The Need for Electoral Reforms Toward Greater Democratic Good – III

The Collective Wisdom

Mahesh Prasad
The very basis of democracy lies in consensus.i.e. in collective wisdom. One man, howsoever wise or well intentioned, is likely to falter. This is the reason why democracy has been evolved to reflect collective opinion in decision making. But, in a party democracy, especially in parliamentary democracy, as we have adopted in our system, the decisions reflect only that of the party, at the most. While, in fact, as the things stand today, it is the opinion of the High Command or Caucus and, at times, only of the leader that decides on any issue. For instance, while imposing Emergency in 1975, it was the decision of Indira Gandhi alone, (other stalwarts were simply side-tracked). Even the political thinkers have called the present arrangement as party oligarchy.

PM All Powerful

The provision of Article 75 (in our Constitution) has made the rule of one man alone possible in the name of parliamentary democracy. It lays down:

  • ‘The PM shall be appointed by the President and the other Ministers shall be appointed by the President on the advice of the Prime Minister.’
  • ‘The ministers shall hold office during the pleasure of the President’.

There is no provision for the removal of the PM. It is only by convention that the President is expected to invite the leader of the largest party in Lok Sabha to form the government. But, at occasions when there is no clear majority, the President can play hide and seek. Such an occasion had arisen at the time of the fall of the Janta government in 1979; Charan Singh was inducted just on the oral assurance of the Congress Party’s support by Indira Gandhi. Similarly, Chandra Shekhar was inducted on the oral assurance of Rajiv Gandhi. Country has seen the consequences.

With the 42nd Constitution Amendment it is now made specific that the Prez is bound to act on the advice of the Council of ministers. In practice, on the advice of the PM. Unfortunately, there is no provision to remove the PM. Thus, while the PM once appointed cannot be removed, the ministers enjoy office at the pleasure of the Prez, who is bound to act on the advice of the Council of Ministers, i.e. on that of the PM; the ministers, in final analysis, are at the mercy of the PM.

Nehru took advantage of the Provisions

With the above provisions, it would be clear that for all practical purposes it is the PM and the PM alone who wields absolute power in this country (leaving aside exception like the arrangement of today when Chair Person of UPA is ruling through proxy, courtesy Manmohan Singh). And undoubtedly, this has played havoc with the governance and values of this country. It is well known, Pt. Nehru used to bull-doze every other into silence, specially after Patel was gone, and forced his faulty economic policy of mixed economy, giant multi-purpose projects, passing of Hindu Code Bill without similarly touching the Muslim Personal Law; declaration of Cease-fire in JK when our armies were winning; on the contrary, promising Plebiscite as a solution of Kashmir, conceding sovereignty of China over Tibet against the advice of Sardar Patel and so on with impunity.

In fact, he took the maximum advantage of the above provisions which appear to have been shrewdly incorporated in the constitution at that emotional upsurge of the time, and never allowed a Second man to emerge. At times, he is said to have even frowned Dr. Rajendra Prasad. He even tried to subdue Army by abolishing the post of C-in-C and putting the respective Chiefs under Civil Authority.Had there been no fear of losing chair, men of merit and independent thinking in the cabinet might surely have put a brake on his idiosyncrasies.

Others

Position in the reign of Indira Gandhi was even worse. While declaring Emergency, even the telephones of big-shots like Jagjivan Ram, Chavan and others were suspected to have been tapped. The cabinet was only informed about the fait-accompali. Sanjay was conceded full fledged extra-constitutional powers. All opposition leaders were put behind bar; organizations were banned; people were hauled up merely on suspicion; and there was not a single voice to protest in the cabinet! How could one under the circumstances?

Rajiv had his own way to bull-doze the public opinion. Came Bofors – even discussion was not allowed in Parliament. Mere statement that he or any of his family members was not connected was construed as sufficient. Even under primitive laws, such abashedness was not tolerated. Here, accused deciding what sufficient evidence was! Sizable MPs wanted him to be removed. President Zail Singh was said to be willing. But, no body dared; most probably for the fear of the scheme getting misfired.

And now Narsimha Rao – surpassed every other in political chess-play. A direct and open charge by Harshad Mehta in the presence of a legal luminary Ram Jethmalani that he gave Rs. One crore to the PM to finance his own election. The charge is denied. No enquiry, no investigation considered necessary; and declared “passed agni pariksha”. What a mockery of law! Even an FIR of a petty theft becomes cognizable. But, in this case, the word of Rao was considered as the “word of God”!

Over Rs. 3500 crore have been swindled in security scam. Thousands of petty investors have been cheated of their hard earned income. Firstly, the govt. was not yielding to full scale investigation; then, to gain time, a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) was constituted with a congress MP as its head. All delaying tactics were employed. Even CBI, obviously, did not cooperate. Eventually, a unanimous report was prepared indicting some ministers and top bureaucrats. However, when Action Taken Report (ATR) was placed before the House, it was found completely diluted. Furore caused is a part of history now. In this case, as in Bofors, the Govt. became impervious to the cry of the opposition; the whole House was taken for a ride. The minister had to toe the line for the fear of loss of berth while the party MPs were meek because of the law of defection and fear of being disqualified. Under such hopeless and hapless circumstances, where was the consensus – the collective wisdom or will of the people reflecting through their representatives?

Democracy in Party Fora?

