India has a President, but not a Presidential Form of Government

The author here discusses how in spite of having a President, India doesn’t have a Presidential form of government. It further discusses how a system of government is not only about the prosperity or freedom of an individual, but also about his/her morality

Several sections of the society claim that the democratic structure in India has been built solely based on British Parliamentary democracy along with their knowledge of what they have been deprived of. Thus, according to these sections of people, the Westminster Model of Democracy is fit for our reality. Historically, three criticisms have been made on the presidential form of government: “the president can assume dictatorial powers; the executive is not responsible to the directly elected legislature; and finally, if the president belongs to one party and another party controls the legislature, it can lead to conflict and paralysis.”[1] Nevertheless, all these criticisms can be dealt with.

Benefits of the Presidential System

  • Firstly, it would push political parties to be more democratic and stable. Each political party must have to opt their strongest candidates because there would be a straightforward head-to-head contest. The people are not going to tolerate anyone less. There would not be any alternative power centres, remote controls and backseat drivers. Many that are not in the magic circle would get a chance.
  • All the voters will get to know their candidates intimately. The electorate will have sufficient data to take call on the candidates. 
  • The President will have the sole authority on the executive body. 
  • He can add the finest and brightest members to his government, regardless of what parties there are affiliated to. These members will be serving at the pleasure of the President and be accountable to him. He will not have to establish targets for his allies or assign critical roles to senior, however, to incompetent leaders. Nor is he going to have to spend time worrying about their allegiance.
  • The government will remain stable. People have the power to vote as well as vote out the President. He’s neither going to have to appease unfair allies nor negotiate all the way. He can raise FDI industry limits, boost fuel costs, and increase rail rates without worrying that its job is in risk or that it would be pressured to scale back such steps.
  • Lastly, the legislature will be free to carry out its work. Parliament has the job of passing the laws. However, the opposition law-makers have started to feel that their job is to bring down the administration. If the power is stripped from them, it will get them back to their primary duty of negotiating legislation and adopting regulations that can change a lot of people.

Arguments against Presidential system

  • The presidential form centralizes control in an individual, unlike the legislative framework, in which the prime minister is the first amongst equals. The renunciation of powers to a single person, as in the presidential form, is harmful to democracy.
  • The over-centralization of power with one person is something that we should protect against. Many who speak in favour of the regulatory framework always say that protections and regulations are in effect: a strong legislature could thwart even a strong president. Nevertheless, if the authority is ruled by the same party to which the President belongs to, a powerful President or a “Solid President” can preclude any move from the legislature.
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In India, the image of the Presidential structure is sullied as its face has been synonymous with the autocrat. How precisely does the framework of the U.S. render it difficult for the President to become a dictator?

  • Firstly, there exists a federal structure. Governments of the States are genuinely sovereign. They cannot be managed even by the allied powers of the Congress and the President.
  • The executive, legislative and Judiciary are not only distinct in authority but also in institutions. Each of these institutes receives its power directly from its citizens, not from any department.
  • Each institution is in harmony with the others. Within the legislature, there is a balance between both the House and the Senate and therefore, the President. In Judiciary, it is with the executive and legislature and then with the states. The executive shall be matched with the Senate in respect of treaties as well as appointments.
  • Lastly, every individual has firm control over them all. The legislative and executive branches are elected separately. 

What are the concerns concerning the Indian Context?

The idea that the Presidential form of government might falls into tyranny first took hold during Indira Gandhi’s Emergency in the mid-1970s. This framework was generally speculated that she decided to follow a presidential style of government to enforce her strict control. Nevertheless, the misconception that the presidential structure has autocratic characteristics always prevails.

The presidential form of government may not be suitable for India

·      A diverse nation like India, cannot operate without consensus-building. The approach of “winner takes it all,” which is a natural consequence of the Presidential framework, is likely to contribute to a circumstance in which the preferences of the leader will run roughshod over the desires of the various groups.

·      People who speak in favor of the Presidential form of government have only the “Centre in mind.” These people did not think of the obvious implication, which is that we would have to switch immediately to a “gubernatorial” process in the States. The shift to the Centre would, therefore, entail a transition in the Member States.

Nevertheless, a shift to the Presidential form of governance will not be feasible in our present constitutional framework owing to the “basic structure” doctrine which was pronounced by the Supreme Court in 1973, which was adopted by the political elite regardless any hesitation, except for an abortive effort by the government of Indira Gandhi during the emergency to overthrow it. Upon evaluating both the British Model as well as the American Model and after Dr B.R Ambedkar had drawn up a balance sheet of their advantages and limitations, the Constituent Assembly has made a rational decision. Altering the informed decision taken by the Constituent Assembly will lead to violation of “basic structure” of the Constitution. 

The principle behind choosing Parliamentary form over the Presidential form of government

Framers of the Constitution adopted Parliamentary form based on the principle that “many heads are better than one head”. J. S. Jagdale, in his book “The British Constitution” has rightly stated the position of Prime Minister in Parliamentary form of government. He states that “all ministers are of equal status is a blatantly wrong statement, he states that except Prime Minister all other ministers are nearer to equal.” An important question here is whether Parliamentary form of government as it’s been practised in India today serves this principle or not.[2]

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“Rather than change the system, why not reform thoroughly and cleanse the electoral processes?”[3]

The debate on this topic has a life cycle of its own. This topic was put forward and debated when there was a remarkable-majority government. Right from Jawaharlal Nehru to Indira Gandhi, there has been considerable discussion on two facets of the presidential system: firstly, is it desirable and, secondly, is it feasible? To address the latter aspect first, without changing the opinion of the Supreme Court, any modifications will lead to violation of the “basic structure” of the Constitution as pronounced and since then of the Kesavananda Bharti case.[4] Unless the Supreme Court adopts an entirely different view on this aspect, there is no way to get around this. 

