Hindu Vivek Kendra
«« Back
HVK Archives: Need for systemic changes in governing sturcture - Part Two of Two

Need for systemic changes in governing sturcture - Part Two of Two - The Pioneer

Atal Bihari Vajpayee ()
22 November 1996

Title : Need for systemic changes in governing structures - II
Author : Atal Bihari Vajpayee
Publication : The Pioneer
Date : November 22, 1996

Going over the past 50 years, we find that things have
not turned out as they were supposed to. We have no
doubt taken giant strides and overcome many of the chal-
lenges posed by an underdeveloped economy, so much so,
despite the onerous task of feeding a billion people,
India boasts of a surplus food stock and exports agricul-
tural produce, an achievement which is our pride and our
neighbours' envy. In a short span of half-a-century, we
have fought four wars and have had to contend with insur-
gency within our territory. The biggest challenge to our
democracy was overcome when the people rejected the
Emergency regime in the 1977 election, thereby reassert-
ing their democratic spirit. Radical legislation has
brought about major social changes. Low resources not-
withstanding, our scientists in the defence establishment
have toiled night and day to strengthen our security
apparatus. No doubt a lot remains to be done, but the
fact I wish to stress is that we have exhibited a resil-
ience which few "newly-independent countries", as they
were known in the post-colonial era, have shown.

Yet, in spite of all these achievements, why is it that
rather than celebrate the coming of age of India as a
modern nation-state there is little or no rejoicing? More
importantly, why is it that the political class no longer
carries conviction and the supremacy of Parliament has
been severely eroded? Those who were eager participants
in the political process not many years ago have become
indifferent, even cynical. To my mind, that is the big-
gest damage caused by the practitioners of corruption.
And the biggest challenge that we who have preached and
practiced probity in public life face is to restore faith
in the political class and rejuvenate the democratic
process. The dream which we dreamt at the dawn of Inde-
pendence must not, indeed, cannot be allowed to die.

Why is this so important? Simply put, because no democra-
cy can survive if the political class dies and politics
loses its primacy; democracy cannot survive on the pil-
lars of people's cynicism, lack of hope, and absence of
active participation. The result will be increasing
chaos, corruption, instability and lawlessness, all of
which will drive India further away from the cherished
dreams of our forefathers who won freedom from the Brit-
ish yoke with their blood and toil. Moreover, if the
political class dies, it would pave the way for authori-
tarianism and further fragment our society, apart from
fracturing our nation-state. I can prescribe a simple
but rigorous prescription: Absolute probity in public

A second thought I would like to leave with you is to do
with the system. I often wonder whether the Westminster
model has been defeated by the Indian reality. Is it

time to think in terms of a second republic? In the past
too, I have mentioned the need to change the system-not
only of delivery of governance, but of governance itself.
When I see the ridiculous reduction of our parliamentary
system to a level which allows a party with a tenth of
the total number of seats to rule the country, or a party
which is in imminent danger of losing its electoral
symbol holding two key ministries of Home and Agricul-
ture, I am left wondering whether those who framed the
Constitution took this possibility into account.

What, then, should we do? Here are my suggestions.

A nation-wide debate

One, let there be a serious nationwide debate on all the
possible alternatives for system changes to cleanse our
democratic governing system of its present ills. We
should not shy away from discussion the merits of even
the Presidential system of government.

Two, if the Presidential system of government is consid-
ered impractical or undesirable, then we should introduce
radical and underlayed changes in the present parliamen-
tary democracy system itself. Some of the changes worth
considering are as follows.

Proportional representation ("list system"): The present
"First past the post" system in which the candidate
winning the largest number of votes in an erection is
declared the winner, irrespective of whether he had the
first or the second preference support of the majority of
the voters who exercise their franchise, weakens the
representative character of elective bodies. Thus, a
party with a larger percentage of overall votes may still
have a lower number of seats in the Lok Sabha or the
Vidhan Sabhas. This anomaly needs to be corrected by
introducing proportional representation for the political
parties in at least 50 per cent of the total number of
seats in the Lok Sabha and the Vidhan

I recently met the former Prime Minister of Japan who
explained to me how his country has opted for a mixed
system and gained tremendously in the process. Earlier,
511 seats in the Japanese Diet would be filled through
direct elections. The total number of seats has been
reduced to 500, of which 300 are now rifled through
direct elections and 200 through the system of propor-
tional representation. Can we not think along these

Democratic functioning of political parties: Internal
democracy within political parties is an important pre-
requisite for a healthy democratic culture at the nation-
al level. Unfortunately, free debate, accountability and
regular organisational elections have become an exception
rather than the norm among our political parties. The
Congress party, for example, has had no membership rene-
wal drive and no organisational elections worth the name
for many years now. It has established the pernicious and
undemocratic culture of "nomination from above". I say
this here not to score political points. But it should
be obvious that a country's democratic ethos cannot
remain sound when its oldest and still the largest polit-
ical party itself abandons democratic functioning. I

firmly believe that bigger political parties have a
greater responsibility to redress this situation.

Public funding of elections: A broad all-party consensus
is building up on this matter. There should, hence, be
no further delay in putting this measure into effect.

The Deputy Prime Minister of Australia, during a recent
conversation, explained to me how elections in his coun-
try are funded by the Government, and how this has de-
stroyed the very source of corruption which begins with
political donations collected by political parties during
election time. If we are to launch a frontal attack on
corruption, it must begin with public funding of elec-
tions so that the scope of political donations during
polls is eliminated entirely.

There should be total transparency and accountability in
the collection of funds and their expenditure by politi-
cal parties. The accounts of all political parties should
be authentic, regularly audited and open to public.

India brooks no further delay in initiating a serious
nationwide debate on these and other issues relating to
our post-independence democratic experience. We gave
ourselves Swaraj 50 years ago. Let us now re-dedicate
ourselves to the mission of giving ourselves Su-Raj (Good
Governance) by introducing the necessary systemic chang-

Back                          Top

«« Back
  Search Articles
  Special Annoucements