Friday, 3 April 2020

Why Prime Minister Should Be From Lok Sabha

Updated: March 20, 2010 11:47 am

The legacy of Great Britain in the form of parliamentary democracy is commitment to the nation given by Congress Party in Lahore session of 1929-30. It meant a strong opposition with good suggestions (The suggestions are for healthy democracy) and as such they are not to be laughed away as the Congress is doing in those days. They are to be seriously considered and if they are good, they need to be given a practical shape. This makes the Constitution a living document. The opposition should also behave in a responsible way. It is not only to pre-dispose oppose but also to suggest and propose.

            The second feature is the accountability of the executive towards the people through its elected representatives. The responsibility is towards the lower House, as it has more powers and is considered to be a responsible House and not only a revisory House in ordinary matters. The corollary is to have a Prime Minister from the lower House. The third is political awakening, which is for the public.

            Since 1964 many efforts have been made to consolidate the gains of opposition parties by a strategy, which does not divide votes. Lohia, Kripalani and Deendayal Upadhyaya were the first to make efforts in this direction in the sixties of last century. Unfortunately while Lohia and Kriplani could win bye-elections to Lok Sabha, Deendayal Upadhyaya was defeated in Rajkot. After sometime Lohia died. The second effort was made in 1977 when the opposition’s consolidation in the form of Janta Party fetched good dividends. But it was not a permanent solution and Janta Party split to come into its old shape. The third effort was made in 1989, when elections were held on the issue of reservations to backward castes. The VP Singh government got the support of both the BJP and the left but could not continue. Since VP’s closest Lalu Prasad Yadav arrested LK Advani during his rath yatra, BJP withdrew its support and introduced a vote of no confidence. The VP Singh government was defeated on the floor of the House. It was in 1996 when effort in this direction was again made. I wrote in a research article that efforts would succeed in establishing bi-party system. But the left, which is power hungry and has no existence, would side with the party in power and this happened when Congress needed it in 2004.

            The second essentiality is accountability; As said earlier accountability towards Parliament meant accountability towards lower House. Since the upper House (Rajya Sabha) has neither financial power nor the power to vote out the government.

            There may be many differences between Indian polity and the Westminster model, yet the principle of accountability is the core attribute of any parliamentary democracy. It is the Prime Minister who faces various motions, out of which, cut motion and vote of no confidence are introduced and passed only in the Lok Sabha. A Prime Minister is the maker and un-maker of a ministry. Till now no no-confidence motion or cut motion has been introduced in the Rajya Sabha. A Prime Minister, who is not a member of the Lok Sabha but faces a confidence motion, creates an astonishing position. First three Prime Ministers—Jawaharlal Nehru, GL Nanda and Lal Bahadur Shastri—belonged to the Lok Sabha.

The fourth Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi became Prime Minister under extraordinary situation. She was a member of the Rajya Sabha. She could have enjoyed this situation, but she opted to contest elections from Rae Barely (when election were held after a few months) and won. Here it is worth mentioning that from 5th to 12th Prime Ministers—Morarji Desai, Charan Singh, Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi, Chander Shekhar, VP Singh, Narasimha Rao and AB Vajpayee—were all from the Lok Sabha. The trend of being a PM from the Rajya Sabha started with Deve Gowda, IK Gujral and Manmohan Singh, Even when Indira Gandhi was Prime Minister, one of the opposition members, Madhu Limaye moved a constitutional amendment to make it essential for the Prime Minister to be a member of the Lok Sabha, but at the assurance of Deputy Minister Yunus Saleem that the government is contemplating to bring such a bill in the near future, the move was withdrawn.

            Mrs Gandhi remained a Prime Minister, as member of the Rajya Sabha, only for a small period, but she felt that she should have been from the Lok Sabha. When she lost elections in 1977 she could have become a leader of the opposition by getting membership to the Rajya Sabha, but she opted to contest for the Lok Sabha seat from Chikmangloor.

            In 1996, AB Vajpayee became a Prime Minister for only 13 days. He resigned. The Congress could not elect any common agreeable candidate and the third front’s candidate, Jyoti Basu was not acceptable to a section of the left and also Congress. Thus, Deve Gowda became the next choice. He was a member of Karnataka Vidhan Parishad. He opted to be a member of the Rajya Sabha, as he openly stated that he is afraid of the Congress game plan about him. And it happened when Sita Ram Kesri, the then Congress president, withdraw the support in a vote of no confidence. This was the second time when a PM faced defeat in Parliament–the first being VP Singh. The Congress could not elect any leader from within itself since it did not enjoy majority. It chose the third front leader IK Gujral as its leader. He was again from the Rajya Sabha. Being afraid of Congress as its major supporter and having seen the fate of Charan Singh and Deve Gowda, he was afraid of contesting the Lok Sabha election. And the inevitable happened–the Congress withdrew support. In the next election in 1998, AB Vajpayee of NDA became PM. After a year, he was defeated on the floor of the House by one vote. Mrs Sonia Gandhi’s efforts to become Prime Minister could not succeed. The next elections resulted in AB Vajpayee becoming the Prime Minister. He was again from the Lok Sabha. In 2004, NDA lost elections to Congress just by five seats. Dr Manmohan Singh had not contested election but was a member of the Rajya Sabha from Assam. Probably he was also afraid of contesting election especially when Rajiv Gandhi had declared that he could become PM at anytime. He did not contest even the 2009 election and again became PM by remaining as the member of the Rajya Sabha.

            It has been seen that the Congress helps/wants to bring a member of the Rajya Sabha as PM. This is morally and conventionally wrong and only a weak leader would like it. The legacy and conventions of Britishers basis of democracy are missing with the Congress presently assuming power at the centre. Mr Sangma recently stated that PM should be from the Lok Sabha. He had followed LK Advani but a seasoned Congress spokesperson, Manu Singhvi has laughed at him because he knows the weakness. But he should have encouraged this idea being based on Indian and British accountability. At the most, an amendment should have been made to make it constitutionally valid. But it seems that he is not serious about the much-needed constitutional amendment. Moreover, a convention and assurance need to be honoured. The present political system prevents the members of the Parliament from exercising the principle of accountability. Volumes have been written on the functioning of political parties and their role in a democratic state. The Congress should respect the Constitution and not to laugh away the suggestions of opposition and its own allies. We should go by the sprit of the Constitution and parliamentary democracy and make it compulsory for the PM to be a Member of the Lok Sabha. This would make public accountability a reality. Also there is a need to make ballot secret when voting takes place. Already bi-party system has started to vote as per the whip issued by the party. No body can cast vote against the whip of the party. As such vote of no confidence has no meaning.

            Within sixty years of Indian Republic, the government has not thought of correcting the above flaw in the Indian constitutional political system, not to speak of providing bread and butter, education and other basic amenities to the countrymen, and weeding out the curse of corruption and terrorism in the country by distributing “Padma” awards to most ineligible people.

            Now when PM is not the Member of the Lok Sabha, it appears to be a mockery, as no confidence against his leadership is introduced in this House and a Member is not allowed to vote as per his conscious. Therefore, our effort should be aimed at bringing about accountability, which is possible only through political awakening and constitutional reforms.

By Prof Ravindra Nath Pal

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