Presidential System in India?

Discussion in 'Politics & Society' started by pmaitra, Dec 16, 2010.

  1. pmaitra

    pmaitra Moderator Moderator

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    Total brake down

    Jug Suraiya, Dec 15, 2010; Times of India

    Changing the stalled car of Parliament won't help; we have to change the driver

    Can a parliamentary democracy work without a functioning Parliament? Obviously not. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said as much when he remarked that the parliamentary deadlock over the 2G spectrum scam could well raise a question mark on the continuing viability of the system of governance followed by India since Independence.

    The productivity of the current session of the Lok Sabha has reportedly dropped to just 6 per cent, the lowest since 1985. The cost of both Houses of Parliament works out to over Rs 530 crore a year. Between 2005 and 2009 there have been on an average 68 parliamentary sittings, which means that the cost per sitting works out to approximately 7.8 crore. But that's just the tip of iceberg. When Parliament meets without conducting any business - as has happened over the 2G tug-of-war - the loss to the country is much greater, perhaps inestimably so, as legislation comes to a grinding halt and nothing moves in public life. It's as though the brakes were slammed on a car bringing it to a sudden standstill.

    What would you do with a car which had perpetually locked brakes and wouldn't move? Obviously you'd have to junk it and find a substitute. This is what Manmohan Singh meant when he said that he was "worried about the future of the parliamentary system" in India. He is not the only one to be so concerned. The so-called common citizen - the voter and the taxpayer to whom the elected members of Parliament are supposedly accountable - is if anything even more exercised by this deplorable state of affairs.

    The PM's remark, and growing public disgust with repeated and prolonged parliamentary breakdowns, could well revive the debate about India switching to a presidential form of government, such as the US has. A presidential form of government for the country has often been mooted in the past. Its chief attraction lies in the supposed stability and freedom of action that it would give to the executive arm of government. However, in order to maintain the checks and balances necessary in a democracy, even in a presidential form of government the executive powers are limited, most notably by legislative bodies, such as the US Congress and the Senate. The occupant of the White House - including the present incumbent - has often been stymied by opposition from one or both of the two.

    By all means let's discuss the presidential - or any other - alternative for a non-working Parliament. But to use the automobile analogy, a system - any system - is like a car which is only as good or as bad as the person operating it. You might have the best engineered, safest car in the world. But if you put a criminally negligent or reckless driver behind the wheel your car will sooner or later end up as a wreck to be written off.

    In India's case, the driver of the car of democracy is the politician. While among our elected representatives at the central and state levels there are - or least we hope there are - sincere, well-intentioned and honest individuals, the near total collapse of governance in almost all spheres and the proliferation of scams and corruption show only too clearly that such people are in a pitiful minority.

    Unless we can improve the calibre of those who operate the system, merely changing the system itself will not work. The new system will soon become as much of a liability as the present one. For instance, it has been suggested that it be made mandatory for Parliament to sit at least 100 times a year. But that won't prevent each sitting from being disrupted.

    The problem is not with the car; it's with those driving it. How do we get better drivers? By enforcing stricter norms for getting a driving licence, which in this case means being eligible to stand for election. To begin with, no more criminals and 'history-sheeters'. Let's improve our driving skills before talking about investing in a new car.

    [email protected]
    http://blogs.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/jugglebandhi/


    Source: http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/home/opinion/edit-page/Total-brake-down/articleshow/7100157.cms
     
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  3. SpArK

    SpArK SORCERER Senior Member

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    Elegant & forceful argument for a presidential system for India


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    Shall We Call The President?
    Pending bills, disrupted sessions, no legislation. Maybe it’s time for Parliament to go, says Shashi Tharoor
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    [TD="class: Photo_credit, align: left"]Photo Courtesy: Outlook[/TD]
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    [TD="align: left"]Our parliamentary system has forced governments to concentrate less on governing than on staying in office[/TD]
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    RECENT
    political shenanigans in New Delhi,
    notably the repeated paralysis of Parliament by slogan-shouting members violating (with impunity) every canon of legislative propriety, have confirmed once again what some of us have been arguing for years: that the parliamentary system we borrowed from the British has, in Indian conditions, outlived its utility. Has the time not come to raise anew the case — long consigned to the back burner — for a presidential system in India?


    The basic outlines of the argument have been clear for some time: our parliamentary system has created a unique breed of legislator, largely unqualified to legislate, who has sought election only in order to wield (or influence) executive power. It has produced governments obliged to focus more on politics than on policy or performance. It has distorted the voting preferences of an electorate that knows which individuals it wants but not necessarily which policies. It has spawned parties that are shifting alliances of individual interests rather than vehicles of coherent sets of ideas. It has forced governments to concentrate less on governing than on staying in office, and obliged them to cater to the lowest common denominator of their coalitions. It is time for a change.


