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The Need for a Presidential Government in India

Posted by RB Kollannur on September 25, 2008


APJ Abdul Kalam is said to have mentioned that India has never attacked a foreign nation (except the Cholas in Moluccas). Well, he may be right, but the main reason for this is that Indians have always been attacking each other for regional superiority. Outside mythological rulers, India, as we are now, have never been a single nation, until the British left. When the British left, they gave an ultimatum to all the princely states that had autonomy in British India, to choose between India and Pakistan. And so we have India as we see now (Okay, the process was not that smooth). We are a culturally and linguistically diverse nation united by a sense of togetherness that the rest of the world can never boast. The diversity has been our strength as the old proverb of “Unity in diversity” that we were taught in school tells us. However, the regional undertones have always existed as seen by the Marathi pride of Shiv Sena and MNS and the Dravidian spirit represented by the various parties in the south. But all this came to limited avail in the testing days of the fledgling Indian democracy after democracy, thanks to a strong and stable government. Congress dominated proceeding in the national elections for three decades and had an iron clad over the nation to discourage any insurgency (except may be in the north east).

Things have changed in the last two decades. Congress has lost its hold on the country and BJP has come into prominence. For a democracy, a strong opposition is always healthy. But unfortunately for us, neither party has managed to come close to a simple majority on its own. Both now are dependant on coalition partners to secure their hold on the government.

Coalitions add an interesting dimension to democracy. They are fluid and not always long lasting, as has been the case in India when you count the attempts seen in the past two decades to bring down the government. There is always a question of the integrity and consistency of the coalition partners to toe the coalition line. Coalitions are common in parliamentary democracy because there will always be people with different ideologies in a nation. However, the problem in India is that, the other parties in India are largely regional. Outside the left parties there are built around individual politicians who have carved themselves regional niches and control their party steadfastly. The same regional divide that disappeared into the backdrop during the British rule and the Indian independence movement, has raised its ugly head in the form of regional parties. This is where the concern lies for the future of the Republic.

Driven by political egos, theses parties follow the path of their leaders in political posturing and bargaining. The so called national parties (with the largest extent over mass) Congress and BJP woo these leaders by attempting to satiate their ego. The larger parties become increasingly dependant on the smaller parties to get votes. By giving into their ego, they make them more powerful in front of the populace. By focusing on a niche market (to borrow the marketing jargon), the regional parties garner more support from their voters through this game of political bargaining. But outside their immediate location, they fail to make any inroads because they have to face off with the regional parties of these regions. They can switch alliances as and when they please, so the national parties have to appease them for their survival at a national level.

This is where the plot becomes trickier. The regional parties are concerned only about protecting their vote bank, the regional voters. It is easier to pit one region against another (especially one region whose voters are supporting the opposition) in such a scenario. The regional decorum that has been maintained till now, will slowly evaporate. Also, the regional parties may switch sides on their whims bringing down governments as and when they please. So, if a regional party is unhappy about the deal they are getting, they may leave the government. Government stability is compromised. And therein awaits the conundrum for the Indian Republic.

The two national parties, dependant on the regional parties to attain power at the centre, will be impotent at the national level and will not be able to take the nation forward as a whole. Progress, both economic and societal, will be regional, antagonizing one region against another. But more importantly, any government formed will be inherently unstable. The ambiguity over the power of the government will lead to slow decision making, avoiding accountability and inability to take a strong action for the sake of the entire nation. Both the parties, Congress and BJP, will face this dire situation so long they are dependant on the regional parties (If not already)

As things stand, it will be difficult to overhaul the inevitable and change the course for the future. There are two issues that need to be contained 

1) The inability of the two national parties to garner popular support on their own

2) The inherently unstable government

For the latter, the solution is simple. Switch to a presidential democracy. The Constitution of India denies the citizenry of the nation to elect their own government (executive). Instead, it allows you to elect a legislature who selects the government from themselves. So, remove the middlemen. Elect for your own executive, like in US. The legislature is limited to discussing the bills and making laws. A president elected by the people cannot be easily removed. Such a government is likely to last its tenure and act with confidence in the national interest, without the concerns of facing a vote of confidence every other day. The regional parties will still retain certain levels of influence in the initial governments, but as time progresses they may lose their prominence.

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2 Responses to “The Need for a Presidential Government in India”

  1. theanand said

    This is a interesting viewpoint…but wont the govt. get comfortable once they are elected and not concentrate on the development at all? 🙂 Also, the idea of promoting a single person will not go well with a lot of parties including the congress…though BJP has been pitching Advani for sometime now.

    This might be a sign of things to come too, since what we saw in Delhi is a win of Sheila Dikshit than that of Congress.

  2. Arby K said

    I know it has its negatives, but the current system badly needs change.
    Regarding government stability, the decision making gets affected when there is always a threat of government stability. That is not how it should be. After all, any bill still have to be passed by the legislature to become a law. So, if the government is not doing their job, it can be addressed in the legislature. That would be the correct function of the Parliament. I won’t be surprised if Congress and BJP are glad to have political uncertainty removed. Governance is better where if there is a certainty. Easy examples would be Gujarat, Delhi and West Bengal were the government has been able to govern effectively and have been successful.
    With respect to projecting single candidate, everybody looks upto people. Basic human psychology. Congress are reluctant to do it, but they will soon see reason (As u mentioned abt the election in Delhi). Indians are looking for specific people to lead them and what better way than projecting leaders.
    In the end, the posts are more about bringing the idea of Presidential democracy to public view. Currently writing a post abt the same and planning to an orkut community and a facebook group. I know it is the lamest way of doing things, but I think it is important to get the message across, since everyone are still looking for solutions and not getting any. I am hoping it gets picked up and something comes up.
    After all, there’s no harm in trying. If it fails, status quo remains and no harm done 🙂

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