All India Christian Council Condemns the Recommendation to Introduce Anti Conversion Law in Manipur Anti Conversion Law is a Draconian, Manipur cannot Afford another Draconian Law

All India Christian Council Condemns the Recommendation to Introduce Anti Conversion Law in Manipur
Anti Conversion Law is a Draconian, Manipur cannot Afford another Draconian Law
Imphal, June 28, 2012
All India Christian Council condemns the recommendation by Indigenous People Forum to introduce the Manipur Freedom of Religion, the anti conversion law. Various national and international human rights forums have termed that Anti Conversion Bills are draconian laws that violate fundamental and constitutional rights of fellow citizens.
The anti conversion law was recommended during one day workshop on Lure and Proselytization and Constitutional Interpretation of Freedom of Religion organised by Indigenous People’s Forum at Imphal on June 24.
Manipur has suffered enough from draconian law for six decades and the state cannot afford at any cost to have another draconian law. All India Christian Council will oppose any forces attempting to turn Manipur into any other state where Hindutva forces operate.
The Anti Conversion Laws in Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, and Chhattisgarh have been misused by Hindutva forces to harassed minorities. The innocent members of minority religions have been harassed under the draconian laws. The religious fanatic groups in the state of Manipur are targeting to harass the innocent members of minorities.
All India Christian Council believes that hidden tactic of Hindutva forces could be behind the ideology of Indigenous People’s Forum attempting to bring the anti conversion law. The Christian Council cautions the people of Manipur to be alert the tactic of Hindutva forces that attempt to destroy the peace and harmony of the community. The Hindutva forces have poisoned the social fabrics of community peace and harmony within the states of Gujarat and Orissa.
The freedom of religion is the fundamental and constitutional rights of every Indian citizen, which is also guaranteed by Universal Declaration of United Nation on fundamental rights. Everybody has rights to choose and reject the religion he or she likes. The Christian Council condemns any individual or groups involved in lure, force, and fraudulent conversion.
The All India Christian Council (www.christiancouncil.in), birthed in 1998, exists to protect and serve the Christian community, minorities, and the oppressed castes. The aicc is a coalition of thousands of Indian denominations, organizations, and lay leaders.

An open letter to RSS Sarsanghchalak, Shri Mohan Bhagwat on why a Hindutvadi should not be the Prime Minister of India.

n open letter to RSS Sarsanghchalak, Shri Mohan Bhagwat on why a Hindutvadi should not be the Prime Minister of India.

