What is best suited for India- Parliamentary System or Presidential System? Debate

Context


MP from Thiruvananthapuram Mr Shashi Tharoor has started a debate as to why Presidential System is best suited for India. While some are taking his side, some others are disagreeing with his viewpoint. The opinion is divided. Some are providing alternate solutions.

Let us examine some of the nuances of it.


What are the differences between Presidential System and the Parliamentary Democracy?


  • President has the executive power and is directly voted upon by the people. The President is answerable to the voters rather than the legislature.
  • While, in a parliamentary system, the legislature holds supreme power. The prime minister is chosen by members of the legislature and in practice is the leader of the majority party in the legislature. The prime minister along with his cabinet members must also belong to the legislature, and they are individually and collectively responsible to the legislature.

Why was Parliamentary Democracy choose in India at the first place?


  • India has been familiar with its working during the times of British Rule. The framers of the constitution were greatly influenced by the English system.
  • India is a nation extremely diverse country with a lot of groups with conflicting interests. All these varied groups are ensured representation in the Parliament through this form of government.
  • The Constitution of India rejected the Presidential system as in the U.S.A. on the grounds that under such a system, the Executive and the Legislatures are separate from and independent of each other, which is likely to cause conflicts between them, which our infant democracy could ill-afford to risk.

Why Shashi Tharoor says “we should scrap Parliamentary Democracy”?


India’s parliamentary system is indiscipline and full of inefficiencies. Shashi Tharoor says, only the British could have devised.

  • Unqualified Legislators: It has created a system where a legislator is largely unqualified to legislate and becomes a legislator only to be able to become executive one day.
  • No genuine separation of powers: the legislature cannot truly hold the executive accountable since the government wields the majority in the House and there are anti-defection laws so an MP of a party doesn’t vote against his party high command’s wish. The parliamentary system does not permit the existence of a legislature distinct from the executive, applying its collective mind freely to the nation’s laws.
  • Coalition Dharma: Our system has also produced unstable coalition governments which have to focus more on politics than on policy or performance. It has forced governments to concentrate more on staying in office instead of governance, and has made them to cater to the lowest common denominator of their coalitions, since withdrawal of support can bring governments down.
  • Distortion of Voter Preferences: It has distorted voting preferences too. Voters, who want to see, say, Narendra Modi as Prime Minister or Mamata Banerjee as Chief Minister, have to vote for an MP or MLA they may not care for, merely because he/she belongs to Mr. Modi’s or Ms Banerjee’s party.
  • Criminalization of Politics: It is argued that the politicians today are mostly incompetent, dishonest and have criminal background. Thus, the criminalization of Indian politics has made it a “dirty game”. They hardly think about the progress of our nation and its people. They take their parliamentary tenure as a period to gain as much as they want.

Merits of Presidential System


  • Stability of the Government: Presidential form of government ensures stability of the government. The executive can carry on with its policy till the end of its full term. It helps in bringing stability to administration.
  • Unhindered Decision making: The presidential executive is free from obstacles such as political pressure and coalition dharma. He makes his own decisions and gets them implemented through his own ministers.
  • No influence of Political Party: The executive is free from the evils of party influence in his daily administration as compared with parliamentary form of government.
  • Checks and Balances: In the Presidential system, the executive, legislature and judiciary are independent of each other. This separation of power contributes to checks and balances in the system making it more democratic since there is no absolute concentration of powers in the same body and the presence of other organs ensure proper working of the system.
  • More Suitable for Multi-party systems- The multi-party system invokes political concerns everywhere in the system making it prone to political instability and inefficiency. To check this, a strong executive as in the Presidential system is required, for the sake of people’s interest and stability.

Disadvantages of the Presidential System


  • Bulldozing Legislature: If the legislature is dominated by the same party to which the President belongs, a “strong President” may prevent any contrary move from the legislature.
  • Chance of a Deadlock: On the other hand, if the legislature is dominated by a party opposed to the President’s party and decides to checkmate him, it could lead to a stalemate in governance because both the President and the legislature would have democratic legitimacy.
  • Dangers of Dictatorship: A diverse country like India cannot function without consensus-building. This “winner takes it all” approach, which is a necessary consequence of the presidential system, is likely to lead to a situation where the views of an individual can ride roughshod over the interests of different segments.
  • Reforming States: To be able to bring Presidential System at the centre, we will have to move simultaneously to a “gubernatorial” form in the States. A switch at the Centre will also require a change in the States.

Feasibility of the going to Presidential Form of Government


  • Supreme Court has formulated a Basic Structure doctrine in the Keshavanada Bharati judgement and the doctrine includes the Parliamentary form of Government as one if its tenets.
  • Unless the Supreme Court changes its mind, any such amendment would violate the ‘basic structure’ of the Constitution as was decided since 1973. There is no way to get around this unless the Supreme Court now takes a wholly different view.

Conclusion


  • This debate has been brought up and discussed whenever there has been a super-majority government. From Jawaharlal Nehru to Indira Gandhi to the present.
  • Both the forms of government have their own merits and drawbacks. But in a country like India, where different religions, languages, culture are practiced, it is necessary that opinions of all the people should be taken into consideration.
  • There are ideas going around about reforming the electoral processes to make democracy more robust such as limiting expenditure of political parties and deciding the ceiling on the expenditure, to holding simultaneous elections, declaring the results for a combination of booths instead of constituencies.
  • We must debate these extensively and bring about reforms by putting pressure on the elected representatives. The citizens play an equally important role as the government in the functioning of the country.
  • Why not reform thoroughly and cleanse the electoral processes?

Do comment your views.

The Article was originally written for ForumIAS by me.
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