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Shveta Chhatra – A Right of Center Retrospective on the Constituent Assembly Debates on Presidential versus Parliamentary form of Government

So how exactly did we end up a Parliamentary Democracy. The Constituent Assembly Debates make for some very interesting reading on this subject. The present day heated debate surrounding the Presidential election between UPA-Left Pratibha Patil and the independent but NDA BJP supported Bhairon Singh Shekhawat is an opportune occasion to revisit the Presidential versus Parliamentary debate.

It was in July 1947 well into the 4th session of the Constituent Assembly that the founding fathers get to the question of what model of constitution the soon to be born nation would adopt. The debate began with Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel presenting a report on “The Principles of a model Provincial Constitution”. In his remarks Patel for the first time alludes to the preference for a Parliamentary system of government in the provinces or states.

came to the conclusion that it would suit the conditions of this country better to adopt the parliamentary system of constitution, the British type of constitution with which we are familiar

accordingly suggested that this constitution shall be a parliamentary type of. Cabinet

The first objections to this came immediately and surprisingly from Maulana Hasrat Mohani a Muslim member from what was then United Provinces and later on Uttar Pradesh.

I want to tell you, and through you, my nationalist and national-socialist friends, who are present here, that my objection is a vital and far-reaching one. If you lightly pass over this objection, then I am sure you will have to repent this action of yours and regret it some day

Patel was not amused as the debate was on the states and not on the Union. But the Moulana impressively enough said

you do not put up the Provincial Constitution before the Union Constitution is put before the House

At this time Nehru stepped into the debate and offered to table the Union Constitution first for debate. Another muslim member Mohd Tahir came to the Maulana’s support and argued that

unless we know the constitution of the Indian Union, it would not be fair to consider the principles of the provincial constitution

Interestingly enough the original model for the states was to have the Governor directly elected by the people.

For each Province there shall be a Governor to be elected directly by the people on the basis of adult suffrage

Somewhere later on this got diluted and we ended up with the present system of political stooges holed up in Raj Bhavans in the states. Patel made a very important point that

very limited powers are given to the Governor, and yet he has to be elected by a process which is very. cumbersome and therefore the question may naturally arise that if the Governor has got limited, powers, why do we go through the process of election which involves so much difficulty because an election in a province by the process of adult franchise is a very difficult job

Patel provides a compelling reason why the Governor must be directly elected.

it is considered necessary because of the dignity of the office which a popular Governor will hold and naturally a Governor who has been elected by adult franchise of the whole province will exert considerable influence on the popular ministry as well as on the province as a whole. His dignity and status also demands that he should have the unanimous and general support of all the sections of the people in the country

Now isn’t that a slap in the face of Abhishek Singhvi and Prakash Karat who have been ridiculing the idea of a people’s president. The notion of a popular people’s president is not alien to our constitutional fabric, it was something the founding father’s envisioned for the office of the Governor.

Now why this notion was not eventually extended to the President of the Union, we will understand in the subsequent debates.

The first arguments in favor of an American System of executive came once again from a muslim member  Mr. Aziz Ahmad Khan.

After mature consideration, I am convinced that the English system of democracy does not suit India.

Some very compelling arguments for a strong executive came from  Sri M. Ananthasayanam Ayyangar, Madras.

the Ministry should lee a strong and stable Ministry and that it should not be subject to the whims and fancies of the party or legislature to which it is responsible

Sad we did not listen to him back then.

in India which is so young in democracy, where the sense of responsibility is neither ingrained nor so well developed, we should have a strong and stable Ministry which can initiate long-range policies and be uninfluenced daily by the repercussions in its party

60 years on the democracy continues to be influenced daily by the repercussions in the political parties.

In arguments against a strong executive emerges the dominant sentiment that eventually saw the weak executive model that we have been cursed with for decades now.

We want responsible government. We want our Ministers to be responsible to our legislature.

Surprisingly speaker after speaker from the Muslim League argued in favor of a strong executive modeled on the American and Swiss systems of government. The reasons become obvious when  Mahboob Ali Baig Sahib Bahadur  joins the debate.

the Swiss Constitution is the most democratic, The Legislature elects its Ministers by a certain method which ensure that all the minorities are represented proportional representation

There on the debate goes downhill on Minority Rights, Separate electorates and proportional representation. The Constituent Assembly went on to debate the Provincial Constitution for a few more days after which it took up the Union Constitution on 21st July 1947. The Report on the Principles of the Union Constitution was moved by Nehru.

Nehru go on to the core debate at hand quickly.