    Let me elaborate. Every time Parliament grinds to a screaming halt, the talk is of holding, or avoiding, a new general election. But quite apart from the horrendous costs incurred each time, can we, as a country, afford to keep expecting elections to provide miraculous results when we know that they are all but certain to produce inconclusive outcomes and more coalition governments? Isn’t it time we realised the problem is with the system itself?


    Pluralist democracy is India’s greatest strength, but its current manner of operation is the source of our major weaknesses. India’s many challenges require political arrangements that permit decisive action, whereas ours increasingly promote drift and indecision. We must have a system of government whose leaders can focus on governance rather than on staying in power. The parliamentary system has not merely outlived any good it could do; it was from the start unsuited to Indian conditions and is primarily responsible for many of our principal political ills.


    To suggest this is political sacrilege in New Delhi. Barely any of the many politicians I have discussed this with are even willing to contemplate a change. The main reason for this is that they know how to work the present system and do not wish to alter their ways.
    BUT OUR reasons for choosing the British parliamentary system are themselves embedded in history.

    Like the American revolutionaries of two centuries ago, Indian nationalists had fought for “the rights of Englishmen”, which they thought the replication of the Houses of Parliament would both epitomise and guarantee. When former British prime minister Clement Attlee, as a member of a British constitutional commission, suggested the US presidential system as a model to Indian leaders, he recalled, “They rejected it with great emphasis. I had the feeling that they thought I was offering them margarine instead of butter.”

    Many of our veteran parliamentarians — several of whom had been educated in England and watched British parliamentary traditions with admiration — revelled in their adherence to British parliamentary convention and complimented themselves on the authenticity of their ways. Indian MPs still thump their desks in approbation, rather than applauding by clapping their hands. When Bills are put to a vote, an affirmative call is still “aye”, rather than “yes”. Even our communists have embraced the system with great delight: an Anglophile Marxist MP, Hiren Mukherjee, used to assert proudly that British prime minister Anthony Eden had felt more at home during Question Hour in the Indian Parliament than in the Australian.

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    [TD="align: left"]Speaking out of turn, shouting slogans, waving placards and marching into the well of the House are commonplace[/TD]
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    But six decades of Independence have wrought significant change, as exposure to British practices has faded and India’s natural boisterousness has reasserted itself. Some state Assemblies in our federal system have already witnessed scenes of furniture overturned, microphones ripped out and slippers flung by unruly legislators, not to mention fisticuffs and garments torn in scuffles.

    While things have not yet come to such a pass in the national legislature, the code of conduct that is imparted to all newly-elected MPs — including injunctions against speaking out of turn, shouting slogans, waving placards and marching into the well of the House — is routinely honoured in the breach. Equally striking is the impunity with which lawmakers flout the rules they are elected to uphold.


    There was a time when misbehaviour was firmly dealt with. Many newspaper readers of my generation (there were no cameras in Parliament then) will recall the photograph of the burly socialist MP, Raj Narain, a former wrestler, being bodily carried out of the House by four attendants for shouting out of turn and disobeying the Speaker’s orders to remain seated. But over the years, standards have been allowed to slide, with adjournments being preferred to expulsions. Last year, five MPs in the Rajya Sabha were suspended from membership for charging up to the presiding officer’s desk, wrenching his microphone and tearing up his papers — but after a few months and some muted apologies, they were quietly reinstated. Perhaps this makes sense, out of a desire to allow the Opposition its space in a system where party-line voting determines most voting outcomes, but it does little to enhance the prestige of Parliament.


    Yet there is a more fundamental critique of the parliamentary system than the bad behaviour of some MPs. The parliamentary system devised in Britain — a small island nation with electorates initially of a few thousand voters per MP, and even today less than a lakh per constituency — assumes a number of conditions that simply do not exist in India. It requires the existence of clearly- defined political parties, each with a coherent set of policies and preferences that distinguish it from the next, whereas in India, a party is all too often a label of convenience a politician adopts and discards as frequently as a film star changes costumes.

    The principal parties, whether “national” or otherwise, are fuzzily vague about their beliefs: every party’s “ideology” is one variant or another of centrist populism, derived to a greater or lesser degree from the Nehruvian socialism of the Congress.
    We have 44 registered political parties recognised by the Election Commission, and a staggering 903 registered but unrecognised, from the Adarsh Lok Dal to the Womanist Party of India. But with the sole exceptions of the BJP and the communists, the existence of the serious political parties, as entities separate from the “big tent” of the Congress, is a result of electoral arithmetic or regional identities, not political conviction. (And even there, what on earth is the continuing case, after the demise of the Soviet Union and the reinvention of China, for two separate recognised communist parties and a dozen unrecognised ones?)