Even in party fora where is democracy? It is the will of the President, the boss that sways over. Things are so stage managed that no one dares to dissent. Story of Suraj Kund is still fresh. The goons arranged by sycophants did not allow dissidents to speak; they were mercilessly shown the door. Thus, as far as India is concerned, party democracy itself is farce, at the moment.

Every legislator, whether in state or center vows for public welfare. His first slogan is: “service to the people”. Then why this public welfare be subject to push and pull by parties in respective Houses? Can actual good be good to A and bad to B? The real consensus, the true democracy, the correct collective wisdom demands, therefore, that once elected, either independent or on a party ticket, the legislator must belong to the entire House. The party label must be left outside. Without this, at least in the circumstances of the third world, where poverty and illiteracy abound, carrying of party flags inside legislatures will only distort the real meaning of democracy.

Revolutionary steps needed

Providing ID cards to voters, ensuring their free access to polling booths, prevention of misuse of govt. machinery or curb of conspicuous expenditure alone will not do. Something concrete, positive, revolutionary will have to be done. Since every thing is connected with the other, nothing can be achieved in isolation; amendments in election system alone will not be enough. The entire chain of provisions needs to be overhauled.

Many a time, serious allegations come to light against ministers, chief ministers, central ministers or even the PM. There is no effective machinery to investigate or to take action. Being public functionaries, they are protected by law. No criminal case can be filed against them without the permission of the relevant Head of the Government i.e. either the Governor or President. In the case of AR Antulay, it has been seen how difficult it was to procure the same (now in the case of Mayawati it has been denied by the UP Governor). There is no provision even for recall. Conventions, which may be termed as ‘checks and balances’, as in other democracies, are rare or are deliberately distorted or ignored here. Consequence: the Janta suffers. The government of the people – for the people suffers: only ‘by the people’ enjoys. Some institution, therefore, powerful enough to impart prompt justice to ‘the people’, and punish the all mighty, resourceful and manipulator will have to be created in the present context of India.

Rule of Sadvipras

Under Prout, there is a concept of benevolent dictatorship of sadvipras to meet such an eventuality. According to PR Sarkar, sadvipras will be in the nucleus of social cycle, always watchful, and whenever injustice will be seen, they will take remedial steps. Even if wheels of social cycle slow down, they will give tremendous push to change one era to the other. Thus, in clear terms, they will be capable of sacking any Minister, Chief Minister, PM or even dissolving a House at the state or central level. In short, they will be supervisors of all the four compartments of democracy i.e. Executive, Legislature, Judiciary and Election Commission. Any defect, any aberration, any injustice and they pounce upon.

But, so long as the full fledged prout system does not come into vogue, some intermediate solution must be found out.

Intermediate solution to be found

This is fundamental principle of law that whosoever commits crime, only he has to be punished. There are occasions in parliamentary system when only a single minister commits an error or is at fault. Other ministers or functionaries have nothing to do with that or have no involvement therein. As such, only he who is at fault deserves to be brought to book and not the other or others. No doubt, the principle of ‘collective responsibility’ as provided in Article 75(3) is to safeguard against unnecessary onslaught upon a single individual, but, in our context, it has done more harm than good. Whenever a minister has been assailed even on sufficient grounds, the whole cabinet has risen to a man to save that erring minister (for the fear of the fall of the govt.). Thus, this principle is too harsh for smooth functioning of democracy. Individual errors must be individually dealt with.

Moreover, Article 75(2) gives a ‘carte blanche’ to the PM to change a minister’s portfolio or to altogether drop him. This only infuses a total lack of security in the minister’s mind and he remains always at his tenterhooks. He has no option, but to kow tow the Leader’s line. This has made him sycophant, a pet always looking for his master’s mercy. This unhappy state must go. Let the minister feel freedom in action and pride in achievement.

Secondly, no appreciable results are expected from frequent changes. It takes time to settle down, to understand complex problems and working in a particular department. Thus, for tangible results they must have the security of full term; only then, they can be expected to show results.

Considering these situations, it is proposed: After the Lok Sabha is constituted, let both Houses i.e. Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha constitute an Electoral College and the Prime Minister be elected by this Electoral College by over 50% vote of the total strength of the electorate. In case there are more than two contestants, then, let there be a system of second preferential vote, or a second time voting amongst the two who secure the highest votes. One who secures more that 50% votes, as above, should be declared elected as PM. The PM thus elected should nominate his team, and each such minister, then, must seek vote of confidence from the said Electoral College through one third majority. The Cabinet along with PM thus cleared must last full term.

The PM should have no prerogative to either change the portfolio or ask for the resignation of a minister. If a minister is guilty of misconduct, inefficiency or lack of integrity or otherwise unsuitable, the case should be referred to the PB (Presidential Board to be discussed later) for decision, whose decision should be final. Similarly, if the Cabinet or the House is not happy with the PM, a representation giving the details of the charges/evidence and signed by one sixth of the existing members of both the Houses should be made to the PB who will investigate into the charges as it may think fit, and its decision must be final. In case, the PM is removed, another incumbent should be similarly elected and the business of the government must go on till the next elections.

In case of a minister, the same procedure should be followed with the difference that in such a case only a total of 50 members of either house or both should be sufficient to move the PB for initiating investigation and action.

(Published in Prout Magazine, Delhi, 1995)

Part 4

Copyright The author 2011

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