Different models

It is difficult to equate our Rajya Sabha with the U.S. A Senate, in which every state has its Constitution and the power to amend the Constitution. “The relationship between the states and the federal government is extraordinary; as is the status of their courts and the manner of appointment of judges.” Many people have not thought about this and it does not mean anything just to suggest that a change to the presidential system is needed. Currently, the Indian debate is not focussing on the structure of the presidential system envisaged. If we want to change the structure of the government to Presidential form, it requires a significant amendment to the “basic structure” of the Constitution. However, the Supreme Court has articulated its view on this “basic structure.”

Reform the process

Conversely, there are suggestions for changing electoral processes to improve democracy. Right from reducing the expenditure of political parties along with deciding the ceiling on the spending, to holding simultaneous elections, declaring the results for a combination of booths instead of constituencies. For almost 70 years now, the current parliamentary system has been trying and testing. “Rather than change the system, why not reform thoroughly and cleanse the electoral processes?”

“Changing to a presidential system is the best way of ensuring a democracy that works.”[5]

“Our parliamentary system is a perversity only the British could have devised: to vote for a legislature to form the executive.” It has developed the legislator, which is mostly non-legislative and who has sought elections only to exercise executive authority. There is no actual division of powers as the representatives cannot hold the executive accountable because the government has the majority in the Parliament. The Parliamentary structure does not allow the presence of legislature independent from the executive which openly implements the laws of the country in its collective mind. Over the 25 years until 2014, the framework of our system has also created a coalition administration that relies more on politics than on policy or performance. This pressures governments to focus less on governance than on remaining in power and obliges them to follow their coalitions’ lowest common denominator because removal of assistance will cause governments to fall. The parliamentary system distorted the voter’s electoral preferences who know who they want but not sure which parties or policies. Electors who wish to see, say as PM Modi or as CM Mamata Banerjee, must vote for an M.P. for whom they do not care for simply since he belongs to the party of Mr Modi or Ms Banerjee.  

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Failure in the system

India needs political structures which allow decisive action to address many challenges, while ours is increasingly fostering drift and indecision. We need a political structure whose members will concentrate on governance instead of on remaining in power. A practice of direct elections of chief executives at every level of governance for a fixed tenure, invincible to the whims of the legislature along with specifically distinctly defined authority in their respective fields will make India tackle its crucial economy as well as social challenges more effectively. A fixed tenure, say the same mandate of five years which we presently accord to our Lok Sabha, this defined terms will allow the public to determine the success of the person in enhancing the lives of Indians, instead of administrative capacity to retain the office. The misconception that an elected President might become a Caesar is irrational because the President’s power can be harmonized through directly elected chief executives in the states. In any event, emergency proved that an autocratic law could also be skewed by a democratic structure. Dictatorship is not the product of a political structure of a specific sort. 

Direct accountability

Undoubtedly, to get through the budget or to implement any sort of bill, the President must work with the Parliament. The disintegrated Indian politics with hundreds of political parties at the Centre of the dispute makes it challenging to establish a two-party US-style gridlock in Parliament. “An Indian presidency, instead of facing a monolithic opposition, would have the opportunity to build issue-based coalitions on different issues, mobilizing different temporary alliances of different smaller parties from one policy to the next – the opposite of the dictatorial steamroller some fear a presidential system could produce.”

As long argued, “Democracy” is very crucial for the survival of India, and we have the right to be proud of it. However, few Indians are proud of the politics that have been forced on us by our government. We must create a democracy which will bring benefits to our people, despite the demands and problems of one-sixth of humanity facing our government. The best way to maintain a stable government is to transition to a Presidential structure, and the time has come for a transition.

Conclusion

The system of democracy in which people live is essential to their existence. Government is behind both social ills as well as virtue. It defines the character of a society. Good governance makes people honest and decent, and a weak government would make them evil and dishonest. Thus, a system of government is not only about the prosperity or freedom of an individual, but also about his/her morality. For a nation to prosper, it must encourage national vision, ensure fairness along with emboldening participation. If a country has an idea, where the contributions of its people are reasonably recognized, and opportunities for involvement are open, the nation grows.

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[1] Insights into Editorial: Do we need a presidential system? – INSIGHTSIAS, , https://www.insightsonindia.com/2017/03/25/insights-editorial-need-presidential-system/ (last visited Jul 19, 2020).

[2] Scope of “Aid” & ’Advice’ :India Constitution, , RACOLB LEGAL , http://racolblegal.com/meaning-nature-and-scope-of-aid-and-advice-under-indian-constitution-a-critical-analysis/ (last visited Jul 21, 2020).

[3] Raju Ramachandran, Upendra Baxi& Shashi Tharoor, Do we need a presidential system?, The Hindu, March 24, 2017, https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/do-we-need-a-presidential-system/article17617761.ece (last visited Jul 20, 2020)

[4] Kesavananda Bharati v. State of Kerala, (1973) 4 SCC 225.

[5] Supra Note 2