The Constituent Assembly debates throw a fascinating light into the considerations that drove Nehru to argue against a Presidential form of government. While at the state level the Constituent Assembly initially opted for a directly elected Governor even that proposition was subsequently diluted in favor of a parliamentary democracy in the state legislatures.
The current draft of the Constitution is quite clear that the President shall appoint as Chief Minister or Prime Minister he or she who enjoys the confidence of the House and is elected Leader of the House.
Given that the Supreme Court has ruled on multiple occassions that the basic structure of the Constitution cannot be altered we are stuck with little choice but to suffer a paralysed Governance and frequent elections on account of fragmented Legislatures. Artificial solutions and undemocratic laws like the Anti-defection bill, the extra-constitutional interventions by partisan Speakers have not helped.
Here is a proposal from Offstumped which may help get around this problem while preserving the basic structure of the Constitution:
- Let us add a single non-voting seat to every state legislative assembly and to the Lok Sabha
- Let this single non-voting seat have for its constituency all eligible voters within that state or all of India which ever the case maybe
- Let this seat go to polls like all the other Legsilative and Parliamentary constituencies
- Let the person who gets elected to this seat be automatically considered the Leader of the House as he or she would be reflecting the collective will of all the voters of that Legislature
- Since the seat is non-voting addition of this seat does not change the balance of power in the Legislature
- Since the person elected to this seat is the Leader of the House, the Governor or the President will have to appoint that person as the Chief Minister or Prime Minister
- Irrespective of whether a party or a combination of parties has a Legislative majority the Chief Minister or Prime Minister will have fixed term no different from the term of the Legislature
- Removal of the Chief Minister of Prime Minister could now require a higher Legislative bar similar to a Presidential impeachment
- The Constitution could then also be ammended to eliminate the anti-defection law as there is no question of defection to form an alternate government
- The Chief Minister or Prime Minister could then have the freedom to appoint members to his Cabinet from outside the Legislature
- The Legislature could then be solely focused on its twin responsibilities of Law making and keeping a Check on the Executive
- Overall we could move towards a culture where the Executive is focused on Law enforcement and the Legislature on law making while both keep the Judiciary out of either responsibility thus reverting the original intent of the Constitution
Some would argue how is this proposal different from the current situation:
- Legislative instability will not lead to an automatic fall of government. Impeachment would have a high bar
- Legislators can no longer be induced by promise of power. In fact the Legislature will eventually return to is origjnal responsibility of law making.
- A fragmented legislature could lead to gridlock. But then in the absence of anti-defection laws, a cultural shift could be effected where in Legislators can come together to propose bi-partisan Bills
- The Executive will be free to function without worrying about Legislative instability for its survival.
- A culture of direct accountability will be reinforced instead of this current disturbing trend by which Manmohan Singh, Nitish Kumar, Mayawati amongst others have taken the indirect route to holding Executive Office
No solution is perfect. But status quo is unacceptable. We cannot afford legislative instability and frequent elections, setting us back by paralyzing Governance.
We need Constitutional Reform and now is the time to force the issue.
In National Interest both the Congress and BJP should make common cause to push for this reform for it is in their interest more than the interest of Regional Parties to insulate their Governments from fragmented legislatures.