Which is the most appropriate system of government – Is it the US-style Presidential form or the British-modeled Parliamentary form? It is an old debate and perhaps there is no definite answer to the question. Each system has its own merits and demerits. The system of government must chosen keeping in mind the prevailing circumstances that determine the choice that is made.
India adopted the Parliamentary system, which has been remarkably successful given the fact that it has survived for more than 70 years. This is especially remarkable when one considers the experience of other erstwhile colonial countries – Most of them failed to maintain a stable political order and have been oscillating between either the parliamentary or presidential system. However, in the recent decades, a debate has spurred over the efficacy of the parliamentary system in providing for a stable government. The presidential system has of late found many proponents.
A comparative view
In a parliamentary system, the head of the State is a nominal head whereas in a presidential system the head of the state is the real head. In other words, in a presidential system the head of the state and the head of the government is the same individual. For instance, in the US, Donald Trump is both the head of the state as well head of the government, while in India, Narendra Modi is the real head whereas Honorable Shri Ram Nath Kovind is the nominal head. In a presidential system people directly elect the President. In a parliamentary system, the head is chosen indirectly by the representatives i.e. members of Lok Sabha.
In a parliamentary system, the Council of Ministers (COM) is collectively responsible to the legislature i.e. COM remains in power so long as it enjoys the confidence (majority) of the legislature. In a presidential system, the COM is responsible only to the President and does not depend on the legislature for its survival. This implies that there is a higher degree of stability in a presidential system, whereas in a parliamentary system, accountability is prioritised. To prove this a real world example would be suffice.
For instance, in the US, we can be sure that the next presidential election will be held only in 2020, then 2024 and so on — Stability is guaranteed. Once elected, the executive will certainly occupy their position till their term is completed. In India, however, nothing can be said when about the timing of next to next general elections. Thus, parliamentary system is in comparison less stable than the presidential system.
Another major difference is that in a parliamentary system, the executive is drawn from the legislature. In a presidential system, the separation of power is pure and complete as the executive is not drawn from the legislature. For instance, in India those who become ministers necessarily have to be the members of the Parliament. Contrary to this, in the United States, the Ministers (Secretaries) are not the members of the legislature (Senate).
India’s choice – The parliamentary system
At the time of independence, Indian policy makers had the choice of adopting either of the two systems, and they opted for the British-modeled system after due consideration.
Firstly, Indians had had an experience of working in the Parliamentary system through the Morley Minto reforms of 1909 when the parliamentary system was adopted in British India.
Secondly, given the diversity in India, it was believed that people’s aspirations will be better represented and safeguarded in a parliamentary system as it ensures greater accountability and control over executive power.
Thirdly, India was both a poor and illiterate country at the time of independence. It suffered with a largely unaware and ignorant citizenry. Hence, India could not afford to give power to a top leader. Thus, it is was thought that it will be wise to let people elect their representative, who shall represent the people’s will and subsequently choose the executive.
A call for change?
In brief, it could be said that while there are certain disadvantages of the parliamentary system in India, reforms have been suggested from time to time. Moreover, given our increasingly polarized society, it would perhaps be wise to bear with certain limitations of the parliamentary system rather than giving absolute power in the hands of a single individual. Efforts need to be made to harmonize stability with accountability.
– Contributed by Suryansh
Picture Credits: intoday.in