30 December 2007

Presidential Form of Government in India

What if Manmohan Singh had in his cabinet Bhagawati Prasad as his finance minister instead of Chidambaram, P.T. Usha as his sports minister, Narayan Murthy as information and technology minister instead of A. Raja, Debi Shetty as his health minister instead of Anbumani Ramdoss, Shashi Tharoor as his foreign minister in stead of Pranab Mukherjee, etc? These alternative personalities have backgrounds in their respective fields and required knowledge as are essential to guide him in proper and meaningful governance. One may have justified doubt whether Manmohan Singh feels at home with most of his cabinet colleagues and given the freedom to choose persons to assist him in his governance –most of the ministers would not have been there in his cabinet. But Manmohan Singh does not have that freedom to exert his will so far he has to work in the parliamentary set up as it is in India. The party in power (even the parties of the alliance that are not party to governance) determine the portfolio management out of their political conveniences. So an MP who has a dubious and not so clean background is allowed to get a place in the cabinet only because of his acumen to win an electoral battle. An MP who has had no expertise in and no contribution to any field of national, social and political life of this vast country holds important portfolio only because of his proximity to the head of the party which needs him only for the internal interests of the party. The political parties indulge in divisions in casts, religions etc to win electoral battles. In many cases these persons hold links with criminals and employ them to do things for their personal interests detrimental to collective good. The promoters or real estate developers violate norms and rules to grab land illegally or to make constructions not permissible officially by municipal norms with the support of their political masters. The police do not act against a criminal if he is close to a minister. It’s no use of increasing the number of examples to tell about the nexus between the criminals and politicians. Everybody in India knows it. This situation ensues from the very system of parliamentary democracy of India which is a mere copy of Westminster Abbey. Unfortunately there were no visionaries in that wee hours of independence who could determine the right system of polity that could enable the vast poor and uneducated people to seek a government who could deliver what they required. People require to be guided in their potentiality for building a strong nation. But here in India they have been utilized as vote banks for serving the narrow interests of political parties. The founding fathers of our constitution –however worshipped as great persons were not visionaries to foresee the impropriety of this system in the Indian context. They are exaggerated in their images. Nehru was a romantic dreamer and much anglicized and in spite of his renowned book- Discovery of India, he failed to create a native atmosphere wherein India could breathe for a healthy life. Ambedkar was not at all a wise person to grasp India in her totality. He appears to be someone who is expert in matters of law and nothing more. There were no such persons in 1947 as comparable to the great personalities that came in the latter part of the Nineteenth century. India required a Balgangadhar Tilak, a Franklin D Roosevelt, a Lala Rajpat Rai or a George Washington, a de Gaulle to help her taking off for her desired destiny. Unfortunately her fate fell in the hands of some mediocre persons who were not the best sons of this country which gave births extraordinarily wise people. So India did not find her path when she was born after hundreds of years of alien subjugation. The executives who are not at all worthy of being elected find their places in the parliament only because of their maneuvering politics. So we Indians are governed by dishonest and uninformed politicians whose only motive is somehow to get elected in the parliament that can serve better their families and relatives. These executives are not loyal to even to the parties they belong to. It’s not surprising at all as their very ambition is to gain personally. So sometime if prudence bids for a more stable future they do dot hesitate to switch over to a prospective party against which they fought to win the elections. In times of crisis of forming governments when no party gets the absolute majority mark the parliament turns into a horse trading market and millions of Rupees have changed hands for buying the MPs in order to capture the seat in government. In 1984 at the behest of the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi an anti defection bill was passed in the parliament. But this floor-crossing or defection can not be checked. Now a sizeable number of MPs –when they feel to get more including ministerial berths in a new formation –they ‘split’ from the original party without attracting the rules of anti-defection. The situation has become worse when any of the two major political parties –The Congress and the BJP could not form government on their own numbers. So an opportunistic and unscrupulous combination is formed to grab power. If a government is formed with allies of disparate policies it becomes impossible to take major political and financial decisions even if that is necessary for the country. In such combination the small and regional parties (and some who are not part of the government, but as members of the alliance that help the majority number) insist on parochial policies and fund allocations that help only a minor community or a regional centre depriving the real beneficiaries. I should make a general example of the lack of motive on the part of the government to improve or develop the condition of some states only because of the bias of executives. The whole north-east part of India have been deprived of proper governmental assistance and again on the other hand for positive support of some political leaders thousands of Bangladeshi people were allowed to settle in these border states for communal and electoral benefits. This has created demographic imbalance leading to serious discontent and combined with economic deprivation the secessionist tendencies have grown up. The honest, efficient and brilliant officers are not allowed to work in accordance to law of this land. It is quite natural that the dishonest MPs can not be at home with the honest officers. The most glaring example of shameless action has been evident when the most honest and efficient police officer –Kiran Bedi –was forced to resign from service. Kiran Bedi was the only police officer who attained a celebrity status both nationally and internationally. Can the Chief Minister of Delhi provide reasons for such injustice? India is now among a few countries which top in terms of corruption, illiteracy and poverty. We frequently boast of our polity and its stability. But it actually suits us in our opportunism and mediocrity. Indians are not upstart and insignificant people to make experiment with. It’s a most distinctive people and the people are rooted in a profound cultural consciousness and among one of the best peoples of the world. But they had to pass through degeneration under foreign rules. For the last two hundred years before they had been ruled not by themselves as they had not found the opportunity to self-rule. So when the opportunity came they were imposed on by a few leaders, with the system of parliamentary democracy. India would have grown much faster than China had she not wasted much of her time in parliamentary democracy. Even Hindu-Muslim conflict would fail to be an issue under a proper political system. Sri Lanka had tried with this system but after a time she left it for a French Presidential system i.e. combining presidential rule with a parliamentary government headed by a prime minister, which I think, is not suitable in Indian situation. In the French system the head of the government is the Prime Minister, who is nominated by the majority party or coalition in the National Assembly. The Prime Minister recommends Ministers to the President, sets out Ministers' duties and responsibilities, and manages the daily affairs of government. He issues decrees and is responsible for national defense. As per Shashi Tharoor “...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 problem we have experienced with political factionalism.” Indira Gandhi, at one time thought of French Presidential system and as per some press leaks she discussed the matter with the then visiting French President. But nothing further could be heard thereafter. Only Charan Singh divulged it and opined that it was only the American system he was prepared to accept. At that time some journalists and a few veteran politicians were vocal for a change of system. But it was for a short period and then the debate failed the steam for a national issue. But what is an American system at all? In the US the President is not directly elected by the people but direct involvement of the people in general helps the President to be elected. The presidential election takes place every four years. People across the country cast their votes for whichever candidate they believe will do the best job. Votes are counted, and this is called the popular vote, but it is more than a popularity contest. This is where the Electoral College comes in.The Electoral College is a group of people who gather to cast their votes for the various presidential candidates. When the Americans are casting their votes for the presidential candidates, they are actually casting their votes for electors, who will cast their votes for the candidates. So they form an electoral college for electing the president.When all the electoral votes are counted, the president, with the most votes gained by him or her, in this way, wins. In most cases, the candidate who wins the popular vote also wins in the Electoral College. The American President wields wide powers. The President and his or her cabinet, for example, are not members of Congress, unlike the British or Indian Prime Minister and his or her cabinet, who are all members of parliament. The all three institutions –the Congress, President and Supreme Court are so devised in a system where checks and balances in which the three branches of government work separately from each other. Some may argue that an American President may be an authoritarian so far as the powers he/she wields. But no American President has so far been an autocrat. But in India –Indira Gandhi proclaimed emergency even not discussing the matter with all her cabinet colleagues for their approval. Moreover to offset the autocratic tendencies of the president –an executive chief minister or a governor for a state should be directly elected as it is in the US. I think that considering all the aspects of Indian situation the model of American Presidential system is the best available model for India and a change over to this model is urgently necessary. Otherwise the disrespect and loss of faith in the government may lead to anarchy. Indian cities and towns are fast being ghettos of criminals-who act under the secure umbrella of petty politicians on whom the big leaders depend in times of electoral battles.

