesitate to credit him with a burning desire for democratic rectitude after his own contribution to distorting the political system as envisioned in the Constitution. The Rajya Sabha was established with the purpose of giving representation to the concerns of States in Parliament. Therefore only permanent residents of a State could represent it in the Rajya Sabha. Advani got elected to Rajya Sabha by giving a sworn affidavit that he was a permanent resident of Gujarat after registering himself as a voter in that state although he was in truth a resident of Delhi. Such opportunistic expediency was accepted practice in all parties. Thus a host of leaders including Dr Manmohan Singh signed false affidavits to enter Rajya Sabha from states distant from their home states. The practice became so widespread that Parliament amended law to allow any citizen to contest the Rajya Sabha from any state he chose. What remains of the original purpose of Rajya Sabha?
If Mr. Advani is sincere about the need to reform our battered political system he would do well to start by questioning the right of non-MPs to become PM for six months in the first instance. Isn't it time our leaders diverted some attention from the hurly burly of daily politics? They should spare a thought for our battered system. It is crumbling.