To,
Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh Sarsanghchalak, Shri Mohan Bhagwat ji,
Namaskar.
I was not surprised to read your comments in newspapers that it was not necessary to be a secular person to occupy the office of Prime Minister in a Democratic-Secular India. As per the press reports you wondered why a Hinduwadi could not become PM of India.[i] I am sure you understand better than me that being a Hinduwadi is not the same as professing Hindu religion. Our national leaders like Mahatma Gandhi, Sardar Patel, Jawaharlal Nehru, Subhashchander Bose, Rammanohar Lohia, Rajguru, Sukhdev and many-many more were Hindu by faith but not Hinduwadi.  In fact, Mahatma Gandhi, a great practitioner of Hind religion, was brutally assassinated for not being a Hinduwadi by a gang having allegiance to Hindu Mahasabha and RSS. Surely, by Hinduwadi you mean a believer in Hindutva, a kind of political Hinduism, outlined by Vinayak Damodar Savarkar ji in his book Hindutva[ii] and later developed by RSS ideologues like M. S. Golwalkar. You will agree with me that RSS, under your command currently, has been a prominent flag-bearer of Hindutva since its inception in 1925.
I feel before arriving at the conclusion that there is no harm in allowing person/s who believes in Hindutva to become PM of India we will have to understand what Hindutva is. You will agree with me that we need to understand whether Hindutva is compatible with principles of Democracy, Justice, Egalitarianism &Secularism.  In this connection, please, allow me to scrutinize some of the original documents and sources which legitimately belong to the RSS or its brother organizations like Hindu Mahasabha. If you find that I am dishonest in referring to these or misrepresenting facts, you will be at liberty to initiate defamation process against me.
DOES HINDUTVA STAND FOR A TWO-NATION THEORY?
Bhagwat ji! I would like to refresh your memory that both the originator of Hindutva, V. D. Savarkar ji and its flag-bearer, RSS earlier and under your command too had and have unequivocal faith in in Two-nation theory; that Hindus and Muslims are two different nations. While Muslim League under the leadership of Mohammed Ali Jinnah resolved to have a separate homeland for Muslims of India in the form of Pakistan in 1940, Savarkar propagated as early as 1937 that Hindus and Muslims were two different nations.  While delivering presidential address to the 19th Hindu Mahasabha session at Ahmedabad Savarkar ji unequivocally declared,
“As it is, there are two antagonistic nations living side by side in India, several infantile politicians commit the serious mistake in supposing that India is already welded into a harmonious nation, or that it could be welded thus for the mere wish to do so. These were well meaning but unthinking friends take their dreams for realities. That is why they are impatient of communal tangles and attribute them to communal organizations. But the solid fact is that the so-called communal questions are but a legacy handed down to us by centuries of cultural, religious and national antagonism between the Hindus and Moslems…Let us bravely face unpleasant facts as they are. India cannot be assumed today to be a unitarian and homogenous nation, but on the contrary there are two nations in the main: the Hindus and the Moslems, in India.”[iii]
Sir! Has it not been the cardinal principle of your organization also? The RSS following into the foot-steps of Savarkar ji, always rejected the idea that Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs and Christians together constituted a nation. Your English organ,Organizer, on the very eve of Independence, (August 14, 1947) editorially (titledWhither) underlined its belief in Two-Nation theory once again in the following words:
“Let us no longer allow ourselves to be influenced by false notions of nationhood. Much of the mental confusion and the present and future troubles can be removed by the ready recognition of the simple fact that in Hindusthan only the Hindus form the nation and the national structure must be built on that safe and sound foundation…the nation itself must be built up of Hindus, on Hindu traditions, culture, ideas and aspirations.”
Bhagwat ji! Please, help our country to understand how the believers in Hindutva are different from pre-partition Muslim Leaguers who once played prominent role in dismembering India.
DOES HINUTVA RESPECT NATIONAL FLAG AND DEMOCRACY?
Sir, it may not be out of context to know your attitude towards National Flag which represents a Democratic-Secular India. It is important to know it from the head of organizations which swears by Hindutva. I would like to draw your attention to the following statement which appeared in the English organOrganizer, again on the eve of Independence:
“The people who have come to power by the kick of fate may give in our hands the Tricolour but it never [sic] be respected and owned by Hindus. The word three is in itself an evil, and a flag having three colours will certainly produce a very bad psychological effect and is injurious to a country.” [iv]
Can those who denigrate the National Flag in such foul language be allowed to rule this country?
Sarsanghchalak ji! Lay persons like me need to know from practitioners of Hindutva like you what you think of Democracy. I would like to draw your attention to a statement made by second Sarsanghchalak of the RSS and its most prominent ideologue till date, M. S. Golwalkar. As per the RSS archives Golwalkar ji while addressing a group of 1350 top level cadres of the RSS in 1940 declared:
“RSS inspired by one flag, one leader and one ideology is lighting the flame of Hindutva in each and every corner of this great land.”[v]
Learned Bhagwat ji! This slogan of one flag, one leader and one ideology was also the battle cry of Fascist and Nazi parties of Europe in the first half of 20thcentury. What they did to democracy is well-known to this world. Can those who believe in such totalitarian designs be allowed to rule our country?
DOES HINDUTVA STAND FOR CASTEISM?
Sarsanghchalak ji! You will agree with me that RSS and its brother organizations who want to have a Hindutva rule in India hated the Constitution of India which was drafted under the guidance of Dr. B. R. Ambedkar. When the Constituent Assembly of India had finalized the Constitution of India RSS was not happy. Its organ, Organizer in an editorial on November 30, 1949, complained:
“But in our constitution there is no mention of the unique constitutional development in ancient Bharat. Manu’s Laws were written long before Lycurgus of Sparta or Solon of Persia. To this day his laws as enunciated in theManusmriti excite the admiration of the world and elicit spontaneous obedience and conformity. But to our constitutional pundits that means nothing.”
Bhagwat ji! It may not be a secret to you that Savarkar ji remained a great protagonist of Casteism and worshipper of Manusmriti throughout his life. The institutions of Casteism and Untouchability were the outcome of Manu’s thought about which Savarkar said the following:
Manusmriti is that scripture which is most worshipable after Vedas for our Hindu Nation and which from ancient times has become the basis of our culture-customs, thought and practice. This book for centuries has codified the spiritual and divine march of our nation. Even today the rules which are followed by crores of Hindus in their lives and practice are based on Manusmriti. TodayManusmriti is Hindu Law.”[vi]
Sir! What kind of civilization the RSS under your command and under Hindutva ideology wants to build by enforcing the laws of Manu, can be known by having a glimpse of the laws prescribed by Manu for the Dalits/Untouchables and women. Some of these dehumanizing and degenerate laws, which are presented here, are self-explanatory.
LAWS OF MANU CONCERNING DALITS/UNTOUCHABLES.
(1) For the sake of the prosperity of the worlds (the divine one) caused the Brahmana, the Kshatriya, the Vaisya, and the Sudra to proceed from his mouth, his arm, his thighs and his feet.
(2) One occupation only the lord prescribed to the Sudras, to serve meekly even these (other) three castes.
(3) Once-born man (a Sudra), who insults a twice-born man with gross invective, shall have his tongue cut out; for he is of low origin.
(4) If he mentions the names and castes (gati) of the (twice-born) with contumely, an iron nail, ten fingers long, shall be thrust red-hot into his mouth.
(5) If he arrogantly teaches Brahmanas their duty, the king shall cause hot oil to be poured into his mouth and into his ears.
(6) With whatever limb a man of a low caste does hurt to (a man of the three) highest (castes), even that limb shall be cut off; that is the teaching of Manu.
(7) He who raises his hand or a stick, shall have his hand cut off; he who in anger kicks with his foot, shall have his foot cut off.
(8) A low-caste man who tries to place himself on the same seat with a man of a high caste, shall be branded on his hip and be banished, or (the king) shall cause his buttock to be gashed.
(9) Let him never slay a Brahmana, though he have committed all (possible) crimes; let him banish such an (offender), leaving all his property (to him) and (his body) unhurt.
LAWS OF MANU CONCRNING WOMEN
1.  Day and night woman must be kept in dependence by the males (of) their (families), and, if they attach themselves to sensual enjoyments, they must be kept under one’s control.
2.  Her father protects (her) in childhood, her husband protects (her) in youth, and her sons protect (her) in old age; a woman is never fit for independence.
3.  Women must particularly be guarded against evil inclinations, however trifling (they may appear); for, if they are not guarded, they will bring sorrow on two families.
4.  Considering that the highest duty of all castes, even weak husbands (must) strive to guard their wives.
5.  No man can completely guard women by force; but they can be guarded by the employment of the (following) expedients:
6.  Let the (husband) employ his (wife) in the collection and expenditure of his wealth, in keeping (everything) clean, in (the fulfillment of) religious duties, in the preparation of his food, and in looking after the household utensils.
7.  Women, confined in the house under trustworthy and obedient servants, are not (well) guarded; but those who of their own accord keep guard over themselves, are well guarded.
8.  Women do not care for beauty, nor is their attention fixed on age; (thinking), ‘(It is enough that) he is a man,’ they give themselves to the handsome and to the ugly.
9.  Through their passion for men, through their mutable temper, through their natural heartlessness, they become disloyal towards their husbands, however carefully they may be guarded in this (world).
10.     (When creating them) Manu allotted to women (a love of their) bed, (of their) seat and (of) ornament, impure desires, wrath, dishonesty, malice, and bad conduct.
11.     For women no (sacramental) rite (is performed) with sacred texts, thus the law is settled; women (whoare) destitute of strength and destitute of (the knowledge of) Vedic texts, (are as impure as) falsehood (itself), that is a fixed rule.
I would like to remind you that a copy of Manusmriti was burnt as a protest in the presence of Dr. BR Ambedkar during historic Mahad agitation in December, 1927.
Sir! You will agree with me that Golwalkar ji was the most prominent theorist of the RSS and he like Savarkar ji, believed that Casteism was a natural integral part of Hinduism. In fact, Golwalkar went to the extent of declaring that Casteism was synonymous with the Hindu nation. According to him, the Hindu people are none else but
The Virat Purusha, the Almighty manifesting himself […] [according to purusha sukta] sun and moon are his eyes, the stars and the skies are created from hisnabhi [navel] and Brahmin is the head, Kshatriya the hands, Vaishya the thighs and Shudra the feet. This means that the people who have this fourfold arrangement, i.e., the Hindu People, is [sic] our God. This supreme vision of Godhead is the very core of our concept of ‘nation’ and has permeated our thinking and given rise to various unique concepts of our cultural heritage.[vii]
Sarsanghchalak ji! The truth is that Hindutva is nothing but an ideology which stands for totalitarianism, Casteism and injustice. I would conclude with the words of Dr. B. R. Ambedkar who said:
“If Hindu Raj does become a fact, it will, no doubt, be the greatest calamity for this country…It is a menace to liberty, equality and fraternity. On that account it is incompatible with democracy. Hindu Raj must be prevented at any cost.”[viii]
Bhagwat ji! Reality is that Hindutva is not dangerous for minorities only but also for vast majority of Hindus, specially, Dalits and women.
I would be eagerly looking forward to receive your kind response to issues raised in this letter.
Thanking you.
Yours,
Shamsul Islam
Delhi, 25-06-2012

