People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 13

April 05, 2009



Advani’s call for presidential debate

Contempt & Disrespect for parliamentary democracy

ON March 26, 2009, speaking at an election meeting in Arunachal Pradesh, L K Advani challenged prime minister, Manmohan Singh, for a national debate “like it happens during the US presidential elections”. This is not an innocent remark aimed at generating a public debate, so that the voter may make a reasoned decision. Seen in conjunction with his earlier remarks of a bipolarity in Indian politics (two-party system like in the USA), these remarks confirm the fact that the BJP, functioning as the political arm of the RSS, seeks to convert our parliamentary form of democracy into a presidential form like that in the United States of America.

Before we take up this matter, it is necessary to respond to Mr Advani's and the Congress's questions regarding the prime ministerial candidate of the alternative secular front. In our system of parliamentary democracy, 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 leader as the prime minister. Hence, the question of the prime minister arises only after the election. It is perfectly possible that a person declared by any party or a coalition to be the prime minister before elections is defeated by the electorate in that particular constituency. Recollect, even mighty Indira Gandhi lost the elections, as the sitting prime minister, at Rae Bareli in 1977. Therefore, by declaring a prime minister prior to the elections, only disrespect is being shown to the people and this contemptuously negates the supremacy of sovereignty of the people as established by our constitution.

Let us now return to the BJP's efforts to impose a presidential form of government in the country. In its 1991 election manifesto, the BJP had clearly spelt out that it would appoint “a commission to study and report whether the presidential system of government will give us the most suitable government than the present parliamentary system”. Though this was not repeated in its manifestos for the 1996 and 1998 elections, these had, however, raised the issue of setting up a mechanism for a thorough review of the constitution.

The RSS had always preferred the presidential form in place of the present parliamentary system as that will facilitate its objective of transforming the secular democratic republican character of the Indian constitution in order to pave the way for the establishment of its vision of a rabidly intolerant `Hindu Rashtra'.

The RSS has all along maintained that the secular democratic republican character of the Indian constitution as being “un Hindu”. The then RSS chief Rajendra Singh, in an article published on January 14, 1993, clarified the RSS position on the Indian constitution by stating: “Certain specialities of this country should be reflected in the constitution. In place of `India that is Bharat', we should have said `Bharat that is Hindustan'. Official documents refer to the `composite culture', but ours is certainly not a composite culture. Culture is not wearing of clothes or speaking languages. In a very fundamental sense, this country has a unique cultural oneness. No country, if it has to survive, can have compartments. All this shows that changes are needed in the constitution. A constitution more suited to the ethos and genius of this country should be adopted in the future”. The plea for “changes” is swiftly altered to one for a new constitution altogether suited to “the ethos and genius” of the RSS, which completely negates the syncretic plurality of India's rich diversity.

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 the parliament. This system, therefore, facilitates the RSS objective. 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 the rich diversity and social plurality of the Indian society.

Speaking from the Central Hall of the parliament on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the adoption of our constitution, in 2000, the late president, K R Narayanan, summed up this debate in the following way:

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.
Another factor to be borne in mind is the immensity of India, the perplexing variety and diversity of the country, the very size of its population and the complexity of its social and developmental problems. In such a predicament described by one writer, as one of ‘a million mutinies’ there must be in the body politic a vent for discontents and frustrations to express themselves in order to forestall and prevent major explosions in society. The parliamentary system provides this vent more than a system which prefers stability to responsibility and accountability. Our recent experience of instability in government is perhaps not sufficient reason to discard the parliamentary system in favour of the presidential or any other system.
The founding fathers deliberately made the amendment process of the constitution easy so that shortcomings or lacunae in the constitution could be rectified by the parliament without too much difficulty. There are other changes that can be brought about like changes in the electoral law or the functioning of the political parties. Whatever we may do, and we have a right to bring about necessary changes in the political and economic system, 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 bath water and like the tragic character Othello in Shakespeare have to lament later, ‘Like the base Indian, threw a pearl away – richer than all his tribe'.”
By calling for a US presidential style of debate, Mr Advani is, once again, reiterating the fundamental thrust of the RSS and the BJP to change our parliamentary system of democracy to advance their agenda.
Discussing the RSS/BJP's arguments advanced in 2000, when they actively tried to bring about such a change, a noted political commentator observed: “The BJP claims it raised the possibility of changing from the parliamentary to a presidential form of government as an antidote to the endemic instability that had given the country three governments in three years and brought policy and decision-making at the centre to a near-halt.
But if one were to go by the spate of articles that flooded the newspapers, it had a very different agenda. This was to impose a monolithic Hindu regime on the country under the guise of a constitution review. The BJP, its opponents argued, had reached the end of its natural growth. In 1999, it won only two seats more than it had in 1998, and almost half of the ruling coalition's seats in the Lok Sabha were won by its alliance partners. The BJP was being forced to come to terms with the fact that it would probably never come to power on its own, and was therefore chafing at the constraints that working within a coalition were imposing upon it. The presidential system looked like a way out of the impasse – a way of imposing its agenda upon the people without having to win an outright majority of the seats in parliament.” Now, in 2009, with crucial allies deserting the NDA, the BJP is, once again, desperately seeking to drum up support for subverting our parliamentary democratic system in order to advance the RSS agenda.
As the elections come closer, it is clear that the BJP is banking upon its political mascot – sharpening communal polarisation – as its only means of garnering support. It's defence of the most obnoxious and vituperative hate speeches made in Pilibhit, Uttar Pradesh, and `(im)moral policing' in Karnataka is evidence of its efforts of spreading communal hatred as a means to garner electoral support.
It is this diabolic agenda of undermining the secular democratic republican character of modern India that needs to be defeated in the forthcoming elections, for the sake of India, that is, Bharat.