In the backdrop of the majority Narendra Modi-led government riding roughshod over its political rivals, questions are being raised about the efficacy of the cabinet system of government. This also has revived the debate over which is better – the Presidential system or the Parliamentary system.
In this context, the views of Congress MP and former diplomat Shashi Tharoor is pertinent. In an article written for The Indian Express, he has advocated the Presidential form of government, which he believes would enable the elected leader to appoint a cabinet of talents and that voters will be able to vote directly for the individuals they want to be ruled by. He is not the first Congress leader to air such an opinion. Former Congress leader Vasant Sathe too, at one point, floated the idea only to be rejected by his own party.
Tharoor’s concerns find expression amid allegations of a BJP-engineered conspiracy to topple the Ashok Gehlot-led Congress government in Rajasthan. He cited the Madhya Pradesh and Karnataka crises right in the beginning, which he called: “The disgraceful political shenanigans the nation has witnessed.” Tharoor’s concerns reflect the Congress’s woes amid challenging times.
Tharoor further argued that parliamentary democracy “has produced governments dependent on a fickle legislative majority.” He cited the several issues that, according to him, plagues the parliamentary system as he pushed for the direct election of heads.
In this regard, it may be recalled what the National Commission, set up by former PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee in 2000, to “Review the Working of the Constitution” (NCRWC), headed by Justice M.N. Venkatachaliah, said on the subject.
It advocated strengthening of the parliamentary system for which the commission proposed a slew of changes, including the second ballot (or two-round) system for appointing the prime minister and the chief minister. It also recommended a minimum requirement of 50 per cent votes for a candidate to win an election, instead of the present ‘first-past-the-post’ system.
It’s a different matter that the commission’s recommendations were not accepted by the successive governments, and its proposals regarded as unpopular among the political camps.
Now, 20 years down the line, the same debate is likely to rock the political firmament. The question is will it find acceptance among the political parties – most importantly the BJP – as the issue would require a Constitutional amendment to be set in motion.