The very first thing that comes up is how the Head of the Federation should be elected. I understand that there are several view points on that.

we have to decide at the very beginning is what should be the kind of governmental structure

whether it is one system where there is ministerial responsibility or whether it is the Presidential system as prevails in the United States of America

So what argument does Nehru give against the Presidential System.

we want to emphasize the ministerial character of the Government that power really resided in the Ministry and in the Legislature and not in the President

if we had an election by adult franchise and yet did not give him any real powers, it might become slightly anomalous and there might be just extraordinary expense of time and energy and money without any adequate result

Nehru’s argument runs contrary to Patel’s argument earlier in favor of having Governor’s elected. It came down to this. Having a Governor elected by the state was not as expensive as having the President elected by the country. Since the overwhelming political opinion was to have power resided in the Legislature the costs did not justify a ceremonial election by the people.

Nehru’s reluctance to have countrywide elections comes through further.

 there is such a thing as too much of a democratic procedure

we have a wide scale wasting of the time, we might have no time left for doing anything else except preparing for the elections and having elections

I am quite convinced in my mind that if we try to adopt that here (American Presidential Government), we shall prevent the development of any ministerial form of Government and we shall waste tremendous amount of time arid energy

I think that having that type of election for our President would be a bad thing for us

Nehru however ridiculed the present scenario we have in the country.

The Central Legislature may, and probably will be dominated, say, by one party or group which will form the ministry. If that group elects the President, inevitably they will tend to choose a person of their own party. He will then be even more a dummy than otherwise. The President and the ministry will represent exactly the same thing.

How about responding to that Mr. Abhishek Singhvi ?

Some forceful arguments in favor of having the President directly elected by the people came from  Prof. Shibbanlal Saxena

The scheme that we have accepted in the provincial constitution in regard to the election of Governors, should be adopted in the Union Constitution as well

It is clear from this, that Mr. Patel and this Constituent Assembly recognize what moral strength the Governors, elected on the basis of adult suffrage, will have and what will be its advantage. In the same way, I think, the “Rashtrapati” should also be elected for adult suffrage.

You have Shibbanlal Saxena 60 years ago envisioning a people’s president in the APJ Abdul Kalam mold, little did he know then this debate would be revisited in 2007.

We are hero-worshippers. By having an austere man and a genius as ‘Rashtrapati” our country will make speedy progress. A ‘Rashtrapati’ elected by twelve to thirteen crores of voters will be a genius and will command moral support.

He then goes on to demolish Nehru’s arguments.

to talk of the election of the ‘Rashtrapati on the basis of adult suffrage will be a sheer waste of time. and will create unnecessary confusion. I do’ not agree with this

He also predicts the travesty of the present day arrangement for electing President.

More opposition comes from Muslim League members who argue forcefully in favor of a U.S. style Presidency. Syed Kazi Karimuddin who demolishes Nehru’s arguments on

. it is necessary that, there should be a non-parliamentary executive

the only reason that has been advanced why adult suffrage should not be introduced is that a huge machinery will have to be set up for dealing with the elections and the energies of the nation will be consumed in holding these elections. But that is absolutely no reason

Under the present sub-clause 2 of Clause 1, the President will be a puppet of the majority party

After a few more speakers made ridiculous suggestions like having the President by rotation from North and South and Hindu, Muslim, Nehru rose to reply to the debate.

I am not prepared to believe that adult franchise is absolutely essential.

when the members of the Assembly themselves are being elected by the votes of millions where is the necessity for electing the President by adult franchise?

If you want to elect the President by adult franchise, then this would mean that we will have to waste much of our time in holding (Presidential) elections and we will not be able to act according to our new Constitution.

With that the objections were to put to vote and Nehru rammed through the Constituent Assembly the current indirect way of electing the President.

Offstumped Bottomline: It is becoming increasingly that all the words of warning that rang in the Constituent Assembly on the likely shortcomings of the present Parliamentary Democracy and a Ceremonial Presidency have all come true.

As the Right of Center Movement debates the future political path Offstumped once again furthering the debate in favor of a strong non parliamentary executive elected by universal adult suffrage.

An ancient symbol that comes to mind is the Shveta Chhatra – White Umbrella

a non theocratic symbol of sovereign political authority .

Not Saffron but the Shveta Chhatra should become the symbol of the new Indian Right in the 21st Century.

NOTE: To post comments visit

http://offstumped.nationalinterest.in/2007/07/04/shveta-chhatra-towards-a-functional-not-ceremonial-presidency/

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