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    [TD]PRESIDENT PRECEDENTS
    Blasts From The Past

    The debate for a presidential form of government over the parliamentary form has been on for some time now
    • Former president R Venkataraman, as minister in the Tamil Nadu government, had sent a draft resolution to the AICC in 1965 recommending constituting a committee to examine an executive directly elected by the people for a fixed term.
    • In 1967, the India International Centre conducted a colloquium on the subject with contributions from British peer Max Beloff, among others. During the next few years JRD Tata, GD Birla, Justice KS Hegde and former CJI BP Sinha advocated a fixed executive.
    • The first paper advocating a presidential form was prepared by AR Antulay in 1975 during the Emergency, which met with resistance from Jayaprakash Narayan. Indira Gandhi said it was “an inspired document circulated by mischievous people to create a scare”.
    • Jayaprakash Narayan opposed it saying “temptation would be too great for a president, if he were strong, to usurp people’s rights”. The socialist and communist parties consistently opposed a presidential system.
    • The Swaran Singh Committee report submitted in 1976 looked into the issue and declared the parliamentary system “best suited” for the country because it “ensures greater responsiveness to voice of the people”. Antulay and Vasant Sathe, members of the committee framing the report, argued vigorously to the contrary.
    SOURCE: Granville Austin’s Working a Democratic Constitution - The Indian Experience[/TD]
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    THE LACK
    of ideological coherence in India is in stark contrast to the UK. With few exceptions, India’s parties all profess their faith in the same set of rhetorical clichés, notably socialism, secularism, a mixed economy and non-alignment, terms they are all equally loath to define. No wonder the communists, when they served in the United Front governments and when they supported the first UPA, had no difficulty signing the Common Minimum Programme articulated by their “bourgeois” allies. The BJP used to be thought of as an exception, but in its attempts to broaden its base of support (and in its apparent conviction that the role of an Opposition is to oppose everything the government does, even policies it used to advocate itself ), it sounds — and behaves — more or less like the other parties, except on the emotive issue of national identity.


    So our parties are not ideologically coherent, take few distinct positions and do not base themselves on political principles. As organisational entities, therefore, they are dispensable, and are indeed cheerfully dispensed with (or split/reformed/merged/dissolved) at the convenience of politicians. The sight of a leading figure from a major party leaving it to join another or start his own — which would send shock waves through the political system in other parliamentary democracies — is commonplace, even banal, in our country. (One prominent UP politician, if memory serves, has switched parties nine times in the past couple of decades, but his voters have been more consistent, voting for him, not the label he was sporting.) In the absence of a real party system, the voter chooses not between parties but between individuals, usually on the basis of their caste, their public image or other personal qualities. But since the individual is elected in order to be part of a majority that will form the government, party affiliations matter. So voters are told that if they want an Indira Gandhi as prime minister, or even an MGR or NTR as their chief minister, they must vote for someone else in order to indirectly accomplish that result. It is a perversity only the British could have devised: to vote for a legislature not to legislate but in order to form the executive.
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    [TD="align: left"]What our present system has not done as well as other democratic systems might, is ensure effective performance[/TD]
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    So much for theory.
    But the result of the profusion of small parties is that today we have a coalition government of a dozen parties, some with just a handful of MPs, and our Parliament has not seen a single-party majority since Rajiv Gandhi lost his in 1989. And, as we have just seen in the debacle over FDI in retail, and as also happened three years ago on the Indo-US nuclear deal, dissension by a coalition partner or supporting party can hamstring the government. Under the current system, India’s democracy is condemned to be run by the lowest common denominator — hardly a recipe for decisive action.


    The disrepute into which the political process has fallen in India, and the widespread cynicism about the motives of our politicians, can be traced directly to the workings of the parliamentary system. Holding the executive hostage to the agendas of a range of motley partners is nothing but a recipe for governmental instability. And instability is precisely what India, with its critical economic and social challenges, cannot afford.


    The fact that the principal reason for entering Parliament is to attain governmental office creates four specific problems. First, it limits executive posts to those who are electable rather than to those who are able. The prime minister cannot appoint a Cabinet of his choice; he has to cater to the wishes of the political leaders of several parties. (Yes, he can bring some members in through the Rajya Sabha, but our Upper House too has been largely the preserve of fulltime politicians, so the talent pool has not been significantly widened.)


    Second, it puts a premium on defections and horsetrading. The Anti-Defection Act of 1985 was necessary because in many states (and, after 1979, at the Centre) parliamentary floor-crossing had become a popular pastime, with lakhs of rupees, and many ministerial posts, changing hands. That cannot happen now without attracting disqualification, so the bargaining has shifted to the allegiance of whole parties rather than individuals. Given the present national mood, I shudder to think of what will happen if the next election produces a Parliament of 30-odd parties jostling to see which permutation of their numbers will get them the best rewards.
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    [TD="align: left"]We need strong executives not only at the Centre and in the states, but also at local levels, like towns and panchayats[/TD]
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    THIRD, LEGISLATION
    suffers.
    Most laws are drafted by the executive — in practice by the bureaucracy — and parliamentary input into their formulation and passage is minimal, with very many Bills passing after barely five minutes of debate. The ruling coalition inevitably issues a whip to its members in order to ensure unimpeded passage of a Bill, and since defiance of a whip itself attracts disqualification, MPs loyally vote as their party directs. The parliamentary system does not permit the existence of a legislature distinct from the executive, applying its collective mind freely to the nation’s laws.