To Be or Not To Be

To Be or Not To Be
By Peter G Cohen
It is time to tell the truth about nuclear weapons. They are not a deterrent to terrorists, whom security experts regard as the greatest danger to our nation. They do not deter attacks from other nations, because very few want to attack us, and our overwhelming conventional forces are more than enough for our defense.
What nuclear weapons actually do is cost us a great deal of money. Just to maintain the warheads will cost us $7.6 billion next year and $2.5 billion more to prevent proliferation. As we trim our federal budget other programs will be cut, while nuclear weapons funds are strongly defended in the name of National Security and for the benefit of senators and representatives who have facilities in their districts. Many Congress people hope to spend at least $100 billion in the next decade on “modernizing” the planes, missiles and submarines that are ready to deliver the warheads to an unidentified “enemy.”
Nuclear weapons are completely indiscriminate. They incinerate adults, children and pets in the target area without regard for innocence or guilt. The radioactive fallout drifts for miles on the shifting winds. For example, Russian scientists recently concluded that the fallout from Chernobyl has killed 950,000 Europeans.  
Even a relatively small nuclear war would create so much soot that it would drift around the earth for years, blocking the sun and reducing crop yields, thus causing widespread famine. At the same time, the great heat of a nuclear fireball and the following firestorm carries radioactive materials into the stratosphere, where they weaken the ozone layer, causing blindness, skin cancer, and damaged immune systems. It would also destroy aquatic ecosystems, resulting in reduced ocean productivity for years. (for an excellent summary of these effects see: www.ippnw.org/pdf/zero-is-the-only-option.pdf )
For those who are concerned that a nation might try to cheat a Nuclear Weapons Convention, a world system of sensors is now in place. While it is almost impossible to produce a nuclear weapon without testing, this worldwide system will make any nuclear weapons test immediately known to all.
The generals and admirals, the senators and representatives, the nuclear laboratories and plants, believe that they are defending America. Their experts can calculate the megatons of explosive power in each of the weapons systems. But they do not represent the human future, or the millions who would disappear instantly in the fireball or slowly succumb to radiation disease. It is up to people of conscience  to make their voices heard. It is up to mothers and grandmothers to say that it is intolerable and criminal that more than twenty years after the end of the Cold War, Russia and the United States still have more than 3,300 warheads targeted on each other. 
To Be Or Not To Be
If we love money more than life, as some supporters of “modernizing” our nuclear weapons and facilities seem to do, then we must accept the idea that we, or our children and grandchildren, sooner or later, will be incinerated in a flash, poisoned by radioactive fallout, or starved by a nuclear winter. 
As long as we persist in having these weapons, we are investing in a worldwide holocaust that will incinerate, sterilize and starve distant people who have nothing to do with the nations involved in the war, accident, or act of nature that detonates these weapons. 
God has given us this beautiful, abundant planet and the miracle of human life. Human cleverness has provided us with the tools of worldwide suicide. Can we admit that we have gone too far? That human, mechanical or natural failures can plunge us into the final fire? That the only recourse is to overcome our fears, our dream of domination, and our attachment to the profits of death? Only then can the United States take the lead in freeing the world of these suicidal weapons.
# # #
Peter G Cohen, artist and writer, has been a student of nuclear weapons since creating materials for SANE’s Ban the Bomb testing campign in the 1950s. As an activist he was a peace candidate for U.S. representative in the Lehigh Valley in 1968 and the director of the New Democrati Coalition of PA, 1969-’70. He is the author of nukefreeworld.com and other internet writings.Peter now lives in Santa Barbara,  where he can be reached at <aerie2@verizon.net>
Copyright © Peter G Cohen, 2012
[Dear Editors, I want this article distributed as widely as possible. You may use it in any newsletter or magazine wthout permission. This is a Multiple submission.
Thank you, Peter   Phone not for publication: 805.884.0704]


