Parliamentary system in India has been on a decline in the past two decades. The 25 year long period between 1989 to 2014 saw multiple unstable governments coming to power in New Delhi. The decade of 1990s witnessed tremendous instability as governments changed frequently. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to claim that the Prime Minister(s) changed even before the country got familiarized with their name. Besides instability, there was also a great deal of political corruption which came to the fore during this period. The trend of decline of Parliamentary values that set in during that time has only aggravated in the 21st century with new evils emerging. Growing parochialism, corruption, hasty legislations, inadequate attention to debate-discussion-deliberation and moral degeneration, have all walked hand in hand forcing the public discourse towards questioning the very efficacy of this system. Critics have argued for a possible shift to the Presidential system in India. But a case for the continuance of the Parliamentary system is not completely lost.
One unique features of Indian society is the unimaginable diversity that it possesses. Due to this, communities are often at loggerheads with each other because their interests stand to clash with the interests of the other. In view of this inevitable conflict, to prevent democracy from degenerating into ‘tyranny of the majority’, it becomes important that each group find its representation in the decision-making body. Through a diversified executive, the different sections of people in India feel like a part of the decision-making process. Also, a strong parliament capable of wielding enough pressure on the executive is necessary to prevent it from turning a blind eye to the plight of the minorities. In a parliamentary system enhanced and continuous accountability is ensured whereas a presidential system only provides a periodic accountability.
Moreover, there is inherent cooperation between executive and legislature meaning that there is no possibility of a deadlock between the two especially on budget whereas on the other hand in a presidential system due to complete separation of powers there can be a deadlock leading to paralysis in administration. This was witnessed in America in January 2014, when the Senate withheld Obama administration’s budget, compelling the latter to announce a month long government shutdown in the nation. Fortunately, in India such a situation is not possible.
Test of feasibility
Things are easier said than done. It is necessary to be practical. If a Presidential system is adopted in India, the ramifications will be appalling. For instance, a single candidate may not secure a complete majority and more than one round of election may be required which will increase the cost of and electioneering time. Given that elections in India are indeed a ‘costly affair’, this would only hurt the taxpayer. Finally, in view of the polarizing times that we live in today, it will perhaps not be wise to give enormous power in the hands of a single individual who can bypass institutions and take unilateral decisions.
Reform, not change
What has been argued above is however not to say that reforms are not needed in the parliamentary system. Firstly, it needs to be understood that the problems of hung assembly and political instability are due to the diversity of population and non fulfillment of regional aspirations and can be solved by making proper changes into the present system. The three main reforms which are proposed by various committees are —
1. Extending Anti-defection law to Coalitions
Coalition governments are predisposed with ensuring their own survival leading to poor governance and instability. Therefore, by extending the anti defection to the coalitions, the problem of instability could be solved.
2. Introducing German model of constructive Non confidence motion
In Germany a non-confidence motion if passed has to be accompanied by a simultaneous passage Confidence motion by the proposing party. If the latter proposal falls, then the government in power is not compelled to resign. This measure clearly makes falling of a government difficult as an alternative government is a prerequisite.
3. Strengthening the emergence of a healthy coalition culture
This would mean solidifying the culture of respect for rule based order, probity in politics etc.
Thus, to conclude, it could be asserted with a certain degree of conviction that the Parliamentary system despite its several problems is vital for effective functioning of democracy in India. Parliament is a symbol and indeed the temple of democracy, and therefore a commitment to reviving it is a prudent solution than vouching for its destruction.
—Contributed by Suryansh
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