Sunday, May 2, 1999
After seeing eight Central governments in a decade, the nation needs to change the way governments are formed by its elected representatives, opines Sai R. Vaidyanathan
IN the last 10 years, the nation has seen eight governments at the Centre. Since 1989, only one government, that of Narasimha Rao, has managed to complete its full term. All political parties agree that the era of coalition governments has dawned on the Indian political scene.
The single-party rule of the Congress is now over. Also changed is the character of the contest from the Congress, anti-Congress tussle to a BJP-anti-BJP tussle. But the irony of it is that, unlike the Congress in the past, the BJP has been not yet able to muster up enough MPs for a five-year stint at the Centre. Nor is the anti-BJP combine, a cohesive entity with the requisite number.
Since 1989, the country has seen four general elections. Holding elections at such a rate puts a heavy burden on the exchequer, especially when our economy has been 'off the rails' since 1991. After every election, all political parties try their very best to muster the magic figure and not 'force the people' into another election.
The framers of the Constitution had decided on holding elections every five years as it made economic sense. The national economy could afford elections after this gap.
The gap of five years makes political sense too. Any government which assumes office would require a few years to achieve any national goal. Nowadays, any achievement of any government is also shared by the previous governments, as they were 'the ones who initiated it'. This happened in the case of the Pokhran II blasts.
The national economy is in a bad state. The governments in the past decade should have taken some bold and unpleasant steps and got it back on track. But due to political uncertainty, every Budget was treated as the ultimate Budget before the elections and no unpleasant desicions were taken.
With a government lasting five years, the voters had a larger experience of a government's performance. Instead, powerless governments of today perform very little and are afraid to take any decisions. Anti-incumbency makes many heads roll. Since Rajiv Gandhi in 1984, no PM has had two consecutive terms in office. The voter is left to choose those who are the least rotten of the pack.
As dissimilar was the anti-Congress combine in the past, the same is true of the BJP and the anti-BJP combine of today. Allies have been instrumental in bringing down governments. The BJP rath yatra brought down the VP Singh government. Police officers in front of Rajiv Gandhi's residence brought down Chandra Shekhar. The Congress didn't like the style of functioning of Dewe Gowda and I.K. Gujral. After bringing down these governments, Sitaram Kesri, the then Congress President, asked for their support to form the government on the grounds of like-mindedness.
Then, the BJP sought alliances with so many parties which had very little in common, except a desire to rule at the Centre. After-election politics forced Chandrababu Naidu, the Convenor of the UF, to leave their side.
The throne was not a bed of roses for Vajpayee either. His very own allies, the Shiv Sena, the Bajrang Dal, the RSS and the VHP were creating terror in the minority communities, media and sport circles. The Akalis created trouble on Udham Singh Nagar, while Mamata and Jayalalitha are continually issued threats of withdrawal of support.
As we enter into the 50th year of India being a Republic, based on our experiences of the last decade, we definitely need to make a change as to how governments are formed and run by our elected representatives.
The national economy cannot afford frequent elections. It must be made clear to the political parties that elections can be held not earlier than four years.
In circumstances that a political party or coalition is able to prove its majority in the House, the democratic process continues as we are accustomed to.
In case, no party or coalition is able to muster the requisite number, and the time lapse since the last election is less than three and a half years, the President should appoint nominees to head various ministries in the Central government. These nominees should choose a leader amongst themselves as the Prime Minister. This continues till a period of four years is completed since the last elections. After this period, fresh elections should be conducted.
If a period of more than three and a half years has passed since the last election and the government loses the confidence of the House and no party or coalition is in a position to form the government, the President should ask the Prime Minister to continue as caretaker Prime Minister for six months, by which period fresh elections are conducted.
If a government nominated by the President is in office and fresh elections have not be announced, any party or coalition which has the confidence of the House then, can assume office and continue till a period of five years. The President should nominate ministers from the elected MPs. The number of MPs chosen from various parties by the President should be proportional to the party's strength in the House. Party leaders can recommend the names of their MPs to the President.
The nominated MPs would choose a leader from amongst themselves as the Prime Minister.
The condition of such a government coming to power is a remote possibility as it would occur only after all political parties have exhausted their efforts, trying to form a government. No coalition government in India has lasted a complete term, having managed a maximum of three years.
But would this work? Let's begin at the beginning choosing the Prime Minister. It would be very similar to today's coalition governments choosing him, except it would be more difficult with more parties.
If that is done, this kind of government would have to draft a common minimum programme, keeping the controversial issues out, just as the coalition governments of today.
Portfolios would be shared by MPs from different parties, again similar to what the coalition governments do nowadays.
What if some party does not want to be in the government for some reason from the beginning or somewhere in the middle? It most definately can sit in the Opposition.
If more and more MPs disagree with the government and call for the government's dismissal, the President can dismiss that government and form another.
For the national economy, this change ensures that the nation spends on elections only once in four or five years. At a time when political instability is scaring potential investors, this new kind of political stability would attract investors and boost economic growth.
With this change in effect, the democratic process gets a fillip. Instead of forming opportunistic alliances, just to rule at the Centre, political parties will be forced to seek alliances with parties of similar ideologies as they would have that combination for the next four or five years. Political parties will work sincerely to form alliances before and after elections, to ensure that the nominated government is not in office.
This would also curb the tendency of the 'allies' to bring down governments and force elections after withdrawing support on petty issues. With allies not breathing down their necks, PMs would perform better and thus give voters a longer period by which to judge the working of their elected representatives. If this experiment succeeds at the Centre, it could be extended to state governments as well.
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