On-the-track Portrait of Indian democracy

25Aug07

This article is brilliant piece of work by Mr C. P Bhambri published in todays`s  Economic Times . He contests that responsible governance is more important than stabile government sighting examples from progressive democracies like UK. It is quite pertinent to know Dr Ambedkar perspective on responsibility over stability. Indian scholars never paid heed to his prescriptions due to obvious reasons but now the situation has come to understand Dr. Ambedkar thoughts more seriously. If planners wish India to become global leader in most humanistic way, there is no excuse. Atrocitynews thanks Mr Bhambri for his qualified understanding of Indian situation and presenting a futuristic portrait of Indian democracy.

+

 Coalition or minority governments

 

India has enough experience with the functioning of unstable and opportunistic coalition governments both at the central and the state levels. Governors have often asked the leader of a newly formed coalition government to seek a vote of confidence to prove majority support. Shankar Dayal Sharma invited A B Vajpayee, leader of a minority party in the Lok Sabha in 1996, to form the government. This first BJP-led government at the Centre lasted from May 16 to June 1, 1996. It resigned without facing the vote of no-confidence moved by parties opposed to it. That was not the first time that a minority-party led government has functioned at the Centre. The classic example of a minority-led government was of Indira Gandhi from 1969 till she asked for the dissolution of the Lok Sabha at the end of 1970. The Congress party had split in 1969 on the issue of ‘conscience vote’ for the office of President of India and Indira Gandhi-led Congress was reduced to the position of the largest party with minority of seats in the Lok Sabha. Legality or constitutionality of Indira Gandhi’s government from 1969 to the end of 1970 was not at all questioned because it was left to the opposition parties to either move a vote of no confidence or allow such a government to continue in office.

This story was repeated in 1991 when P V Narasimha Rao formed a Congress-led government that had the largest number of seats, but was in a minority in the Lok Sabha. Incidentally, to characterise the V P Singh or the Chandra Shekar governments at the Centre from 1989 to 1991 or the purely temporary primeministerships of H D Deva Gowda and I K Gujral from 1996 to 1998 as coalition governments is a complete misnomer.These four PMs did not have any support base and they survived on the ‘outside’ support of other parties and groups. These short-lived PMs enjoyed power at the pleasure of the ‘outside supporters’. The above mentioned facts clearly show that minority-party led governments at the Centre have remained in power and their legitimacy was never questioned. The constitutional position is mentioned in Article 74 and 75 and the provisions of the Constitution regarding the office of the council of ministers and the PM provide real guidelines for parliamentary government in India. Article 74 provides for a ‘council of ministers with the PM at the head to aid and advise the President’, and Article 75 states that ‘the council of ministers shall be appointed by the President on the advice of the PM.’ Political executive in parliamentary democracy, as provided by the Constitution, consists of President, PM and a council of ministers headed by the PM.

President has to go by the advice of the PM and this was settled during the Nehru period itself when President Rajendra Prasad wanted to know about his real powers. M C Setalvad, the then attorney general, clarified that President had to go by the advice of the PM. Presidents have accepted the advice of minority party-led PMs like Indira Gandhi in 1969 or Chandra Shekhar in 1991 to ‘dissolve the Lok Sabha before term’ and call for fresh elections. Thus neither the President nor the governor of a state can ask a newly formed ministry to immediately prove its majority on the floor of the House. It is not required by the Constitution and the often described phenomenon of ‘horse trading’ or defections’ has emerged because a newly formed government is just not allowed to settle down because the governor of a state has fixed a date for the testing of a majority on the floor of the House.

The problem of horse trading or defections of legislators or quick shifting of loyalties by members has been created by the procedure laid down and decided solely by the state governors or President by insisting that the PM or incumbent CM should ‘prove’ majority support. This is not the role of chief executives in a parliamentary democracy. It is for the legislators to support a council of ministers and if opposition parties feel that they need to move a vote of no-confidence; they can do so. The demand by the chief executive imposes an obligation on the newly formed council of ministers to immediately seek a vote of confidence while in reality it is the prerogative of the legislators to decide their own agenda and procedures to deal with the phenomenon of a minority-party led government.

The constitutional reforms in India have persistently suggested that the German procedure should be followed where a vote of non-confidence against the government can not be moved by the opposition parties in the legislature without identifying clearly the alternative government which can be formed if the present government is defeated. The sum and substance of above mentioned facts and arguments is that it is a figment of the imagination that India cannot have a minority-party led government and legislatures, parties and groups should somehow cook up a coalition to suggest that majority is supporting the government.

The central government in India is the centre of power and a party which has the largest number of legislators, in spite of its minority status, can function in a cohesive manner as compared with coalition governments of 16 or 20 groups which have nothing in common except to hold on to office of power as minister. Harold J Laski, in his classic Parliamentary Government in England has clearly stated that elections are held so that a government is formed and it is for the opposition to make governments accountable. Incidentally, England also had experienced PMs who led minority governments because the only provisions in parliamentary democracy is that majority or minority status has to be tested on the floor of the House and that also when the opposition parties decide on their own.

This fetish of pitching minority government versus hurriedly constituted coalition governments is a product of short-term political expediency because the Constitution is completely miles away from interpretations of Presidents or state governors. Innovations are the essence of any living democratic political system. Indians have innovated a system of allowing a minority-party led government by ‘receiving support in the legislature from groups without joining the government.’ The upshot is that one party government, even if led by a party with minority status in the legislature, is better than the shapeless quilt of coalition governments.



No Responses Yet to “On-the-track Portrait of Indian democracy”

  1. Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: