People's Democracy

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


No. 03

January 19, 2014




NaMo-RaGa Cacophony


Subverting the Parliamentary Form of Democracy


AS we go to press, sections of supporters of the Congress party, appear to be eagerly awaiting the decision of the forthcoming Congress party session on January 17, 2014 to officially confirm its current vice president as their future prime ministerial prospect. Thus, they are waiting to complete the composition of a new political Raga for the 2014 general elections.   However, whether the Congress party so decides or otherwise is their internal decision.


Whatever may be the Congress decision, the NaMo-RaGa cacophony is seriously eroding the foundations of Indian parliamentary democracy by threatening to replace it with some sort of a presidential form of democracy.  Indian parliamentary democracy evolved reflecting the centrality of our constitution – sovereignty resting with the people of India.  “We, the people” exercise this sovereignty by periodically electing our representatives to the legislature (parliament/assemblies etc) who are accountable to us.  The party or a coalition of parties that commands a majority in the legislature elects its leader to form the government.  A government so formed – executive – is accountable to the legislature, which, in turn, is accountable to the people.  In such a scheme, any projection of an individual as the “prime ministerial candidate” simply does not work as he/she may well be defeated in the constituency from where he/she is contesting.  Recollect that even the mighty Indira Gandhi had lost an election in 1977.  It is for this reason that, barring the Left parties, leaders of almost all other parties contest from more than one constituency.  There are instances like our current PM, who never contested for Lok Sabha during ten years in office, or Narasimha Rao, who was elected after assuming office of PM.


Wisely and correctly, the framers of our constitution chose the parliamentary form given India’s vast diversity and linguistic-ethnic-religious-cultural plurality.  The vibrancy of a democracy in such a vast and complex social reality of India can only be possible if all sections of this diversity find representation in the organs of the State. Further, as the first Article of our constitution says, “India, that is Bharat,  is a  Union of States”.  In India, this bedrock of federalism can only be protected and strengthened through the system of parliamentary democracy. A variety of the presidential form as existing in the USA or France may be functionally effective in a relatively ethnically homogenous single language-speaking country.  Even in the UK, the parliamentary system is adopted because of its constituents – the British, Welsh, Scottish and Irish. 


The RSS/BJP had since long advocated the replacement of the current parliamentary democratic system with a presidential form. The BJP in its 1991 election manifesto articulated that it would appoint “a commission to study and report whether presidential system of government will give us the most 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 the 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 had circumscribed the BJP's efforts to impose its hardcore communal agenda in the past. 


The late president, K R Narayanan, speaking on the Golden Jubilee of our republic, in the Parliament 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 period of internal emergency.  Such dangers will multiply exponentially under a presidential system.  


In the urge to gain electoral benefits, the system, arrived 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 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'.”


The Congress and the BJP are seeking to subvert the system, instead of realising that the desertions 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.  Of the major allies that joined the BJP in constituting the NDA, only two, viz., Shiv Sena and the Akali Dal (Badal) continue as partners.  Of the major allies that joined the Congress to form the UPA-2 government in 2009, only the  Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and the J&K National Conference remain its allies today. 


Overwhelming sections of the people who are seeking relief from the growing burdens that are ruining their quality of life rightly perceive little difference between the Congress and the BJP as far as the economic policies or corruption is concerned. On the later score, the readmission of scam-tainted former Karnataka chief minister, Yeddyurappa, by the BJP and the continuation of a Gujarat cabinet minister even after being convicted by the courts reconfirms BJP’s patronage of corruption at high places.


That there is little difference between the two is confirmed by parliamentary experience, as well. Often, on issues of corruption like the 2G spectrum or the coal block allocation scams, in-depth discussion was disrupted lest skeletons stumble out of the previous Vajpayee-led NDA government’s cupboards as well.  This led to credible allegations of `match-fixing’.  On the score of neo-liberal economic policies, whether on measures like permitting FDI in pension funds jeopardising the economic security of crores of employees or undoing bank nationalisation through privatisation and permitting foreign financial institution’s unfettered entry thus making India vulnerable to international financial speculation, the Congress and BJP were on the same side.


Given this, wherever an electoral alternative was available, that received people’s support as seen in the recent state assembly elections. Such a support had a strong element of the urge of the middle class to realise an `ideal’ democratic secular and corruption free State.  Riding on such a desire and  feeding on the deep popular discontent  which was addressed through a sprinkling of promises like 700 litres of free water for every household or halving the electricity charges (with no convincing economic reasoning) the AAP rode to its electoral success in Delhi. 


However, this desire for such an `ideal State’ is simply unrealisable since the `ills’ like corruption and economic burdens are systemic to the policies that are being pursued by the ruling dispensation, be it Congress or BJP led coalitions.  The realisation of such an `ideal State’ can only be possible with alternative policies.  The AAP is silent on such crucial areas like economic policies, attitude towards the communal forces (an opinion poll showed that a majority of its supporters preferred the BJP prime ministerial aspirant),   or the country’s foreign policy and relations with our neighbours. The absence of this will only buttress the current trend of crony capitalist corruption and imposing greater burdens on the people to maximise profits.


An alternative policy trajectory that ensures universal rights and not  entitlements (smacking of charity) to food security; free health care; universal free education; right to employment or adequate unemployment allowance; and universal schemes  for the care of the elderly and differently abled, at least, must form the core of such an alternative. This trajectory is preferable not only in humanitarian terms but makes eminent economic sense as well.  By thus empowering the people, their purchasing power will substantially increase generating the much-needed additional aggregate  domestic demand which, in turn, will provide the impetus for manufacturing growth and, hence, employment. This would set in chain a motion of sustainable and more equitable growth trajectory.


Thus what we need is not merely an electoral alternative but a policy alternative. It is only the strength of a powerful popular people’s struggle that can ensure such a policy based Left-democratic-secular alternative in 2014.


(January 15, 2014)