Peace Is Doable

Sinking Into Murky Water With Russia By Raminder Kaur

Sinking Into Murky Water With Russia
By Raminder Kaur
26 June, 2012
Countercurrents.org
In January 2008 I was surfing on the internet when I came across a Wikipedia entry on the Koodankulam Nuclear Power Plant under construction with the Russian Atomsroyexport since 2002. It stated that the nuclear plant when complete will provide a base as well as one-off fuel to a nuclear-powered submarine, news that I circulated at the time. It was also noted that dredging for the Sethusamudram Shipping Canal Project between India and Sri Lanka would make the sea navigable for such large vessels:
There are negotiations to see if a naval base is to be added here for both safeguarding the project and as a presence in the southern tip of the country. [5] A mini port became operational in Koodankulam on January 14, 2004 . [6] The port has been established to receive barges carrying overdimensional equipments for light water reactors from ships anchored at a distance of 1½ km. This removes the necessity of land transportation that increases the possibility of damage. The Sethusamudram project will enhance the military and provide Nuclear Submarine base in the canal, with the nuclear fuel supplied by the Koodankulam Nuclear Project.
The entry is no longer there, presumably edited out in view of the intensified anti-nuclear struggle which has reached a zenith around the Koodankulam Nuclear Power Plant. (1) Moreover, the admission is a major howler on the part of the person who sent it to the worldwide encyclopaedia. In the aftermath of the Indo-US nuclear civilian agreement ratified in 2008, Koodankulam has been classified as a civilian operation subject to inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency. The fuel for India ‘s nuclear-powered submarine can no longer be legally taken from Koodankulam. But the Indira Gandhi Centre for Atomic Research at Kalpakkam on the other side of Tamil Nadu retains its military capacity and will now provide the life-long fuel required for the new Arihant submarine in the form of miniaturised pressurised water reactors. (2)
The Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) are playing a dangerous game of nuclear poker. Examples of state vacillation between civilian and military uses of the Koodankulam region are common. On the one hand, it wants to stress that the Koodankulam Nuclear Power Plant (KKNPP) is a civilian project tying it up with international agreements in the post-2008 scenario so that India appears as a respectable power that can responsibly deal with enhanced nuclear trade.
On the other, internally it wants to stress the defence angle, emphasising how essential power plants such as the KKNPP are to Indian security. Such rhetoric adds leverage to ill-conceived charges of ‘sedition’ and ‘war against the state’ filed against anyone who protests against their plans as has been done in outlandish numbers over the nuclear plant. (3) In fact, the DAE have misled court hearings on Public Interest Writ Petitions by stating that nuclear power stations are vital for national defence and they continue this logic in their campaigns to deter citizens in further querying or critiquing the nuclear plant project on any grounds to do with democratic rights and environmental impact. The former Indian Navy Captain, Dr Buddi Kota Subbarao, now an advocate of the Supreme Court of India describes these cases as fraud on the part of the DAE. (4) The use of DAE defence rhetoric for civilian nuclear power plants is not about defending the nation, but about defending themselves.
It has also come to light that the 1988 Inter-Governmental Agreement with Russia encloses an annexure which states that Russia will provide knowledge and services that relate to India ‘s development of a nuclear-powered submarine. This admission was noted in a website magazine on defence and security affairs, Tempur, in 2009.
The Inter-Governmental Agreement (IGA) that India and Russia Atomstroyexport signed on November 20, 1988 for the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project (KKNPP) officially involved the construction of two 1,000 MWe  Russian VVER-1000-type light water reactors (at a cost of US$3.5 billion) at Kudankulam in Tirunelveli district in Tamil Nadu State. However, a secret annexure of this contract also called for Moscow to offer its ‘consultancy’ and ‘vendor-development’ services, along with the supply of two KLT-40C reactor mock-ups (built by Afrikantov OKBM and designed to deliver 23.5 propeller mW from the 82.5mW reactor and using 20-45% enriched uranium-aluminium alloy, clad in zircaloy), their related heat exchangers and steam generators, plus their detailed engineering drawings off-the-shelf. (5)
The Indo-Russian deal was not just about the construction of a nuclear power plant but accompanied by dividends that bolstered Indian defence ‘know-how’ and ‘know-why’. Whilst this arrangement has only received public attention in recent years, it was in fact initiated before the Indo-US deal when Russia as a Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty signatory violated rules to stop the spread of nuclear weapons and technology . (6) Even though a part of the same deal, the nuclear submarine vessel has been removed from Koodankulam as a military asset for there is no legitimate reason for KKNPP to be developed as a naval base.
In January 2012, the Indian Navy leased a one billion dollar Russian-built vessel for ten years, renaming it INS Chakra II. By the end of this year, India is expected to have developed its own nuclear powered submarine, Arihant, boosted by the deal over the Koodankulam Nuclear Power plant and where Russia will help train the Indian crew. (7)
Russia supplies 70% of India ‘s military hardware – an impressive feat until one thinks about the number of Indian pilots that have died on Russian-supplied MIG aeroplanes. Dubbed ‘flying coffins’ and widow-makers’, the Indian Air force have lost over half of their nearly thousand combat planes in deadly crashes in the last four decades due mainly to technical issues, even though as the film, Rang de Basanti shows so colourfully, officials prefer to put the blame on the pilots. (8)
Similarly, the submarine supplied to the Indian army has also had its share of mishaps. In 2008 a fire extinguishing system was activated by mistake and Freon gas that removed oxygen from the air suffocated around 20 people and injured another 21. (9) Questions about the age of the vessel and the competence of the crew have been raised. Former submarine captain in the Russian Navy, Alexander Nikitin, said that the accident was a result of ‘corruption and disintegration of the military-industrial sector’ in Russia . (10) This was the worst submarine accident since the sinking of the Kursk submarine which left 118 dead in 2000 – a disaster that could in fact have been averted if the Russian government had acted quicker and agreed to international collaboration. A similar disregard surrounded the Chernobyl nuclear disaster of 1986 where, after days of denial, the then USSR authorities conceded that they had a national and global disaster on their hands.
The Indian and Russian nuclear authorities persistently say that technologies and safety checks have been updated with the latest in engineering with regards to the Koodankulam nuclear power plant. The DAE has even petitioned the Madras High Court with the statement that nuclear disasters at Koodankulam are ‘impossible’. (11) But this is a proclamation born out of sheer arrogance. Moreover, the brain drain of Russian scientists in the former USSR has turned into a flood as the country struggles to retain its scientific talents since the collapse of communism. (12) The scientific ingenuity that is left in contemporary Russia does not compare with earlier years when they launched Sputnik into space. A leaked report proves that Russian officials themselves admit that their nuclear reactors are not fit for purpose when it comes to disasters or human negligence. 31 serious flaws in Russian reactor designs have been catalogued. (13)
India has had a love affair with Russia ever since the colonial era. Inspired by the revolution in 1917, communists in India showed a strong allegiance to the superpower, preferring it to alliances with the imperialist west. Political parties from the heady days of the Tashkent meeting in 1920 and organisations such as ‘Friends of the Soviet Union’ chaired by a Congress leader took root to ensure Russian politicians, artists and cultural ambassadors enjoyed a warm welcome in the subcontinent.
Despite Jawaharlal Nehru’s pledge for non-alignment, relations continued as one Cold War superpower jockeyed against the other. India ‘s Intelligence Bureau has had its training from the KGB since the 1950s. KGB activities were countered by CIA and other interventions in which one foreign spy was played off the other by those in India . Under Indira Gandhi’s rule, Cold War opacity became clearer as India leant more and more towards the USSR .
In the contemporary neo-liberal, post 9/11 era, India plays a game of chess with all major powers. Its allegiance with the former USSR continues under deluded circumstances.
The USSR is no more, but the political left idealises it as if it were still a communist country. The left continue to live under an ideological hangover and are tongue-tied when it comes to developing a consistent critique of Russian policy and practice in India . Their reasons stem from the fact that they favour the multipolarity that an alliance with Russia promises, rather than the unipolarity of the USA which, after all, in the global recession is living with a flagging dream of supremacy. They fail to see the reality of Russia today.
A much reduced but no less powerful Russia is in the throes of cut-throat capitalism and a mission to conquer the world through trade deals and natural resource dependency. The oligarchs of old who worked for the Kremlin continue to have parliamentary control and palatial residences but this time tied in with gangster capitalism. It is evident that they have little remorse and take no prisoners when it comes to muscling in on trade, whether it be legal, illegal or the grey area in between. The Kremlin has mutated into a racketeering Gremlin.
On the supposedly legal front, there are examples such as the nuclear corporate, Atomsroyexport with its large share held by the state corporate Rosatom. Together they are responsible for much of the nuclear expansion in the former Communist bloc, Asia and other countries in the south such as Iran . (14) As the controversy of Iran shows, how long these projects remain simply civilian is anyone’s guess. These are also countries where civil society, citizen’s rights and legislature are comparatively weak. Russia takes minimal heed of international or national law as their belated feting of mammon obscures concerns over human rights abuses. Witness Russia ‘s supply of ammunition and military hardware to the governments in Syria with regards to the atrocities committed against its people and, along with China and Israel , in Sri Lanka ‘s civil war that ended brutally in 2009. (15)
On the obviously illegal front, Russia has grown to dominate the trade in real estate, drugs and the sex trade with one of its favoured havens being Goa . (16) But as a report for the United Nations Office for Drug Control and Crime Prevention stated in 2001, their involvement in the so-called legal economy is much more lucrative:
The large criminal organisations that are presented as the dreadful ‘Russian Mafia’ by the domestic and foreign press, are at the moment apparently not interested in the drug business, though some of their younger affiliates may be dealing drugs. The extraordinary enrichment chances offered by the transition to a market economy explain, according to some interviewees, their lack of interest in drug trafficking. As a law enforcement officer put it, ‘they have such huge opportunities to make money in the so-called legal economy, that it makes no sense for them to deal drugs’.
Whether it is above or below board, ruthlessness defines their conduct led by free-wheeling despots with a passion for big bucks, football, fast cars and even faster women.
India continues to be one of Russia ‘s prime customers. Indian officials may declare themselves as patriots who love India , but as Ashis Nandy has argued for the west in more sophisticated language than is used here, they still fantasise about sleeping with the white adversary. (17) White men serve another function – of endorsing decisions made by the Indian state as demonstrated in the number of times politicians and nuclear officials call upon Russians and Croatians to say that their nuclear technology in KKNPP is safe. (18)
A bitter irony is that whilst Russians court Indians in trade and exchange, Russia itself has become a dangerous place in view of widespread racist attacks against anyone who is not white. Racism occurs not just in football grounds but even in the most liberal of their bastions such as universities: ‘ Those with black skin or an Asian appearance rarely venture out alone at night.’ (19) In a report published in May 2012, five people have been killed and about 70 injured in racist attacks so far this year. (20) But the racism is not just limited to ultra-right street thugs. It is evident in their institutions and corporates, and it is also apparent in the lack of regard they have for the lives and livelihoods of Indians living around the Koodankulam power plant in their transnational profiteering.
So why does the Indian government continue to trade with Russia in substandard and potentially dangerous technologies in military and nuclear hardware? Profits for the companies and kickbacks for the handshaking politicians have overruled the safety of Indian citizens. The 1986 Bofors scandal and the revelations of the 2001 Tehelka Operation West End sting operation in 2001 are only the tip of this melting iceberg in an international arms imbroglio. Official arguments about national security and national development are in fact a threat to national wellbeing and prosperity.
Now that nuclear relationships have broadened to encompass US and French corporates in the aftermath of the Indo-US deal, Indian authorities are not just having an affair, but pimping Mother India in the pursuit of profits. Koodankulam has become a region of civil war fought on non-violent grounds led by the People’s Movement Against Nuclear Energy against a venal state that threatens with violence. It is the state that has initiated this sorry state of militarised affairs in what was formerly a beautiful and tranquil region of India , a policy that also terrorises people living in other zones earmarked for nuclear developments.
Raminder Kaur is the author of Atomic Bombay: Living with the Radiance of a Thousand Suns, Performative Politics and the Cultures of Hinduism and co-author with Virinder Kalra and John Hutnyk of Diaspora and Hybridity.
2. http://www.naval-technology.com/projects/arihant-class/ It is interesting that the Sethusamudram project was emphasised as only a shipping canal. Proposals for the canal stress the reduction in time for heavy ships that would no longer need to sail south of Sri Lanka . But the actual saving in time is only a few hours for it cuts sailing by a mere 350 nautical miles, not the thousands of miles saved by other canal projects such as those in Panama and the Suez . In 2009, the Indian Ministry of Shipping declared that cost estimates had increased to around Rs 30,000 crores, an outrageous sum that makes no sense if the project is just to save on a bit of time and fuel. Even though proposals have been made to dredge the canal since colonial times, the reason for its inauguration in 2005 under the United Progressive Alliance party in power in the pre-Indo-US deal era has to be militarily strategic. The project is now on hold after much campaigning on environmental, economic and religious grounds as the peninsular pilgrim centre, Rameswaram, is the legendary place where Ram despatched his army of monkeys across the bridge Ram Setu to Sri Lanka . As any rate, the Sethusamudram Corporation Limited was unable to raise the funds needed to complete the project. See http://www.dnaindia.com/money/report_sethusamudram-project-cost-rises-by-rs-4500-cr_1292583
6. http://www.fas.org/nuke/control/npt/text/npt3.htm The eventual public release of the now outdated Site Evaluation Report in May 2012 also reveals the Russian role in Koodankulam land clearance from the outset.http://www.deccanherald.com/content/252670/soviet-role-kkulam-land-clearance.html ;http://www.countercurrents.org/kaur290512.htm
15. According to an Amnesty International report, the USA and Russia rank first and second respectively in the ‘Big Six’ ring of arms traders. http://www.amnesty.org/en/news/big-six-arms-exporters-2012-06-11See also http://www.thenational.ae/news/world/south-asia/chinas-aid-revealed-in-sri-lankas-victory-parade http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/feedarticle/10288835
17. Ashis Nandy (1989) The Intimate Enemy: Loss and Recovery of Self under Colonialism, Delhi : Oxford University Press.