But why it has not been discussed in national level and what are the main obstacles for a switch over? We Indians have fallen in a trap. For a change of system the matter must get approval from two thirds members of the parliament. Will they –the executives ever agree? Once elected an MP in the parliament –enjoys enormous perks and family pension securities. But apart from this official payments they get access to earn form various sources including businessmen. This evil is two-fold. First this means that joining in politics is lucrative and so the persons who have power –both money and muscle –make it do or die ventures to get somehow elected. And secondly once elected they are after personal privileges. So this is a vicious circle. More so that these people will never allow for a change of system. So this is fait accompli for India unless there is a popular upsurge against the system. ADDENDUM-(Tamil Nadu) I need for an extension with reference to the above as a separate emphasis here to enunciate my basic point in another scenario. This does not run with the same aim as it is specifically related to an Indian state-Tamil Nadu; but it’s an issue not absolutely unrelated to the system of our polity, the theme of my discussion. I have visited Tamil Nadu several times and found the people living in a well organized society. I visited TN first in 1971. The city of Chennai has undergone a huge change in almost half a century now. No city in India is better administered in India than Chennai. Tamils are an ancient race and they are bearer of a very rich culture. Their language is the oldest among the other Indian regional languages. Their contribution to the spiritual tradition of this ancient country is immeasurable. And in no way this race is un-Indian essentially. The language of Gujarat is as alien to Bengalis as Tamils. Even the language spoken in Chattagram (now in Bangladesh) is more near to the Myanmar border area people than the Calcuttans. But both are Bengalis. So I wonder why the people of TN like to feel themselves as separate from the mainstream Indian people. The Vindhyas have long been ceased as north-south divide. The Tamils are found everywhere in Central government offices as efficient and qualified executives. The same is equally true in private sectors. The TN produces the best scientists of international standards. It’s from my own experience I have found that an educated Tamil speaks more fluently in English and even in Hindi in Mumbai than a Bengali generally. But in politics they like to remain close to their regional parties which have no existence in the rest of India. The two main parties are like two individual companies headed by two persons whose only motive is to keep the parties as their personal zamidaries. I can not reconcile how such a great race like to remain as the subjects of two persons. It is because of this parliamentary system. Tamils feel it not comfortable (because of thousands of years of living in other side of Vindhyas) to be ruled by the pre-dominant North Indians. This psychology has been narrowly exploited by the regional parties. As I have told earlier –this could have been avoided under a Presidential system. India as a whole suffers from not having the Tamils in the mainstream politics. Most of the educated and broad minded Tamils, I have no doubt, do not like these parties but they do not find any alternative. The Tamil Nadu Congress is nothing but a bundle of stooges of the north-Indian Congress, especially after Kamraj Nadar. So the genus of Tamils is lost in Indian politics. There must be a balance of powers between the states and the centre; but not such a centre which may be predominantly non-Tamil. We should not fail to make a non-Tamil face of India. This is equally true of other non-Hindi states. Psychologically, men do not object to living under a ruler common to all. So in a family most often there are not so much quarrels amongst the brothers when the father is the head of the family. But in absence of a common head, we like part with from one another.