    Fourth, for those parties that do not get into government and realise that the outcome of most votes is a foregone conclusion, Parliament itself serves not as a solemn deliberative body, but as a theatre for the demonstration of their power to disrupt. The well of the House — supposed to be sacrosanct — becomes a stage for the members of the Opposition to crowd and jostle, waving placards and chanting slogans until the Speaker, after several futile attempts to restore order, adjourns in despair. In India’s Parliament, many Opposition members feel that the best way to show the strength of their feelings is to disrupt the lawmaking rather than debate the law. Last year, an entire session was lost to such daily disruptions; this year’s winter session has seen two weeks of daily adjournments, many in the presence of bemused visiting members of other countries’ legislatures.



    Apologists for the present system say in its defence that it has served to keep the country together and given every Indian a stake in the nation’s political destiny. But that is what democracy has done, not the parliamentary system. Any form of genuine democracy would do that — and ensuring popular participation and accountability between elections is vitally necessary. But what our present system has not done as well as other democratic systems might, is ensure effective performance.

    The case for a presidential system of either the French or the American style has, in my view, never been clearer.


    The French version, by combining presidential rule with a parliamentary government headed by a prime minister, is superficially more attractive, since it resembles our own system, except for reversing the balance of power between the president and the council of ministers. This is what the Sri Lankans opted for when they jettisoned the British model. But, given India’s fragmented party system, the prospects for parliamentary chaos distracting the elected president are considerable. An American or Latin American model, with a president serving both as head of state and head of government, might better evade the problems we have experienced with political factionalism. Either approach would separate the legislative functions from the executive, and most important, free the executive from dependence on the legislature for its survival.
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    A LEGISLATIVE YEAR LOST

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    [TD="bgcolor: #f4f3f3"]144[/TD]
    [TD="bgcolor: #f4f3f3"]8[/TD]
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    [TD="bgcolor: #f4f3f3"]138[/TD]
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    [TD="class: bulb_caption, bgcolor: #f4f3f3"]18%[/TD]
    [TD="class: bulb_caption, bgcolor: #f4f3f3"]34[/TD]
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    [TD="bgcolor: #f4f3f3"]Monsoon 2011[/TD]
    [TD="bgcolor: #f4f3f3"]156[/TD]
    [TD="bgcolor: #f4f3f3"]104[/TD]
    [TD="bgcolor: #f4f3f3"]33%[/TD]
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    [TD="bgcolor: #f4f3f3"]120[/TD]
    [TD="bgcolor: #f4f3f3"]3[/TD]
    [TD="bgcolor: #f4f3f3"]89%[/TD]
    [TD="bgcolor: #f4f3f3"]31[/TD]
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    [TD="bgcolor: #f4f3f3"]115[/TD]
    [TD="bgcolor: #f4f3f3"]80[/TD]
    [TD="bgcolor: #f4f3f3"]17%[/TD]
    [TD="bgcolor: #f4f3f3"]33[/TD]
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    [TD="bgcolor: #f4f3f3"]Monsoon 2011[/TD]
    [TD="bgcolor: #f4f3f3"]130[/TD]
    [TD="bgcolor: #f4f3f3"]81[/TD]
    [TD="bgcolor: #f4f3f3"]41%[/TD]
    [TD="bgcolor: #f4f3f3"]37[/TD]
    [TD="bgcolor: #f4f3f3"]10[/TD]
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    [TD="colspan: 6"]SOURCE: Session 1-4: Statistical Handbook; 2010 Session 5-7: Resume of work; Session 8: Statement of work, Lok Sabha, Resume of work Rajya Sabha[/TD]
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    [TD="colspan: 6"]NOTE: Time of sitting of Lok Sabha has been taken as 11 am to 6 pm. Time of sitting of Rajya Sabha has been taken as 11 am to 5 pm. Parliament often compensates for lost time by sitting overtime. The above data does not take this into account. Financial and Appropriation Bills are not included.
    (prepared by PRS Legislative)

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    A directly-elected chief executive in New Delhi, instead of being vulnerable to the shifting sands of coalition-support politics, would have stability of tenure free from legislative whim, be able to appoint a Cabinet of talents, and above all, be able to devote his or her energies to governance, and not just to government. The Indian voter will be able to vote directly for the individual he or she wants to be ruled by, and the president will truly be able to claim to speak for a majority of Indians rather than a majority of MPs. At the end of a fixed period of time — let us say the same five years we currently accord to our Lok Sabha — the public would be able to judge the individual on performance in improving the lives of Indians, rather than on political skill at keeping a government in office. It is a compelling case.