Shall We Call The President?

Shall We Call The President?

Pending bills, disrupted sessions, no legislation. Maybe it’s time for Parliament to go, says Shashi Tharoor


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Photo Courtesy: Outlook

Our parliamentary system has forced governments to concentrate less on governing than on staying in office

THE RECENT political shenanigans in New Delhi, notably the repeated paralysis of Parliament by slogan-shouting members violating (with impunity) every canon of legislative propriety, have confirmed once again what some of us have been arguing for years: that the parliamentary system we borrowed from the British has, in Indian conditions, outlived its utility. Has the time not come to raise anew the case — long consigned to the back burner — for a presidential system in India?

The basic outlines of the argument have been clear for some time: our parliamentary system has created a unique breed of legislator, largely unqualified to legislate, who has sought election only in order to wield (or influence) executive power. It has produced governments obliged to focus more on politics than on policy or performance. It has distorted the voting preferences of an electorate that knows which individuals it wants but not necessarily which policies. It has spawned parties that are shifting alliances of individual interests rather than vehicles of coherent sets of ideas. It has forced governments to concentrate less on governing than on staying in office, and obliged them to cater to the lowest common denominator of their coalitions. It is time for a change.

Let me elaborate. Every time Parliament grinds to a screaming halt, the talk is of holding, or avoiding, a new general election. But quite apart from the horrendous costs incurred each time, can we, as a country, afford to keep expecting elections to provide miraculous results when we know that they are all but certain to produce inconclusive outcomes and more coalition governments? Isn’t it time we realised the problem is with the system itself?

Pluralist democracy is India’s greatest strength, but its current manner of operation is the source of our major weaknesses. India’s many challenges require political arrangements that permit decisive action, whereas ours increasingly promote drift and indecision. We must have a system of government whose leaders can focus on governance rather than on staying in power. The parliamentary system has not merely outlived any good it could do; it was from the start unsuited to Indian conditions and is primarily responsible for many of our principal political ills.

To suggest this is political sacrilege in New Delhi. Barely any of the many politicians I have discussed this with are even willing to contemplate a change. The main reason for this is that they know how to work the present system and do not wish to alter their ways.

BUT OUR reasons for choosing the British parliamentary system are themselves embedded in history. Like the American revolutionaries of two centuries ago, Indian nationalists had fought for “the rights of Englishmen”, which they thought the replication of the Houses of Parliament would both epitomise and guarantee. When former British prime minister Clement Attlee, as a member of a British constitutional commission, suggested the US presidential system as a model to Indian leaders, he recalled, “They rejected it with great emphasis. I had the feeling that they thought I was offering them margarine instead of butter.” Many of our veteran parliamentarians — several of whom had been educated in England and watched British parliamentary traditions with admiration — revelled in their adherence to British parliamentary convention and complimented themselves on the authenticity of their ways. Indian MPs still thump their desks in approbation, rather than applauding by clapping their hands. When Bills are put to a vote, an affirmative call is still “aye”, rather than “yes”. Even our communists have embraced the system with great delight: an Anglophile Marxist MP, Hiren Mukherjee, used to assert proudly that British prime minister Anthony Eden had felt more at home during Question Hour in the Indian Parliament than in the Australian.


Speaking out of turn, shouting slogans, waving placards and marching into the well of the House are commonplace

But six decades of Independence have wrought significant change, as exposure to British practices has faded and India’s natural boisterousness has reasserted itself. Some state Assemblies in our federal system have already witnessed scenes of furniture overturned, microphones ripped out and slippers flung by unruly legislators, not to mention fisticuffs and garments torn in scuffles. While things have not yet come to such a pass in the national legislature, the code of conduct that is imparted to all newly-elected MPs — including injunctions against speaking out of turn, shouting slogans, waving placards and marching into the well of the House — is routinely honoured in the breach. Equally striking is the impunity with which lawmakers flout the rules they are elected to uphold.

