PARLIAMENTARY SYSTEM

Indian parliament with Mahatma Gandhi
Indian parliament with Mahatma Gandhi

India can be legitimately proud of having been a functioning democracy for six decades. The nation had to face a plethora of difficulties and a succession of external aggressions and internal crises.

That we were nevertheless able to work a vibrant and democratic system, in a country of India’s size and diversity, without any major breakdown, for so long, has been in itself a tremendous achievement particularly when we compare it to the experience of other nations that became independent during the same period. That parliamentary institutions have endured in India for sixty years is a great tribute also to their strength and resilience.

On the attainment of independence from British colonial rule on the midnight of 14-15 August 1947, India became one of the youngest members of the comity of nations. With the commencement of the Constitution on 26 January 1950, she became a ‘Sovereign, Democratic, Republic’ with a representative parliamentary system of government. The concepts of nation and representative parliamentary institutions as modern constructs are said to owe their origin and growth in India to our British connection for some two long centuries. It would, however be wrong to premise, as some scholars do, that India adopted the Westminster system of parliamentary democracy in its entirety as it operated in Britain.

When the founding fathers sat down to frame a constitution for free India, they said goodbye to British rule, but embraced the colonial model of the British system as was developed in India. Nearly 75 per cent of the text of the Constitution was derived from the Government of India Acts 1919 and 1935, the Cabinet Mission Plan and the Indian Independence Act 1947. The Constitution of India was thus made more by the British than by we, the people of India.

Probably, the founding fathers thought that for a country of India’s size, diversity, background and needs, a system of representative parliamentary democracy with universal adult franchise would be the most suited. They repeatedly emphasized that their vision of democracy was not merely political and that the po!ity envisaged by them was relevant only as an instrument for social engineering and for ushering in an era of economic democracy and a more equitable society.

The structure of Indian polity is unique. Though we adopted the parliamentary system, we have given to ourselves a written Constitution which means that the position, powers and jurisdictions of the Executive, Legislature and Judiciary are only as defined and delimited by the Constitution. The Executive or the Government is part of Parliament, comes out of it and remains responsible to it.On the other hand, independence of the Judiciary is guaranteed in Several ways.

The structure at the State level is also broadly parliamentary, similar to the Union. Relationship between the Union and the States is determined by distribution of legislative powers. India is described as Union of States but the Union is indestructible and indissoluble.We are a representative parliamentary democracy and a republic with a President at the head. All executive powers vest in the President but are to be exercised only with the advice of the Council of Ministers responsible to the Lok Sabha.

Indian polity is based on the premise of sovereign power vesting in the hands of the people. It has been polluted by the ugly role of casteism, communalism, criminalization and vote bank politics. The question is to what extent these are relatable to the political system and what political reforms are dictated? The reforms ultimately must lead to making the state and its organs Legislature, Executive and Judiciary-to so conduct themselves as to put the citizen at the centre of our polity, restore credibility and respect to institutions of governance and ensure that the entire administration becomes citizen friendly and leads to building a more united and integrated nation.

During the last few years, it has come to be clearly recognized that the present model of our parliamentary democracy has failed to meet the hopes, aspirations and requirements of the people and that a fresh look at our political system is necessary. The case for some fundamental systemic changes is unassailable. Piecemeal reforms or patchwork solutions will not do. We may have to go in for a reformed parliamentary polity  more in tune with our needs and character. It must be clearly understood that advocacy of a review of the system does not necessarily mean a switch over to the Presidential system or altering any of the basic feature of the Constitution.

Limiting direct elections, having  multi member constituencies, making 50 per cent plus votes necessary for success at the polls, enlarged electoral college for the presidential election, restricting the number of political parties, regulating their structure and functioning by law to ensure inner party democracy, audit of party accounts,etc.may be some other suggestions.

Parliamentary democracy in India will hopefully get over the Present crises and emerge stronger. What we need is an awakened and activist citizenry fully participating in the decision-making, legislative and governance processes of their country.

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