    Why, then, do the arguments for a presidential system get such short shrift from our political class?
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    [TD="align: left"]We have a coalition of a dozen parties. Our Parliament has not seen single-party majority since Rajiv Gandhi lost his in 1989[/TD]
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    At the most basic level, our parliamentarians’ fondness for the parliamentary system rests on familiarity: this is the system they know. They are comfortable with it, they know how to make it work for themselves, they have polished the skills required to triumph in it. Most non-politicians in India would see this as a disqualification, rather than as a recommendation for a decaying status quo.


    The more serious argument advanced by liberal democrats is that the presidential system carries with it the risk of dictatorship. They conjure up the image of an imperious president, immune to parliamentary defeat and impervious to public opinion, ruling the country by fiat. Of course, it does not help that, during the Emergency, some around Indira Gandhi contemplated abandoning the parliamentary system for a modified form of Gaullism, thereby discrediting the idea of presidential government in many democratic Indian eyes. But the Emergency is itself the best answer to such fears: it demonstrated that even a parliamentary system can be distorted to permit autocratic rule. Dictatorship is not the result of a particular type of governmental system.


    In any case, to offset the temptation for a national president to become all-powerful, and to give real substance to the decentralisation essential for a country of India’s size, an executive chief minister or governor should also be directly elected in each of the states, most of which suffer from precisely the same maladies I have identified in our national system. The case for such a system in the states is even stronger than in the Centre. Those who reject a presidential system on the grounds that it might lead to dictatorship may be assured that the powers of the president would thus be balanced by those of the directly-elected chief executives in the states.
    I would go farther: we need strong executives not only at the Centre and in the states, but also at the local levels. Even a communist autocracy like China empowers its local authorities with genuine decentralised powers: if a businessman agrees on setting up a factory with a town mayor, everything (from the required permissions to land, water, sanitation, security and financial or tax incentives) follows automatically, whereas in India, a mayor is little more than a glorified committee chairman, with little power and minimal resources. To give effect to meaningful self-government, we need directly elected mayors, panchayat presidents and zilla presidents, each with real authority and financial resources to deliver results in their own geographical areas.


    INTELLECTUAL DEFENDERS of the present system feel that it does remarkably well in reflecting the heterogeneity of the Indian people and “bringing them along” on the journey of national development, which a presidential system might not. But even a president would have to work with an elected legislature, which — given the logic of electoral arithmetic and the pluralist reality of India — is bound to be a home for our country’s heterogeneity. Any president worth his (democratic) salt would name a Cabinet reflecting the diversity of our nation: as Bill Clinton said in his own country, “My Cabinet must look like America.” The risk that some sort of monolithic uniformity would follow the adoption of a presidential system is not a serious one.


    Democracy, as I have argued in my many books, is vital for India’s survival: our chronic pluralism is a basic element of what we are. Yes, democracy is an end in itself, and we are right to be proud of it. But few Indians are proud of the kind of politics our democracy has inflicted upon us. With the needs and challenges of one-sixth of humanity before our leaders, we must have a democracy that delivers progress to our people. Changing to a presidential system is the best way of ensuring a democracy that works.


    Is that the most important thing for India, some ask. BR Ambedkar had argued in the Constituent Assembly that the framers of the Constitution felt the parliamentary system placed “responsibility” over “stability” while the presidential did the opposite; he did not refer to “accountability” and “performance” as the two choices, but the idea is the same. [See box for Ambedkar’s remarks.] Are efficiency and performance the most important yardsticks for judging our system, when the inefficiencies of our present system have arguably helped keep India united, “muddling through” as the “functioning anarchy” in Galbraith’s famous phrase? To me, yes: after six-and-a-half decades of freedom, we can take our democracy and our unity largely for granted. It is time to focus on delivering results for our people.


    Some ask what would happen to issues of performance if a president and a legislature were elected from opposite and antagonistic parties: would that not impede efficiency? Yes, it might, as Barack Obama has discovered. But in the era of coalitions that we have entered, the chances of any party other than the president’s receiving an overwhelming majority in the House — and being able to block the president’s plans — are minimal indeed. If such a situation does arise, it would test the mettle of the leadership of the day, but what’s wrong with that?


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    BR Ambedkar’s remarks in the Constituent Assembly on why we chose the parliamentary system
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    THE PRESIDENTIAL system of America is based upon the separation of the executive and the legislature. So that the president and his secretaries cannot be members of the Congress. The Draft Constitution does not recognise this doctrine.
    The ministers under the Indian Union are MPs. Only MPs can become ministers. Ministers have the same rights as other members of Parliament, namely, that they can sit in Parliament, take part in debates and vote in its proceedings.
    Both systems of government are, of course, democratic and the choice between the two is not very easy. A democratic executive must satisfy two conditions:
    1. It must be a stable executive, and
    2. It must be a responsible executive

