Historic Debate: Will it be a Turning Point?

The recent events inside and outside parliament provided this scribe immense satisfaction. Not because of what could or could not happen to the nuclear deal. Nor even by what was or was not spoken in parliament. Not even by which way the vote went. The satisfaction came from the total exposure of politicians belonging to all parties and the political culture they revealed. The intellectuals and the media pundits, as well as the lay public, are at last waking up to the truth. The nation's enemy is not this or that political party. It is the entire political class. Some TV channels and newspapers, some politicians, put up a brave face trying to project the debate as proof of a vibrant democracy. They did not deceive the public. They deceived themselves. India's political class showed to the world how contemptible it was. It clearly demonstrated that no mere political realignment could effect meaningful change. The system has failed. The system must change. The system must adhere to the true spirit of our written Constitution. That is the bottom line. 

Why did public perception about the political class change? MPs charged other MPs of being bought. A senior leader named the price for an MP to be Rs 25 crore. Never mind if this was contempt of parliament unless substantiated. Never mind if those who claimed to have received bribe offers became complicit in crime unless they named the culprits and initiated legal action. Law is least important in the prevalent Indian democracy. One senior leader lamented that the CBI cases against Mayawati exposed that agency as an official tool being used for political purposes. Goodness, how long it took for him to discover that! When CBI cases against Mayawati were stalled was CBI not a tool? On probes related to Bofors, Jain Hawala, Volcker and a host of other cases was CBI not a tool? All these hypocrisies during the recent debate were not new. They had been exhibited before. And horror of horrors, MPs convicted for serious crimes were made to vote! But when convicted MPs voted in the presidential election was that acceptable? Political parties and individual MPs sold loyalty and policy as brazenly as harlots in a red light district. This too had happened before. So why were the public's disgust and the intellectual's disquiet aroused this time around? Because all this happened simultaneously. The sheer volume of misdemeanors was mind boggling. Didn't Marx say that beyond a point quantity creates qualitative change? The conduct of its political class has jolted India.

There is data being widely circulated on the Internet. It appears to be researched and accurate. It indicates what more and more young people complacent till the other day are beginning to perceive about the politicians who rule them. There are 543 MPs in the Lok Sabha. Of them 117 have been charged and are being investigated for murder, rape, assault, extortion and robbery. Nineteen MPs have more than three criminal cases pending against them. Twenty-nine have been accused of spouse abuse. Seven have been arrested for fraud. Seventy-one cannot get credit or loans due to bad credit histories. Twenty-one are current defendants in various lawsuits. Eighty-four were involved in offences and made to pay fines. These are the people who make our laws. They are the people who rule us.

Never mind the merits or demerits of the Indo-US nuclear deal. On any assessment can this ragamuffin bunch be trusted to render sober judgment on any issue of national importance? MPs demonstrated in the recent debate that overwhelmingly their prime concern was narrow personal gain bereft of national interest. The truth is that our political system is flawed because the Constitution was subverted from the day it was adopted by parliament. It is an explicit written Constitution. It does not replicate the Westminster model. Our Constitution is presidential. This view was repeatedly voiced by this scribe for years. MPs have legislative responsibility and should have no executive responsibility. Former President Kalam said as much. In fact MPs are empowered to spend crores for development in their constituencies. 

In July 11, 2007 this scribe after quoting relevant clauses of the Constitution wrote: 'If the Constitution is read as originally written, India's parliamentary system would become presidential.' Further in the same article it was proposed how the President could obtain a direct popular mandate after minor Constitutional amendments that would not infringe on its basic structure: 'Electoral changes that do not alter the structure of the Constitution are required. The terms of Parliament, State Assemblies and President need to be fixed and made coterminous. Nominations to them might be phased. Candidates for the presidency would be nominated by the outgoing legislators. The Presidential candidates might then campaign for the legislature candidates. Once elected after such a campaign, the newly elected legislators would elect the President. That would give the President a fully representative mandate.' 

These views were scoffed at or ignored for the most part. The recent debate seems to have altered perceptions. Apart from reputed columnists suggesting a review of the prevalent political system, even the staid Times of India editorially commented: 'Has the time come to think beyond the Westminster model that India has followed since independence? India should seriously consider a presidential system of government.' Jurists as yet are not admitting that our original written Constitution was in fact presidential. If a national debate on this subject leads to a reappraisal of the Constitution by uncluttered minds, they might also start saying that.


More by :  Dr. Rajinder Puri

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