There was a time when misbehaviour was firmly dealt with. Many newspaper readers of my generation (there were no cameras in Parliament then) will recall the photograph of the burly socialist MP, Raj Narain, a former wrestler, being bodily carried out of the House by four attendants for shouting out of turn and disobeying the Speaker’s orders to remain seated. But over the years, standards have been allowed to slide, with adjournments being preferred to expulsions. Last year, five MPs in the Rajya Sabha were suspended from membership for charging up to the presiding officer’s desk, wrenching his microphone and tearing up his papers — but after a few months and some muted apologies, they were quietly reinstated. Perhaps this makes sense, out of a desire to allow the Opposition its space in a system where party-line voting determines most voting outcomes, but it does little to enhance the prestige of Parliament.

Yet there is a more fundamental critique of the parliamentary system than the bad behaviour of some MPs. The parliamentary system devised in Britain — a small island nation with electorates initially of a few thousand voters per MP, and even today less than a lakh per constituency — assumes a number of conditions that simply do not exist in India. It requires the existence of clearly- defined political parties, each with a coherent set of policies and preferences that distinguish it from the next, whereas in India, a party is all too often a label of convenience a politician adopts and discards as frequently as a film star changes costumes. The principal parties, whether “national” or otherwise, are fuzzily vague about their beliefs: every party’s “ideology” is one variant or another of centrist populism, derived to a greater or lesser degree from the Nehruvian socialism of the Congress. We have 44 registered political parties recognised by the Election Commission, and a staggering 903 registered but unrecognised, from the Adarsh Lok Dal to the Womanist Party of India. But with the sole exceptions of the BJP and the communists, the existence of the serious political parties, as entities separate from the “big tent” of the Congress, is a result of electoral arithmetic or regional identities, not political conviction. (And even there, what on earth is the continuing case, after the demise of the Soviet Union and the reinvention of China, for two separate recognised communist parties and a dozen unrecognised ones?)

PRESIDENT PRECEDENTS
Blasts From The Past

The debate for a presidential form of government over the parliamentary form has been on for some time now

• Former president R Venkataraman, as minister in the Tamil Nadu government, had sent a draft resolution to the AICC in 1965 recommending constituting a committee to examine an executive directly elected by the people for a fixed term.

• In 1967, the India International Centre conducted a colloquium on the subject with contributions from British peer Max Beloff, among others. During the next few years JRD Tata, GD Birla, Justice KS Hegde and former CJI BP Sinha advocated a fixed executive.

• The first paper advocating a presidential form was prepared by AR Antulay in 1975 during the Emergency, which met with resistance from Jayaprakash Narayan. Indira Gandhi said it was “an inspired document circulated by mischievous people to create a scare”.

• Jayaprakash Narayan opposed it saying “temptation would be too great for a president, if he were strong, to usurp people’s rights”. The socialist and communist parties consistently opposed a presidential system.

• The Swaran Singh Committee report submitted in 1976 looked into the issue and declared the parliamentary system “best suited” for the country because it “ensures greater responsiveness to voice of the people”. Antulay and Vasant Sathe, members of the committee framing the report, argued vigorously to the contrary.

SOURCE: Granville Austin’s Working a Democratic Constitution – The Indian Experience

THE LACK of ideological coherence in India is in stark contrast to the UK. With few exceptions, India’s parties all profess their faith in the same set of rhetorical clichés, notably socialism, secularism, a mixed economy and non-alignment, terms they are all equally loath to define. No wonder the communists, when they served in the United Front governments and when they supported the first UPA, had no difficulty signing the Common Minimum Programme articulated by their “bourgeois” allies. The BJP used to be thought of as an exception, but in its attempts to broaden its base of support (and in its apparent conviction that the role of an Opposition is to oppose everything the government does, even policies it used to advocate itself ), it sounds — and behaves — more or less like the other parties, except on the emotive issue of national identity.

So our parties are not ideologically coherent, take few distinct positions and do not base themselves on political principles. As organisational entities, therefore, they are dispensable, and are indeed cheerfully dispensed with (or split/reformed/merged/dissolved) at the convenience of politicians. The sight of a leading figure from a major party leaving it to join another or start his own — which would send shock waves through the political system in other parliamentary democracies — is commonplace, even banal, in our country. (One prominent UP politician, if memory serves, has switched parties nine times in the past couple of decades, but his voters have been more consistent, voting for him, not the label he was sporting.) In the absence of a real party system, the voter chooses not between parties but between individuals, usually on the basis of their caste, their public image or other personal qualities. But since the individual is elected in order to be part of a majority that will form the government, party affiliations matter. So voters are told that if they want an Indira Gandhi as prime minister, or even an MGR or NTR as their chief minister, they must vote for someone else in order to indirectly accomplish that result. It is a perversity only the British could have devised: to vote for a legislature not to legislate but in order to form the executive.

Photo: EC Archives

What our present system has not done as well as other democratic systems might, is ensure effective performance

So much for theory. But the result of the profusion of small parties is that today we have a coalition government of a dozen parties, some with just a handful of MPs, and our Parliament has not seen a single-party majority since Rajiv Gandhi lost his in 1989. And, as we have just seen in the debacle over FDI in retail, and as also happened three years ago on the Indo-US nuclear deal, dissension by a coalition partner or supporting party can hamstring the government. Under the current system, India’s democracy is condemned to be run by the lowest common denominator — hardly a recipe for decisive action.

The disrepute into which the political process has fallen in India, and the widespread cynicism about the motives of our politicians, can be traced directly to the workings of the parliamentary system. Holding the executive hostage to the agendas of a range of motley partners is nothing but a recipe for governmental instability. And instability is precisely what India, with its critical economic and social challenges, cannot afford.

The fact that the principal reason for entering Parliament is to attain governmental office creates four specific problems. First, it limits executive posts to those who are electable rather than to those who are able. The prime minister cannot appoint a Cabinet of his choice; he has to cater to the wishes of the political leaders of several parties. (Yes, he can bring some members in through the Rajya Sabha, but our Upper House too has been largely the preserve of fulltime politicians, so the talent pool has not been significantly widened.)

Second, it puts a premium on defections and horsetrading. The Anti-Defection Act of 1985 was necessary because in many states (and, after 1979, at the Centre) parliamentary floor-crossing had become a popular pastime, with lakhs of rupees, and many ministerial posts, changing hands. That cannot happen now without attracting disqualification, so the bargaining has shifted to the allegiance of whole parties rather than individuals. Given the present national mood, I shudder to think of what will happen if the next election produces a Parliament of 30-odd parties jostling to see which permutation of their numbers will get them the best rewards.

Photo: AFP

We need strong executives not only at the Centre and in the states, but also at local levels, like towns and panchayats

THIRD, LEGISLATION suffers. Most laws are drafted by the executive — in practice by the bureaucracy — and parliamentary input into their formulation and passage is minimal, with very many Bills passing after barely five minutes of debate. The ruling coalition inevitably issues a whip to its members in order to ensure unimpeded passage of a Bill, and since defiance of a whip itself attracts disqualification, MPs loyally vote as their party directs. The parliamentary system does not permit the existence of a legislature distinct from the executive, applying its collective mind freely to the nation’s laws.

