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Yes to Lok Sabha PM

Yes to Lok Sabha PM

Author: N.V.Subramanian
Publication: NewsInsight.net
Date: February 27, 2009
URL: http://www.newsinsight.net/archivedebates/nat2.asp?recno=1804

L.K.Advani is right to suggest that the head of government come from the lower house of Parliament

Somnath Chatterjee has disagreed with L.K.Advani's suggestion that the prime minister should only be from the Lok Sabha. The outgoing Lok Sabha speaker said it will have no "practical" effect. Who is right? To judge that, it would be necessary to quote both Advani and Chatterjee in the entirety of what they said. Advani said yesterday that "When I evaluate the 14th Lok Sabha and the government that it gave birth to, (I realize that) this is the worst government the country has seen, lead by a devalued prime minister." "What devalued this prime minister's position further," continued Advani, "is that he was not in control of the UPA regime. It was obvious to our citizens, MPs of the Congress and its allies in the UPA, and also to its ministers, that 10 Janpath, and not 7 Race Course Road, was the true seat of power." "The latter (Manmohan Singh)," Advani went on, "held office but with no authority, the former (Congress president Sonia Gandhi) had authority but no accountability to Parliament. This duality at the apex is the root cause of the UPA government's rudderless and indecisive performance." This is the background in which Advani urged a constitutional amendment to make it mandatory for a PM to come from the Lok Sabha. What was Somnath Chatterjee's response? "The ability of a prime minister," he said, "depends on himself and the policies and programmes he espouses. May be it is theoretically better (to have a PM from the Lok Sabha), but in practice it has no effect...As we have seen, you can judge how he (Manmohan Singh) has performed." Clearly, in this, there are two aspects. One is Manmohan Singh's performance being a Rajya Sabha PM. The other is whether election from the Lok Sabha enables one to be a better PM. Advani and Chatterjee (though mutedly) have diametrically opposite views on Manmohan Singh's peformance. This writer's views are closer to Advani's. But whether Manmohan Singh's performance was below par because he was from the Rajya Sabha is harder to follow through, although circumstantial evidence would point that way. On the other issue, whether a Lok Sabha-elected PM is naturally enabled to perform, there is V.P.Singh's example, easily the worst Indian prime minister. So where does the issue raised by Advani and joined by Somnath Chatterjee head? It's like this. While today's Rajya Sabha has far more experienced if not always wiser MPs, the quality of the Lok Sabha MPs, with exceptions like Advani, Pranab Mukherjee, etc, leave much to be desired. Indeed, that is an understatement. While the quality of the BJP and Congress Lok Sabha MPs may be poorer than before but better than average, that cannot be said of those belonging to regional parties. The Lok Sabha today reflects the lows of coaltion politics, and unless the BJP and Congress work against this, it is going to get worse. But does it make a case for a Rajya Sabha PM? No. In India's parliamentary system, the Lok Sabha has pre-eminence over the Rajya Sabha. So however much the Lok Sabha has slipped in quality because of coalition politics, rectifying it is the solution, not strengthening the Rajya Sabha at the cost of the Lok Sabha. That goes counter to the spirit of the Indian Constitution. A PM has to come from the Lok Sabha because his or her power/ authority derives not merely from the office held but by the direct election which brings that office. "Direct election" needs to be qualified. The PM is obviously not directly elected to office. The party or coalition winning the election elects or chooses the head of government. It follows that the party or coalition will only elect or choose he or she as PM who has lead the party or coalition to victory in that election. In this way, both the authority of Lok Sabha election and the power of office join in one person, and the accountability is one hundred per cent. Somnath Chatterjee is wrong when he says there is no "practical" effect of having a Rajya Sabha MP. He is either economizing with the truth or has not applied his mind. In the strategic sphere, for example, a Lok Sabha PM has a very good idea of what strategic decision will or will not be accepted by the electorate (even given the Indian electorate's appaling insularity), or how it has got to be sold. Don't mistake this. National will goes to make political will and vice versa. This joint authority and power of a Lok Sabha PM is instantly recognized by great powers. Why was Indira Gandhi held in such fear and awe but never Manmohan Singh? Big powers instinctively recognize where real power resides and deal accordingly. L.K.Advani was substantially correct in his critique of Manmohan Singh's prime-ministership and Somnath wrong. But unless the Congress and BJP make the necessary corrections to roll back coalititon politics, both Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha PMs will end up weak and indecisive. N.V.Subramanian is Editor, NewsInsight.net. He has authored two novels, University of Love (Writers Workshop, Calcutta) and Courtesan of Storms (Har-Anand, Delhi).

- Please visit N.V.Subramanian's blog http://courtesanofstorms.blog.com/

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