As efforts for the formation of a non-Congress secular government after the general elections are gaining momentum, a dangerous convergence appears to be emerging between the Congress and the BJP. Both are speaking in terms of a bipolarity defining the Indian polity, with the Congress and the BJP being the poles around which all other parties need to join in alliance.
The BJP has been more forthright, with its prime ministerial candidate L.K. Advani calling for a national debate with the PM “like it happens during the US presidential elections”. in its 1991 election manifesto, the BJP articulated that it would appoint “a commission to study and report whether presidential system of government will give us a suitable government than the present parliamentary system”.
A presidential form concentrates all powers in one leader. The president inducts key personnel to run the State apparatus who are not directly accountable to parliament. By advocating this system, the BJP, acting as the political arm of the RSS, facilitates the objective of converting the secular democratic character of the Indian Republic into their version of a rabidly intolerant fascistic ‘Hindu Rashtra’. The constraints of a coalition under the parliamentary system have circumscribed the BJP’s efforts to impose its hardcore communal agenda.
After much debate, the parliamentary system was preferred by the Constituent Assembly because it best serves the secular foundations and the federal character of India’s political system and, at the same time, is both accommodative and responsive to our rich diversity and social plurality.
President K.R. Narayanan, speaking on the Golden Jubilee of our Republic, in Parliament’s Central Hall, reminded us: “The form of government, the parliamentary democratic form, was chosen by the founding fathers after deep thought and debate. In the Constituent Assembly, Dr Ambedkar explained that the Drafting Committee in choosing the parliamentary system for India, preferred more responsibility to more stability, a system under which the government will be on the anvil every day. He said that accountability was still difficult to obtain from day-to-day. Thus the parliamentary system was a deliberate and well-thought-out choice of the Constituent Assembly. It was not chosen in imitation of the British system or because of the familiarity with it that India had acquired during the colonial period.
“Gandhiji while acknowledging our debt to Britain with regard to parliamentary government had observed that the roots of it were present in India in the age-old system of the village panchayats. Dr Ambedkar explained in the Constituent Assembly that the Buddhist sanghas were parliamentary type of institutions and that in their functioning modern parliamentary devices like resolutions, divisions, whips, etc. were used. These elements in our heritage made it possible and easy for India to adopt the parliamentary system of democracy. Besides, as Dr Ambedkar told the Constituent Assembly, the Drafting Committee chose this system because they preferred more responsibility to stability which could slip into authoritarian exercise of power.”
We have had our experience of an authoritarian exercise of power even under the parliamentary system during the Emergency. Such dangers will multiply exponentially under a presidential system.
While the Congress does not advocate a US-style bipolarity as brazenly, this appears implicit when it joins the BJP in asking the parties of the alternative secular front to announce their prime ministerial candidate. In our constitutional scheme of things, the people’s sovereignty is exercised when they elect their representatives to the Parliament. These elected representatives, in turn, form the government and elect its PM. Hence, the question of the PM arises only after the election. It is perfectly possible that a person declared by any party or a coalition to be the PM before elections is defeated by the electorate in that particular constituency. Even the mighty Indira Gandhi lost the elections as the sitting PM in Rae Bareli in 1977. Therefore, declaring a PM prior to the elections means showing disrespect to the people and this contemptuously negates the sovereignty of the people as established by our Constitution.
The Congress and the BJP are seeking to subvert the system — instead of realising that the desertion of their long-standing allies is due to popular pressure from below, where the people are seeking an alternative policy trajectory that will provide them relief from present miseries. This, in itself, reinforces the need for an alternative formation and government.
In the urge to gain electoral benefits, the system, arrived at after much deliberation and having been tested by time, cannot be allowed to be jettisoned. As the late President had warned, “We should ensure that the basic philosophy behind the Constitution and fundamental socio-economic soul of the Constitution remain sacrosanct. We should not throw out the baby with the bathwater and like Shakespeare’s Othello have to lament later: “Like the base Indian, threw a pearl away — richer than all his tribe.”
Sitaram Yechury is CPI(M) Politburo member and Rajya Sabha MP