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As India Faces Political Turmoil, Is It Time To Rethink The Parliamentary Form Of Govt?

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The unfolding crisis in the state of Rajasthan has once again reignited the debate on whether there is a fundamental problem in our system. When the state is grappling with the COVID-19 crisis, the Chief Minister is busy saving his government. The crisis started when 16 MLAs, including the Deputy CM, announced their withdrawal of support from the current government. During the crisis, when the representatives of the people should have been present in their respective constituencies, they flocked together in a resort with no connection to the outside world in fear of horse-trading.

Few would forget to compare the situation with Madhya Pradesh earlier this year in the month of March when 22 legislators withdrew support from the government ultimately toppling it. At the same point in time, it is essential to look into what happened in Maharastra after the assembly election. In Maharastra, the parties mandated to sit in the opposition are running the government.

In all the above examples, it is important to note that there has been a complete disregard for democratic principles. In a democracy, the will of people is supreme. Coming to power through the backdoor channel using unethical and immoral means amount to cheating on the part of the political establishment, betrayal to the citizens who voted, and stood in long queues to exercise their right to vote. If this precarious situation persists, people will lose faith in the democratic set up of the country. There is an urgent need to revamp our system by bringing some structural changes.

Representational image.

The Two Forms Of Government

While there is no dispute regarding the continuance of democracy, it is equally important to find alternatives within it. If we look at all the democratic countries in the world, we can infer two forms prevailing presently –

1) Presidential Form of Government – In this form, the President is the head of both state and government. There is a clear demarcation between the executive and the legislature. The President has a fixed term and does not depend upon the legislature for his/her survival in the office. A host of countries including the USA, Brazil, Sri Lanka, Russia follow this system.

2) Parliamentary form of government- As the name signifies, the parliament in this system is supreme. Here the political executive headed by Prime Minister is a part of the legislature and is dependent on it for survival. Countries such as India and Britain have been following this system.

Why India Chose A Parliamentary Form Of Government

India, after independence, chose the parliamentary form of government primarily because of the familiarity with this type of Government due to the colonial period. Also, a shift to a new form appeared a mammoth task considering the level of literacy at that point in time. It was also perceived that the presidential form might invite division in a diverse nation like India. Hedging the infant nation was the foremost priority for the constitutional makers of the country.

In the year 1975, the Swaran Singh committee was constituted to study the effectiveness of the parliamentary form and suggest a change if needed. But the committee rejected the need to change and supported the continuation of the parliamentary form of government.

The Flaws In India’s Form of Parliamentary System

Though India practices a Westminster model (another name for a parliamentary form), the detailed analysis of the system portrays a different picture of it.

Elections in the largest democracy in the world are no less than a celebration.

The election in the parliamentary form is crucial for electing legislators who would, in turn, select the leader among themselves. But in India’s case, parties have garnered votes in the name of a single leader and reciprocating the gesture people have also voted for the same. Legislators get elected not because of their credentials but due to a ‘wave phenomena’. In the 2014 general election, many voters had little idea about their Member of Parliament because the vote was mainly for one person and his policies.

The ‘personality cult’ is more pronounced at the state level where a large section of people votes for one person irrespective of caste, creed, gender. The party becomes synonymous with the leader of the party. Also, there has been a trend of declaring PM and CM candidates before the election, and surveys before the election point out that there has been a difference in the voting choices after the declaration.

In a parliamentary form, the executive is responsible to the legislature. Responsibility to the legislature was another key reason behind introducing this form of governance in the country. ‘Discussion, Debate, Dissent’ is the keystone procedure before any law or policy is applied in the country. However, in the era of competitive politics, the above 3 ‘Ds’ have been missing. An important decision such as demonetization which affected a large segment of people was taken without deliberation.

At the time of the pandemic, when there was a need for an effective scrutinization of Government handling, a parliament session was not called until later, in spite of the fact that countries such as Britain, New Zealand had called their parliament to review the working of their Government.

A government can work for the welfare of the people only if the focus is on framing policies and laws that would create a difference in the life of the citizens. But in India, we see in the past governments at the centre and in state governments at present, that the maximum resources and time of the party in power is diverted towards keeping its legislators together so that they are not poached by the opposing parties. Money and lure for power play an important part in attracting legislators.

Often, industrial houses are actively involved in getting legislators from one party to another to extract commercial benefits after the formation of the new government. Often the leaders both at centre and state are blamed for supporting a particular industrial class, but the fact of the matter is that this industrial class by virtue of the money they have, holds significant sway over the legislators and can alter any government by buying a certain number of legislators.

Change: The Way Towards A Sustainable Democracy

In the landmark Kesavananda Bharati Case of 1973, the Supreme Court held that the parliamentary form of government is a part of the “Basic Structure of the Constitution” and cannot be tampered with. However, it is equally important to note that our elected representatives have taken the system for a ride, and there is an urgent need to find a suitable alternative.

One such alternative is to adopt the presidential form of government. As we have seen, Indians have voted for a personality, and there is no harm in extracting benefits from the system. There is a sense of stability in the presidential form. Leaders, once elected, are ensured of their term. They will be more focused on the development of their citizens rather than keeping their legislators in resorts.

The clarion call of our Hon’ble Prime Minister for ‘One Nation, One Election’ to optimize public expenditure on election may not have any impact in the parliamentary form due to its inherently unstable nature ( One must not forget we had one election for both centre and state for a long time after independence) but because of the stability that the presidential system provides there will be optimum use of public money on the election. In this system, domain experts are appointed as ministers, and lawmakers do not perform ministerial functions.

One does not find a lawyer handling finance portfolio or health minster being holed up in a resort away from the state, amidst the pandemic (in the case of Madhya Pradesh). This feature will discourage power-hungry people from entering politics as the baton of power will entirely shift to the executive independent of the legislature. This would help in making our elections more clean and transparent and make way for honest people who would be mandated to frame laws. It should be kept in mind that parliament does play a very proactive role in the system and the chances of the President acting as a despotic ruler are thus minimized.

Democracy Responds To Crisis

India, the largest democracy in the world, has been a torchbearer of democracy in the region where others have faced numerous dictatorial regimes. And one of the reasons behind this is the acceptance to change. The country changed its economic regime in 1991 by introducing liberalization, privatization, globalization when it was plunged into a grave financial crisis. At that time, too, there were too many apprehensions about the change which were later proved unfounded. Today as we are witnessing a successive political turmoil, it is essential to make way for a new system. Remember ‘democracy responds to crisis’. 

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Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

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