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Rules for the limbo

Another hung Lok Sabha,the seventh in succession since the 1989 general elections,appears to be inevitable.

Written by R. Kothandaraman |
May 16, 2009 1:30:07 am

Another hung Lok Sabha,the seventh in succession since the 1989 general elections,appears to be inevitable. Out of the earlier 6 hung Lok Sabhas,the 9th Lok Sabha saw two governments under V.P. Singh and Chandrasekhar,the 11th had three governments — the infamous 13 days government of Atal Bihari Vajpayee and the governments of H.D. Deve Gowda and I.K. Gujral — and the 12th saw a 13-month government of Vajpayee. Only the 10th,13th and the current Lok Sabhas,despite being hung Lok Sabhas,have had stable governments under Narasimha Rao,Vajpayee and now Dr. Manmohan Singh. 50 per cent of the hung Lok Sabhas thus had premature deaths: the 9th Lok Sabha completed 15 months,the 11th Lok Sabha a little more than 18 months,and the 12th Lok Sabha only 13 months.

In their bid to survive,coalition governments have resorted to all kinds of unethical means to keep themselves in power. This included large-scale purchase of legislators,refusal to prorogue the Houses to avoid no-confidence motions,compromising ideologies and policies for governance,and pitching for alliances with incompatible political partners. The JMM bribery case during Narasimha Rao’s time and the cash-for-vote scam against Dr. Manmohan Singh are just tips of the iceberg,the size and chillness of which the common man is yet to have a feel of, thanks to the low key implementation of the Right to Information Act when it comes to the legislature.

If political corruption of this monumental order has to be tackled and governance stabilised despite a hung Lok Sabha,the rules of the game have to be reviewed. The nation cannot afford premature dissolution of the upcoming hung Lok Sabha and another round of elections especially during economic crisis. The twin objectives of our citizenry of not dissolving the 15th Lok Sabha before its term and of stabilising a government that emerges out of it,can still be achieved if few steps are positively taken.

Though we claim to follow British parliamentary traditions,the President of India has dissolved Lok Sabhas prematurely more frequently than the Crown has done since the 1950s. The House of Commons in the UK,elections to which can be afforded every year in view of the size of the electorate,had rarely seen premature dissolutions in the last fifty years. Keeping in mind the high costs to public exchequer and the logistical difficulties,India must proscribe premature dissolution of legislatures by an express Constitutional amendment. The higher courts must get the power to strike down presidential and gubernatorial notifications calling for early dissolution of Houses. If the governments cannot arise from legislative houses,the president and the governors must be empowered to nominate cabinets,from anywhere,which should continue to be accountable to legislatures. The fear that presidential and gubernatorial cabinets will replace them will compell the political class to find a consensus on government formation. In contingencies when legislatures do not throw up governments,the Montesquieu theory of separation of powers should be strictly enforced,so that the President’s nominated council of ministers — a true executive separated from legislature — becomes truly accountable to the legislature. If such an idea is perceived as an aberration to the principles of parliamentary democracy and cabinet form of government,suffering that aberration is more preferable to costly elections and chaotic exercises at government formation.

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To ignite the engine of government formation,only the leader of the single largest party should be invited to form the government after every election. Alliances can form the government but the prime minister or the chief minister must be from the single largest party in the alliance. Smaller parties and independents must not be allowed this privilege. Independents,unless they join a political party within 3 months,should be barred from becoming ministers. Legislature parties which do not constitute the quorum of the House,should be disabled from making its members as ministers. Since the ministerial size is now limited in the Constitution itself,the ministerial berths shall be allocated to members of legislature parties in the alliance, in proportion to numerical strength of each legislature party. With these,the fight will stand confined only to portfolio allocation. These steps alone can give effect to larger public will and slowly efface non-serious political parties and independents from the political scene.

The President,the governors,the Supreme Court and the high courts along with the larger political parties that have a committed agenda for governance,face the stupendous task of making the 15th hung Lok Sabha work. Only the fear of choosing a political executive outside the legislature may call the impending chaos to order.

The writer is the secretary of the Goa Legislative Assembly

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