    Unfortunately, it has not been possible so far to devise a system which can ensure both in equal degree. You can have a system which can give you more stability but less responsibility or you can have a system, which gives you more responsibility but less stability.
    The American and the Swiss systems give more stability but less responsibility. The British system, on the other hand, gives you more responsibility but less stability. The reason for this is obvious.
    The American executive is a non-parliamentary executive, which means that it is not dependent for its existence upon a majority in the Congress, while the British system is a parliamentary executive, which means that it is dependent upon a majority in Parliament.
    Being a non-parliamentary executive, the Congress of the United States cannot dismiss the executive. A parliamentary government must resign the moment it loses the confidence of a majority of the members of Parliament.
    Looking at it from the point of view of responsibility, a non-parliamentary executive being independent of Parliament tends to be less responsible to the legislature, while a parliamentary executive being more dependent upon a majority in Parliament become more responsible.
    The parliamentary system differs from a non-parliamentary system in as much 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 USA, the assessment of the responsibility of the executive is periodic. 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. Periodic assessment is done by the electorate at the time of the election, which may take place every five years or earlier.
    The daily assessment of responsibility that is not available under the American system is it is felt far more effective than the periodic assessment and far more necessary in a country like India. The draft Constitution in recommending the parliamentary system of executive has preferred more responsibility to more stability.”[/TD]
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    What precisely would the mechanisms be for popularly electing a president, and how would they avoid the distortions that our Westminster-style parliamentary system has bequeathed us?


    In my view, the virtue of a system of directly-elected chief executives at all levels would be the straightforward lines of division between the legislative and executive branches of government. The electoral process to get there may not initially be all that simple. When it comes to choosing a president, however, we have to accept that elections in our country will remain a messy affair: it will be a long while before Indian politics arranges itself into the conveniently tidy two-party system of the US. Given the fragmented nature of our party system, it is the French electoral model I would turn to.


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    [TD]Under parliamentary system, we are defined by narrowness. A presidential set-up will renew demand for an India for Indians[/TD]
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    As in France, therefore, we would need two rounds of voting. In the first, every self-proclaimed netaji, with or without strong party backing, would enter the lists. (In order to have a manageable number of candidates, we would have to insist that their nomination papers be signed by at least 10 parliamentarians, or 20 members of a state Assembly, or better still, both.) If, by some miracle, one candidate manages to win 50 percent of the vote (plus one), he or she is elected in the first round; but that is a far-fetched possibility, given that even Indira Gandhi, at the height of her popularity, never won more than 47 percent of the national vote for the Congress. More plausibly, no one would win in the first round; the two highest vote-getters would then face each other in round two, a couple of weeks later. The defeated aspirants will throw their support to one or the other survivor; Indian politicians being what they are, there will be some hard bargaining and the exchange of promises and compromises; but in the end, a president will emerge who truly has received the support of a majority of the country’s electorate.


    Does such a system not automatically favour candidates from the more populous states? Is there any chance that someone from Manipur or Lakshadweep will ever win the votes of a majority of the country’s voters? Could a Muslim or a Dalit be elected president? These are fair questions, but the answer surely is that their chances would be no better, and no worse, than they are under our present system. Seven of India’s first 11 prime ministers, after all, came from Uttar Pradesh, which surely has no monopoly on political wisdom; perhaps a similar proportion of our directly-elected presidents will be from UP as well. How does it matter? Most democratic systems tend to favour majorities; it is no accident that every president of the United States from 1789 to 2008 was a white male Christian (and all bar one a Protestant), or that only one Welshman has been prime minister of Great Britain. But then Obama came along, proving that majorities can identify themselves with the right representative even of a visible minority.
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    I dare say that the need to appeal to the rest of the country will oblige a would-be president from UP to reach across the boundaries of region, language, caste and religion, whereas in our present parliamentary system, a politician elected in his constituency on the basis of precisely such parochial appeals can jockey his way to the prime ministership. A directly-elected president will, by definition, have to be far more of a national figure than a prime minister who owes his position to a handful of political kingmakers in a coalition card-deal. I would also borrow from the US the idea of an Electoral College, to ensure that our less populous states are not ignored by candidates: the winner would also be required to carry a majority of states, so that crushing numbers in the cow belt alone would not be enough.


    And why should the Indian electorate prove less enlightened than others around the world? Jamaica, which is 97 percent black, has elected a white Prime Minister (Edward Seaga). In Kenya, President Daniel arap Moi hailed from a tribe that makes up just 11 percent of the population. In Argentina, a voting population overweeningly proud of its European origins twice elected a son of Syrian immigrants, Carlos Saul Menem; the same phenomenon occurred in Peru, where former president Alberto Fujimori’s ethnicity (Japanese) covers less than one percent of the population. The right minority candidate, in other words, can command a majority; to choose the presidential system is not necessarily to make future Narasimha Raos or Manmohan Singhs impossible. Indeed, the voters of Guyana, a country that is 50 percent Indian and 47 percent black, elected as president a white American Jewish woman, who happened to be the widow of the nationalist hero Cheddi Jagan. A story with a certain ring of plausibility in India...


