India – A true Democracy?

By Parsuram Sastry

We, the people of India, after the regime of the British, opted for a parliamentary form of democracy for our nation. The most pertinent reason for this choice, I believe, emanated from our realization that having a non-accountable, non-responsible and fixed term form of government would breed disaster, as was the case for some 350 years.  This form of government was borrowed from various other democracies with the predominance of the British system. Though the system fared well in the recent years following its adoption, the latest trend sees a decline in the effectiveness of this system. Today, the system which was considered to be apt for India, is nothing but a recipe for governmental instability. The reasons for the same are innumerable and this article aims at identifying a weakness that has crept into our system, which if left unchecked might destroy the very purpose of choosing this form of governance.

The Prime Minister and the Chief Ministers are the pillars on whom rests the responsibility of good governance. The Constitution of India provides for the appointment of the Prime Minister and the Chief Minister under Article 75 and 164 respectively. Article 75(3) and Article 164(2) provides that the council of ministers is collectively responsible to the House of the People [Lok Sabha] and the Legislative Assemblies of the State. However, both of these articles remain silent regarding the pre-conditions to be satisfied before a person is to be appointed the head of the government. However, as under our constitution we have adopted democratic system it presupposes that a person elected by the people and commanding majority in the House of the People should be appointed as Prime Minister and similarly a person to be appointed as Chief Minister must be a person elected by the people and who commands majority in the legislative assembly in that respective state. This implied constitutional convention is very comfortably done away with as we have witnessed persons who are not members of the House of the People being appointed to the post of Prime Minister/ Chief Minister. This is absolutely unacceptable as this puts a person, who is not the choice of the masses and not being elected by the people, in an all-important position and this is contrary to our democratic principles.

The problem takes an uglier turn when a person who is not a member of either of the houses is appointed the Prime Minister/ Chief Minister (the appointment of Tribhuvan Narayan Singh, who was not a member of the Uttar Pradesh legislature, as the Chief Minister in 1970, is an example). This is because the Constitution under Article 75(5) and 164(4) allows a person to be appointed a ‘minister’ even when he is not a member of the respective legislature. But, this is for a period of six months only, within which he has to be elected to continue in office. Questions arose before the Supreme Court whether ‘minister’ includes the Prime Minister/ Chief Minister. In my opinion, the Prime Minister/ Chief Minister should not be interpreted to be included in the word ‘minister’ in this Article, as doing the same would prove costly. In case of a minister, if he does not get elected within the stipulated period of six months, he simply vacates his office. Same is not the case with the Prime Minister/ Chief Minister. In circumstances of his failure to be elected within six months, the whole cabinet of ministers is dissolved. This situation is deplorable and must be avoided.

These facts indicate that a weakness has crept into the working of the Constitution with respect to the matter of appointment of a person who is not elected by the people as Prime Minister/Chief Minister as the case may be.  This weakness should be removed in the interest of democracy by the Parliament itself by adopting the principle that only a member of the House of People can be appointed as Prime Minister and consequently only a member of the State Legislative Assembly can be appointed as the Chief Minister.