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Presidential Form Of Government: Need Of The Hour?

Presidential government- need of the hour?
At the time of framing of the constitution, Dr. Ambedkar stated the following reasons for preferring parliamentary form of government over a presidential form:
A democratic executive must satisfy two conditions:
  1. It must be a stable executive
  2. It must be a responsible executive.
The Constituent Assembly, considered it best to opt for a parliamentary government structure for India, since in presidential form of government, the same person, acts as the head of the state and the government." In this form the executive is not accountable to the legislature. The President has a fixed tenure and cannot be removed through impeachment or vote by no-confidence in the legislature.

Why parliamentary form was chosen:
It has been opined that the Constituent assembly was merely culmination of a process and evaluation which had commenced under the British rule and passed through several stages of development. The present constitution was thus carried strictly from the Government of India Act, 1935.

Another reason assigned is that the ideals of western liberal democracy nurtured as they had been in the political philosophy of Burke, Mill and Dicey. The result was that our political leaders came to look upon the Westminister model as the goal of their constitutional aspirations. Thus, it was to no surprise, that when the time came for them to exercise the choice they opted in favour of this model.

Ambedkar mentioned that in England where the parliamentary system prevails, the assessment of responsibility of the executive is both daily and periodic. The daily assessment is done by members of the parliament through questions, resolutions, No- confidence motions, Adjournment motions and debates on addresses.

Periodic assessment is done by the electorate at the time of the election which may take place every five years or earlier. This daily assessment of responsibility, not available under the American system, was felt more effective than the periodic assessment and far more necessary in a country like India.[1]

Why need of the hour?
A government is mainly tested on the basis of how well it is shielded from corruption The world's longest running-running democracy is the United States where presidential model is followed and adopted. In roughly, the last 70 years, while India has had 27 administrations, Japan 35, Israel 41 and Italy a whopping 65, the US is nearing the end of her 16th.[2]

India tried to address this instability by passing anti-defection laws, but that had the unfortunate consequences of making MPs and MLAs mere bondsmen to political parties. Another point which we look into is that parliamentary coalitions share the executive power only with the controlling majority but the presidential system shares it with entire people, by virtue of the president's direct election.[3]

Shri Vardhachari in his book President in the Indian constitution referred to a leading constitutional law writer Durga Das Basu.

He mentioned three reasons for our Cabinet system of Government having not worked successfully and they were:
  1. We have got a system of multiple parties, some of which are of mushroom growth or have an insignificant body of followers.
  2. Very few of these parties have any firm or defined policy or ideology which can be presented as an alternative to that advocated by the party in power.
  3. The tradition of the party system in India has been destructive, because of its origin in the upsurge against the imperial rule of which destruction was the principal weapon.
Therefore, even after the attainment of independence some of the parties wasted much time and energy in asserting that this independence was not real, instead of educating themselves in running administration which has become not only an art but a science in modern times.[4]

Another recent factor which we may relate to directly or indirectly but it is one of the main concerns. It is growing criminalisation of politics in a big way, because of which the Parliament is not being accepted a truly representing the electorate and voicing their wishes. This can also be directly linked to unfair practices used during elections. The existence of so many political parties with the intense electoral competition has resulted in side-lining fairness, true representation of people and has virtually broken the backbone of parliamentary form.

Advocates of presidential form of government:
Shri R. Venkataraman (8th president of India), when he was a member of the Planning Commission, he gave a notice in May 1965 to move a resolution in the session of All India Congress Committee (AICC) for seeking to change the constitution by having directly elected executive both in Centre and the States.

In Indian democracy at the cross-roads edited by S.A.H Haqqi, the author summed up as to why a constitutional expert like N.A. Palkhivala is of the opinion that the presidential system should be opted:
  1. It enables the president to form a cabinet consisting of competent, honest and outstanding men since his choice is not restricted to the members of legislature.
  2. Since the members of the cabinet are not the elected representatives of the people, they have no interest in adopting cheap populist tactics.
  3. It would stop defections among legislators which are mostly due to lure office and power.

Personalities like Shashi Tharoor are the ones advocating Presidential form from the front. He believes that parliamentary system has created a unique breed of legislator, largely unqualified to legislate, who has sought election only in order to wield executive power.

There is no genuine separation of powers:
The legislature cannot truly hold the executive accountable since the government wields the majority in the House. He says that this system has also produced coalition governments which have been obliged to focus more on politics than on policy or performance. It has forced governments to concentrate less on governing than on staying in office. The parliamentary system has distorted the voting preferences of an electorate that knows which individuals it wants but not necessarily which parties or policies.[5]

Opponents of presidential form:
Opponents simply pose a question that if failure of parliamentary government is caused by corruption and crisis of character then will the change in the form of government change the scenario?

They are of the view that presidential form is not simply workable in a country like India, given the kind of political culture, economy and context of history and geography in which India is placed. They believe that it will further weaken the institutions of check and balance because they cannot be legislated and will not be allowed to grow in the Indian milieu.

Senior advocate of the Supreme Court Raju Ramchandran says that a switchover to the presidential system is not possible under our present constitutional scheme because of the 'basic structure' doctrine propounded by the Supreme Court in the Kesavananda Bharti case in 1973 which has been accepted by the political class without reservation. He himself has always been a critic to the basic structure doctrine.[6]

Another most important and valid point which the opponents make is that after the presidential form one person gets all the power and there are chances of him abusing it. Even if the president he does not abuse his power opponents are of view that cabinet chosen by him are not the ones elected and represented by the common public. This will have a direct effect on the decisions he make as those decisions will not comprise public's point of view, desires and demands.

If presidential form, then which type?
Besides USA countries like Switzerland, Egypt, Brazil, Chile, Mexico, Uruguay, Sri Lanka, Indonesia etc. also have opted for the presidential form of government. These countries have departed in many ways from the presidential form adopted by America. France and Finland have mixtures of presidential and parliamentary institutions. The presidents of both are directly elected by the voters independently of the legislature and serve for fixed terms. In addition, French president can submit constitutional amendments for popular referendums without the consent of the cabinet and the parliament. In an emergency he can suspend regular Government procedures and take whatever decisions he thinks fit.[7]

In so far as the presidential forms in different countries of Asia are concerned, they have not rigidly adopted the US model but have conferred such powers on their Presidents which were thought necessary for the ultimate good of the country. Talking particularly about India if it were to adopt presidential form then there are many crucial factors need to be taken care of. In our situation president cannot be given all the discretionary powers as it will lead the country's development graph in the downward direction.

Changing the form of a government is not as easy as to pass an executive order. It changes the whole scenario and requires consent of the whole nation. If India were to take this step then it will take more than a decade to implement it. Also, India needs to decide on which type of presidential form to opt. Upendra Baxi, a legal scholar and former vice-chancellor of Delhi University took a different path.

He suggested, rather changing the whole form of the government we should reform thoroughly and cleanse the electoral process. From limiting the number of political parties and deciding the ceiling on the expenditure to holding simultaneous elections, declaring the result for a combination of booths instead of constituencies.

According to me this is the middle way on which we can go as changing the whole form of the government given the diversity, population, size and literacy rate of our country is not feasible. Changing the form of government will lower down our international rankings hence affecting the development. As we are already at the back seat because of the partition and communal conflicts we witnessed, we cannot afford to waste another decade on debating and discussing to change the form. Even if the decision is made then implementing it will take another decade.

  1. B.L. Hansaria, Does India Need a New Constitution? ,pg. 5-14, Eastern Law House 1998.
  2. Pg 148-149
  3. B.L. Hansaria, Does India Need a New Constitution? ,pg. 5-14, Eastern Law House 1998.

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