    The adoption of a presidential system will send our politicians scurrying back to the drawing boards. Politicians of all faiths across India have sought to mobilise voters by appealing to narrow identities; by seeking votes in the name of religion, caste and region, they have urged voters to define themselves on these lines. Under our parliamentary system, we are more and more defined by our narrow particulars, and it has become more important to be a Muslim, a Bodo or a Yadav than to be an Indian. Our politics has created a discourse in which the clamour goes up for Assam for the Assamese, Jharkhand for the Jharkhandis, Maharashtra for the Maharashtrians. A presidential system will oblige candidates to renew the demand for an India for the Indians.


    Any politician with aspirations to rule India as president will have to win the people’s support beyond his or her home turf; he or she will have to reach out to other groups, other interests, other minorities. And since the directly-elected president will not have coalition partners to blame for any inaction, a presidential term will have to be justified in terms of results, and accountability will be direct and personal. In that may lie the presidential system’s ultimate vindication.


    Though the author is a Congress MP from Trivandrum ,Kerala, the views expressed in this article are
    strictly personal
    © Copyright Shashi Tharoor, 2011

    [email protected]
     
    Last edited by a moderator: May 18, 2012
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  4. nrj

    nrj Stars and Ambassadors Stars and Ambassadors

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    Presidential system?

    The parliamentary system in India has succeeded in sustaining democracy, but has failed to deliver the goods.

    Even the most optimist cannot escape the inference that India is destined to be a coalition-run country for many years to come. Its political landscape is so jig-jagged that no party can make a simple majority in the 543-member Lok Sabha, the lower house.

    The Congress or the BJP, the two national parties which have been hovering around the 200-plus mark for a long time, may increase their tally by a few more members (or lose some) in the 2014 elections. Yet neither of the two looks like reaching the dream figure of 272 to rule the country by itself.

    The scenario evokes despondency because the functioning of the Atal Behari Vajpayee governments of the BJP from May 16 to June 1 in 1996 and from March 19, 1998 to May 22, 2004 and those of the Congress from 2004 till today have shown that the party in power has to give in on too many critical points to ensure the support of the coalition partners to stay in power.

    The Congress has constituted the United Progressive Alliance (UPA), while the BJP headed National Democratic Alliance (NDA). The very word, alliance, suggests that it is a combination of parties which have chosen to stay with one or the other in its own interest. The give and take is inherent in such an arrangement. Inevitably, what emerges is not the best but a hotchpotch of different interests that may serve the purpose for the time being.

    Finance minister Pranab Mukherjee was bold enough to admit the other day that the economic reforms would have to wait till after the 2014 elections because what the government wanted to do was not acceptable to its allies. Prime minister Manmohan Singh has repeatedly said that his government has to follow the ‘coalition dharma,’ meaning thereby even giving up key projects for accommodating the wishes of its supporters.

    The nation has to think over the prospects coolly and responsibly. The country cannot make a rapid progress because the parliamentary system, with all its plus points, is too dependent on a majority which is illusionary under the circumstances. By shutting eyes to the realities, the facts cannot be denied or wished away. The parliamentary system in India has succeeded in sustaining democracy but has failed to deliver the goods.

    The 60 years of the system, celebrated this week, has made members realize that the situation as it has developed entails disruptions and walkouts. Is this good for a country which should be in a hurry to dent dismal poverty?

    People should seriously consider the option to switch over to the presidential form of government. This too is democratic and transparent like in America and France. In this way, we will get the] most acceptable face in the country because people from different parts of India would be voting directly for one person for a fixed tenure, say five years.
    He or she in turn would have all the attention and time to rule the country, not dependent on coalition or regional parties.

    Coherent and united

    The president would not to have buy the support of MPs as the prime ministers of both the Congress and the BJP have done. In the process, the nation would feel more coherent and united. There will be Parliament, the directly elected Lok Sabha and the indirectly elected Rajya Sabha—like the US Congress and the Senate. Powers of the houses can be redefined in the Indian context.

    No doubt, there is a danger that the President might turn into a dictator. But there would be checks and balances lest he or she should hijack the system. India’s thinking on the presidential form is flawed because it had the experience of Indira Gandhi who even as the prime minister became authoritarian. After having suffered the rigours of the emergency, parliament has changed the constitution and plugged the loopholes.

    Likewise, the nation would leave no leeway for a dictator to emerge once the presidential form is adopted.

    In fact, the presidential form of government was debated at the Constituent Assembly. Many members favoured while others wanted safeguards against a totalitarian government. But Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first prime minister, stopped any further debate by arguing that India had got used to the British parliamentary system.

