By M.V. Kamath
The time has come for India to give fresh thought to its system of governance. Democracy, as originally conceived, is rapidly degenerating into chaos. Coalition governments have become the order of the day. And they can do no good to the country. It was bad enough for the BJP to form the NDA in 1999 and to rule without much internal bickering within the alliance. Such problems as arose within the alliance were smoothened out fairly promptly, though not without leaving behind some residual bitterness.
But the UPA led by the Congress is turning out to be a pain in the neck. Marginal ´leaders´ are constantly calling the shots, whether they belong to the DMK or to the RJD. Laloo Prasad Yadav is a disgrace. According to one assessment, there are a hundred MPs in the 14th Lok Sabha who have criminal charges against them. Laloo Prasad Yadav is a prime example. Three of his associates have even graver charges levelled against them. One, Taslimuddin, faces nine criminal charges. As early as 1996, a report of the Legislative Committee of the Bihar Assembly had condemned him as ?a habitual criminal whose offences range from extortion, cheating and rape to dacoity and attempts to murder?. The case of Ali Ashraf Fatimi is even worse. And yet the Congress Party has been compelled to include these questionable characters into its coalition government by force of circumstances. Keep them out and the government ceases to have a majority. It falls.
The crux of the Congress Party´s defence is that there is no legal bar against charge-sheeted persons contesting elections and once elected, no statutory constraint against their becoming ministers. This is straining the concept of law and justice to the breaking point. A crook does not become a lesser crook or a saint just because charges against him cannot be proved in a court of law. The Congress is in even worse a situation than the BJP was since it has to depend on the goodwill and cooperation of the Leftist parties which can pull the rug from under the UPA any time they feel like it. What, then, is the solution?
Two solutions present themselves and they need to be carefully considered. One is that the country should shift to the presidential form of government. Under such a system, a government may safely run for its appointed period of five years without being in constant danger of being thrown out by dissident coalition partners. It is one man-and an elected President-who rules the country. He may chose his cabinet members without having constantly to look over his shoulders. He will not be under any compulsion to choose the likes of Laloo Prasad Yadavs as his colleagues in the efficient running of the country. Overnight, regional parties become irrelevant. It is the elected President who calls the shots, not the likes of Laloo Prasads. The DMK leaders may shout and scream, the Leftist parties may holler, but the President is safe. He is his own master. He can choose the best men and women to share his workload, irrespective of their party affiliations; he can even ask for help from essentially non-party men who have shown a capacity for good administration. It is quite possible that under a presidential form of government regional and casteist parties will gradually wither away or become of no consequence.
Had we a presidential form of government and the two leading parties had respectively put up Atal Behari Vajpayee and Sonia Gandhi as their presidential candidates, on current reports there is no doubt who would have won. And Sonia Gandhi would have been shown her place. And for all one knows, Vajpayee may even have chosen Dr Manmohan Singh as his Finance Minister out of sheer recognition of the man´s qualities and calibre. The shady characters now in the Manmohan Singh cabinet would have been forced to crawl into their holes. Given the situation, the people presently may not wish to vote for a presidential form of government. Far too many interests are involved and no political party, howsoever insignificant, would want to lose its power of blackmail. But the nation can´t for ever be hostage to the selfish interests of regional political parties. The country wants good government, not unstable governments. And certainly not governments susceptible to pressures from parties which are strong enough but unwilling to share and bear responsibilities, like the Leftists.
The saddest part of it all is that our political life is infested with casteism. Hardly any principles are involved in the formation of parties. We see that very clearly, for instance, in Uttar Pradesh where both the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party are holding the state and indirectly the country to ransom. Arguably, no other state has seen as rapid a fragmentation of society and the polity as Uttar Pradesh has since the beginning of the 1990s. The nation as a whole has to call a halt to this trend. This is only possible under a presidential form of government.
There is yet another way to cut down if not entirely sweep away regional parties. And that is for the two largest parties who together can form a majority to form the government. In the present instance, the Congress and the BJP will have to join hands and rule the country. The proposal is not all that revolutionary or bizarre as it sounds. It can be made to work and it can work most effectively, given the necessary goodwill. What both parties should look for is the ultimate good of the country. That calls for mutual understanding, a certain amount of ideological sacrifice and adjustments but what the parties may lose, the country gains in stability and security. Indeed, it may produce a political psychology that would be novel and what is more, effective. Certain traditions can be set up on such issues as who should be the Prime Minister and how the various portfolios should be distributed. It calls for a certain amount of sophistication to which our political parties are not strangers. This again is intended to cut down small regional parties to size and make them ineffective. Presently the Congress and the BJP together just about make the majority in the Lok Sabha. The ultimate aim should be to promote a two-party system where small and caste-based parties are made irrelevant and obsolete. Democracy should not be equated with chaos and confusion, but that is what our present system has reduced our political life to. This system has to be reversed if not changed meaningfully.
The country has choices and it should exercise its right to choose what is good for it. We have to show the door to the Mulayams, Laloos, Mayavatis and Sharad Pawars to name just a few. Once they know that they can be effectively marginalised, they will behave better, as hopefully, the communists and Leftists. Let us have the courage to experiment.