Fourth, for those parties that do not get into government and realise that the outcome of most votes is a foregone conclusion, Parliament itself serves not as a solemn deliberative body, but as a theatre for the demonstration of their power to disrupt. The well of the House — supposed to be sacrosanct — becomes a stage for the members of the Opposition to crowd and jostle, waving placards and chanting slogans until the Speaker, after several futile attempts to restore order, adjourns in despair. In India’s Parliament, many Opposition members feel that the best way to show the strength of their feelings is to disrupt the lawmaking rather than debate the law. Last year, an entire session was lost to such daily disruptions; this year’s winter session has seen two weeks of daily adjournments, many in the presence of bemused visiting members of other countries’ legislatures.

Apologists for the present system say in its defence that it has served to keep the country together and given every Indian a stake in the nation’s political destiny. But that is what democracy has done, not the parliamentary system. Any form of genuine democracy would do that — and ensuring popular participation and accountability between elections is vitally necessary. But what our present system has not done as well as other democratic systems might, is ensure effective performance.

The case for a presidential system of either the French or the American style has, in my view, never been clearer.

The French version, by combining presidential rule with a parliamentary government headed by a prime minister, is superficially more attractive, since it resembles our own system, except for reversing the balance of power between the president and the council of ministers. This is what the Sri Lankans opted for when they jettisoned the British model. But, given India’s fragmented party system, the prospects for parliamentary chaos distracting the elected president are considerable. An American or Latin American model, with a president serving both as head of state and head of government, might better evade the problems we have experienced with political factionalism. Either approach would separate the legislative functions from the executive, and most important, free the executive from dependence on the legislature for its survival.

A LEGISLATIVE YEAR LOST

Lok Sabha Bills introduced
Session Planned hours Actual sitting Time lost (%) Plan Performance
Winter 2010 144 8 90% 32 9
Budget 2011 138 117 18% 34 9
Monsoon 2011 156 104 33% 34 13
Rajya Sabha
Session Planned hours Actual sitting Time lost (%) Plan Performance
Winter 2010 120 3 89% 31 0
Budget 2011 115 80 17% 33 3
Monsoon 2011 130 81 41% 37 10
SOURCE: Session 1-4: Statistical Handbook; 2010 Session 5-7: Resume of work; Session 8: Statement of work, Lok Sabha, Resume of work Rajya Sabha
NOTE: Time of sitting of Lok Sabha has been taken as 11 am to 6 pm. Time of sitting of Rajya Sabha has been taken as 11 am to 5 pm. Parliament often compensates for lost time by sitting overtime. The above data does not take this into account. Financial and Appropriation Bills are not included.

(prepared by PRS Legislative)

A directly-elected chief executive in New Delhi, instead of being vulnerable to the shifting sands of coalition-support politics, would have stability of tenure free from legislative whim, be able to appoint a Cabinet of talents, and above all, be able to devote his or her energies to governance, and not just to government. The Indian voter will be able to vote directly for the individual he or she wants to be ruled by, and the president will truly be able to claim to speak for a majority of Indians rather than a majority of MPs. At the end of a fixed period of time — let us say the same five years we currently accord to our Lok Sabha — the public would be able to judge the individual on performance in improving the lives of Indians, rather than on political skill at keeping a government in office. It is a compelling case.

Why, then, do the arguments for a presidential system get such short shrift from our political class?

Photo: AFP

We have a coalition of a dozen parties. Our Parliament has not seen single-party majority since Rajiv Gandhi lost his in 1989

At the most basic level, our parliamentarians’ fondness for the parliamentary system rests on familiarity: this is the system they know. They are comfortable with it, they know how to make it work for themselves, they have polished the skills required to triumph in it. Most non-politicians in India would see this as a disqualification, rather than as a recommendation for a decaying status quo.

The more serious argument advanced by liberal democrats is that the presidential system carries with it the risk of dictatorship. They conjure up the image of an imperious president, immune to parliamentary defeat and impervious to public opinion, ruling the country by fiat. Of course, it does not help that, during the Emergency, some around Indira Gandhi contemplated abandoning the parliamentary system for a modified form of Gaullism, thereby discrediting the idea of presidential government in many democratic Indian eyes. But the Emergency is itself the best answer to such fears: it demonstrated that even a parliamentary system can be distorted to permit autocratic rule. Dictatorship is not the result of a particular type of governmental system.

In any case, to offset the temptation for a national president to become all-powerful, and to give real substance to the decentralisation essential for a country of India’s size, an executive chief minister or governor should also be directly elected in each of the states, most of which suffer from precisely the same maladies I have identified in our national system. The case for such a system in the states is even stronger than in the Centre. Those who reject a presidential system on the grounds that it might lead to dictatorship may be assured that the powers of the president would thus be balanced by those of the directly-elected chief executives in the states.

I would go farther: we need strong executives not only at the Centre and in the states, but also at the local levels. Even a communist autocracy like China empowers its local authorities with genuine decentralised powers: if a businessman agrees on setting up a factory with a town mayor, everything (from the required permissions to land, water, sanitation, security and financial or tax incentives) follows automatically, whereas in India, a mayor is little more than a glorified committee chairman, with little power and minimal resources. To give effect to meaningful self-government, we need directly elected mayors, panchayat presidents and zilla presidents, each with real authority and financial resources to deliver results in their own geographical areas.

INTELLECTUAL DEFENDERS of the present system feel that it does remarkably well in reflecting the heterogeneity of the Indian people and “bringing them along” on the journey of national development, which a presidential system might not. But even a president would have to work with an elected legislature, which — given the logic of electoral arithmetic and the pluralist reality of India — is bound to be a home for our country’s heterogeneity. Any president worth his (democratic) salt would name a Cabinet reflecting the diversity of our nation: as Bill Clinton said in his own country, “My Cabinet must look like America.” The risk that some sort of monolithic uniformity would follow the adoption of a presidential system is not a serious one.

Democracy, as I have argued in my many books, is vital for India’s survival: our chronic pluralism is a basic element of what we are. Yes, democracy is an end in itself, and we are right to be proud of it. But few Indians are proud of the kind of politics our democracy has inflicted upon us. With the needs and challenges of one-sixth of humanity before our leaders, we must have a democracy that delivers progress to our people. Changing to a presidential system is the best way of ensuring a democracy that works.

Is that the most important thing for India, some ask. BR Ambedkar had argued in the Constituent Assembly that the framers of the Constitution felt the parliamentary system placed “responsibility” over “stability” while the presidential did the opposite; he did not refer to “accountability” and “performance” as the two choices, but the idea is the same. [See box for Ambedkar’s remarks.] Are efficiency and performance the most important yardsticks for judging our system, when the inefficiencies of our present system have arguably helped keep India united, “muddling through” as the “functioning anarchy” in Galbraith’s famous phrase? To me, yes: after six-and-a-half decades of freedom, we can take our democracy and our unity largely for granted. It is time to focus on delivering results for our people.

Some ask what would happen to issues of performance if a president and a legislature were elected from opposite and antagonistic parties: would that not impede efficiency? Yes, it might, as Barack Obama has discovered. But in the era of coalitions that we have entered, the chances of any party other than the president’s receiving an overwhelming majority in the House — and being able to block the president’s plans — are minimal indeed. If such a situation does arise, it would test the mettle of the leadership of the day, but what’s wrong with that?