    In any case, Parliament has already undergone a change because of the legislation which has made the domicile qualification for the Rajya Sabha members redundant. It was laid down that a Rajya Sabha member should ordinarily be a resident of the state which returns him or her through its Assembly. A decade ago, both the Congress and the BJP hatched a conspiracy and substituted the word state with India. How does India make sense when the Rajya Sabha is the house of states? By dropping the domicile qualification, the two main political parties have opened the doors of the house to money bags.

    By doing so, the balance in the parliamentary system has been disturbed. The federal structure that the constitution framers had in mind has been demolished. Even the report by Justice R S Sarkaria on centre-state relations has not been implemented. The Prime
    Minister is ruling the country in the way the head of a presidential system does, without owning the responsibility when his ill-thought policies fail to work.

    In democracy, it is important that people have faith in the system because otherwise the very basis of the state comes to be questioned. The reason why parliamentary system is not working in India is the confusion of clear direction in the absence of a single majority party, or arriving at a consensus among different parties. The presidential system provides the alternative in a person who will lead and direct the country.

    Presidential system?
     
  5. Singh

    Singh Phat Cat Administrator

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    Consensus is bad for the nation. It means compromise, opportunism, selfishness, timidness and going against national interest.

    2-party system, Presidential system etc can usher in much needed dynamism.
     
  6. ejazr

    ejazr Stars and Ambassadors Stars and Ambassadors

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    The problem is that even with a Presidential system there is no guarantee that deadlocks will not happen. Look at the US political system at present. Even they are deadlocked despite having a Presidential system. They have problems from passing budgets to enacting meaningful reforms.

    What has to be done is greater voter awareness and the media focussing on the performance of MPs rather than when they should and create a ruckus. Disrupting parliament should be penalised and frequent disruptions should be treated as an offence. That would keep the parliament functioning and atleast MPs who WANT to work will actually do some work.

    Ofcourse this doesn't mean that parties will co-operate on passing bills. What it means here is that the govt. and opposition parties rather than keeping the next elections in mind should focus on what is good for their country. Reforms on GST, DTC e.t.c. are good examples which should have been passed atleast 2 years ago.

    And the biggest problem with moving towards a Presidential system is the support of regional parties. Today 40+% of the national vote goes to various regional parties and without a 2/3 majority, enacting a Presidential system will be impossible.
     
  7. Yusuf

    Yusuf GUARDIAN Administrator

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    Hell yeah. I have been a proponent of two party prez system for a long long time.
     
  8. parijataka

    parijataka Senior Member Senior Member

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    There are merits to Presidential system. People are looking at the way work is not getting done in Parliament these days and thinking of Presidential system as an alernative. But even Parliamentary system can be reformed with simple steps. Some possible changes -

    1) Allow only national parties to participate in Lok sabha elections. So, other than the main national parties, a party like BSP will also be eligible since it has presence in Punjab, Haryana, Uttarakhand etc apart from UP. Also Communist parties. Whereas a party like JD(S) that wins 3 seats from Bangalore-Mysore or Haryana Janhit Samiti with one seat from Haryana will be out. Also possibly DMK or AIADMK or TMC!
    Advantages -
    a)This will ensure that we do not have blackmailing situation like what Mamata is doing openly today but which DMK did subtly in wrangling out `paying` Ministries for itself.
    b) Also we will not have a situation in which all new trains will be leading to a single state say Bihar or Bengal.
    c) Possibly weed out caste and region based outfits when they try to enlarge their foot print. Example SP might want to look at voters other than Muslim-Yadav outside UP.
    d) Reduce fragmentation to some extent when some parties are weeded out.

    2) Compulsary attendance in Parliament for MPs exception being when members travel on work or sick just like the rest of us citizens. If one looks at Lok Sabha/Rajya Sabha TV half the benches seem to be empty all the time. MPs are paid generously through tax payers money and have government accomodation and a lifetime pension once they retire. For top positions like the President and PM they even get a house after retirement and free travle on railways or by air.

    If MPs are not even attending Parliament regularly then how will work get done.

    It is the trend in media to blame opposition for holding up legislative work, but in many cases it is due to the lack of trust between the current ruling party and opposition. Also, the way ruling party makes up its mind and then informs even its allies does not lead to consensus.
     
    Last edited: May 19, 2012
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  9. Sabir

    Sabir DFI TEAM Senior Member

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    The hodgepodge of the lagislators and executives have resulted at least in some case a 10th pass minister with no specialised knowledge about the department sitting above the senior IAS officers. The coalition government system has worsened it more. Take the example of Dinesh Trivedy-Mamata Banerjee episode where a totally unfit candidate (What is qualification of mukul Roy?) was shoved in. Actually there is no need of the ministers. The top most civil servent of each department can be directly responsible to the Parliament rather than being shadowed by a minister.

    Even , I think the Rajya Sabha itself is an unnecessary thing. Candidates of different parties from different states are already there in the Loksabha, most of the cases in same proportion as in State lagislature (only exception when Loksabha and Bidhansabha election result in state are dramatically different.)
     

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