Parliamentary Over Presidential

BR Ambedkar’s remarks in the Constituent Assembly on why we chose the parliamentary system

Photo: Getty Images

THE PRESIDENTIAL system of America is based upon the separation of the executive and the legislature. So that the president and his secretaries cannot be members of the Congress. The Draft Constitution does not recognise this doctrine.

The ministers under the Indian Union are MPs. Only MPs can become ministers. Ministers have the same rights as other members of Parliament, namely, that they can sit in Parliament, take part in debates and vote in its proceedings.

Both systems of government are, of course, democratic and the choice between the two is not very easy. A democratic executive must satisfy two conditions:
1. It must be a stable executive, and
2. It must be a responsible executive

Unfortunately, it has not been possible so far to devise a system which can ensure both in equal degree. You can have a system which can give you more stability but less responsibility or you can have a system, which gives you more responsibility but less stability.

The American and the Swiss systems give more stability but less responsibility. The British system, on the other hand, gives you more responsibility but less stability. The reason for this is obvious.

The American executive is a non-parliamentary executive, which means that it is not dependent for its existence upon a majority in the Congress, while the British system is a parliamentary executive, which means that it is dependent upon a majority in Parliament.

Being a non-parliamentary executive, the Congress of the United States cannot dismiss the executive. A parliamentary government must resign the moment it loses the confidence of a majority of the members of Parliament.

Looking at it from the point of view of responsibility, a non-parliamentary executive being independent of Parliament tends to be less responsible to the legislature, while a parliamentary executive being more dependent upon a majority in Parliament become more responsible.

The parliamentary system differs from a non-parliamentary system in as much as the former is more responsible than the latter but they also differ as to the time and agency for assessment of their responsibility.

Under the non-parliamentary system, such as the one that exists in USA, the assessment of the responsibility of the executive is periodic. It is done by the electorate.

In England, where the parliamentary system prevails, the assessment of responsibility of the executive is both daily and periodic. The daily assessment is done by members of Parliament, through questions, resolutions, no-confidence motions, adjournment motions and debates on addresses. Periodic assessment is done by the electorate at the time of the election, which may take place every five years or earlier.

The daily assessment of responsibility that is not available under the American system is it is felt far more effective than the periodic assessment and far more necessary in a country like India. The draft Constitution in recommending the parliamentary system of executive has preferred more responsibility to more stability.”

What precisely would the mechanisms be for popularly electing a president, and how would they avoid the distortions that our Westminster-style parliamentary system has bequeathed us?

In my view, the virtue of a system of directly-elected chief executives at all levels would be the straightforward lines of division between the legislative and executive branches of government. The electoral process to get there may not initially be all that simple. When it comes to choosing a president, however, we have to accept that elections in our country will remain a messy affair: it will be a long while before Indian politics arranges itself into the conveniently tidy two-party system of the US. Given the fragmented nature of our party system, it is the French electoral model I would turn to.

Under parliamentary system, we are defined by narrowness. A presidential set-up will renew demand for an India for Indians

As in France, therefore, we would need two rounds of voting. In the first, every self-proclaimed netaji, with or without strong party backing, would enter the lists. (In order to have a manageable number of candidates, we would have to insist that their nomination papers be signed by at least 10 parliamentarians, or 20 members of a state Assembly, or better still, both.) If, by some miracle, one candidate manages to win 50 percent of the vote (plus one), he or she is elected in the first round; but that is a far-fetched possibility, given that even Indira Gandhi, at the height of her popularity, never won more than 47 percent of the national vote for the Congress. More plausibly, no one would win in the first round; the two highest vote-getters would then face each other in round two, a couple of weeks later. The defeated aspirants will throw their support to one or the other survivor; Indian politicians being what they are, there will be some hard bargaining and the exchange of promises and compromises; but in the end, a president will emerge who truly has received the support of a majority of the country’s electorate.

Does such a system not automatically favour candidates from the more populous states? Is there any chance that someone from Manipur or Lakshadweep will ever win the votes of a majority of the country’s voters? Could a Muslim or a Dalit be elected president? These are fair questions, but the answer surely is that their chances would be no better, and no worse, than they are under our present system. Seven of India’s first 11 prime ministers, after all, came from Uttar Pradesh, which surely has no monopoly on political wisdom; perhaps a similar proportion of our directly-elected presidents will be from UP as well. How does it matter? Most democratic systems tend to favour majorities; it is no accident that every president of the United States from 1789 to 2008 was a white male Christian (and all bar one a Protestant), or that only one Welshman has been prime minister of Great Britain. But then Obama came along, proving that majorities can identify themselves with the right representative even of a visible minority.

Photo: AFP

Democracies favour majorities; every US president from 1789 to 2008 was a white Christian. But then Obama came along

I dare say that the need to appeal to the rest of the country will oblige a would-be president from UP to reach across the boundaries of region, language, caste and religion, whereas in our present parliamentary system, a politician elected in his constituency on the basis of precisely such parochial appeals can jockey his way to the prime ministership. A directly-elected president will, by definition, have to be far more of a national figure than a prime minister who owes his position to a handful of political kingmakers in a coalition card-deal. I would also borrow from the US the idea of an Electoral College, to ensure that our less populous states are not ignored by candidates: the winner would also be required to carry a majority of states, so that crushing numbers in the cow belt alone would not be enough.

And why should the Indian electorate prove less enlightened than others around the world? Jamaica, which is 97 percent black, has elected a white Prime Minister (Edward Seaga). In Kenya, President Daniel arap Moi hailed from a tribe that makes up just 11 percent of the population. In Argentina, a voting population overweeningly proud of its European origins twice elected a son of Syrian immigrants, Carlos Saul Menem; the same phenomenon occurred in Peru, where former president Alberto Fujimori’s ethnicity (Japanese) covers less than one percent of the population. The right minority candidate, in other words, can command a majority; to choose the presidential system is not necessarily to make future Narasimha Raos or Manmohan Singhs impossible. Indeed, the voters of Guyana, a country that is 50 percent Indian and 47 percent black, elected as president a white American Jewish woman, who happened to be the widow of the nationalist hero Cheddi Jagan. A story with a certain ring of plausibility in India…

The adoption of a presidential system will send our politicians scurrying back to the drawing boards. Politicians of all faiths across India have sought to mobilise voters by appealing to narrow identities; by seeking votes in the name of religion, caste and region, they have urged voters to define themselves on these lines. Under our parliamentary system, we are more and more defined by our narrow particulars, and it has become more important to be a Muslim, a Bodo or a Yadav than to be an Indian. Our politics has created a discourse in which the clamour goes up for Assam for the Assamese, Jharkhand for the Jharkhandis, Maharashtra for the Maharashtrians. A presidential system will oblige candidates to renew the demand for an India for the Indians.

Any politician with aspirations to rule India as president will have to win the people’s support beyond his or her home turf; he or she will have to reach out to other groups, other interests, other minorities. And since the directly-elected president will not have coalition partners to blame for any inaction, a presidential term will have to be justified in terms of results, and accountability will be direct and personal. In that may lie the presidential system’s ultimate vindication.

Though the author is a Congress MP, the views expressed in this article are
strictly personal
© Copyright Shashi Tharoor, 2011

office@tharoor.in


From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 8, Issue 50, Dated 17 Dec 2011