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Democracy has been criticized by theorists since ancient days. In ancient Greek, Plato had expressed hatred toward democracy since the ruling class under democrats ordered Socrates to drink poison. Complexities and variations without sensitivity in the rules of democracy have still been seen as a cog in the wheel in the process of progress of a society. The ruling class in the contemporary world has formulated the rules of democracy in their favor. Representation of the People Act, 1951 is one such example in India.
A few decades ago, John Kenneth Galbraith, the US ambassador to India and a renowned economist, had called India a “functioning anarchy.” It indicates that anarchy has been functionalized by the political class through political opportunism and anarchism in the party system. That’s why today’s party system is in transition which is full of contradiction and paradoxes.
Rules formulators for their own cause
The political class has legislated the Representation of the People Act, 1951 allows a person to contest a general election or by-elections or biennial elections from a maximum of two constituencies. In 2016, the election commission of India has asked the government to amend laws to bar people from contesting from two seats but it has not yet been amended. Such kind of facility has been made so that politicians of choice could be secured in case of insecurity for winning the election contest. Such provision unnecessarily creates a burden on the limited resources by conducting a by-election if a candidate wins from both seats.
Similarly, the constitution does not mention eligibility as a condition to be made a minister in a State. But the rules have been formulated in a way that if a person is not a member of Parliament, then he should be elected to the Lok Sabha or the Rajya Sabha within six months after his appointment as a minister. The same kind of arrangement has been there in state government through which non-electors/outsiders and defeated members can become ministers or head of the respective government provided he/she confirms confidence within 6 months.
Recently, Mamta Banerjee was defeated in the West Bengal assembly election 2021 by Suvendu Adhikari. In spite of defeat in the hand of the people, she sat on the CM chair by promising to get confidence within six months. Similarly, Tirath Singh Rawat, former CM of Uttrakhand resigned since he fails to prove confidence within the 6 months on the name of COVID-19. He was also unelected CM in Uttrakhand similar to Mamta Banerjee in West Bengal.
What is the core debate?
Tirath Singh Rawat and Mamta Banerjee are neither new nor unique to this phenomenon. There are a lot of such examples in Indian politics. This political phenomenon asks some genuine questions: Should Chief Ministers be mandatorily picked from the pool of elected MLAs? Should an MP resign immediately from the House if picked to lead a State? Should a defeated person be restricted from becoming CM or PM?
Basics of parliamentary democracy say that people would choose their local representative directly. Those representatives will go to the parliament and they would choose the head of the government. It means the head of the government i.e., the PM should be indirectly elected. Here, the core thesis question of this debate is raised – Whether the elected representative would choose the head of the government from within the elected pool or import from outside the pool? Can this system of electing the head be called as a lateral entry in politics?
Status quo: Assertions for the motion
It is often seen that lateral entry in administration is justified with the successful examples – Verghese Kurien (White revolution), M.S. Swaminathan (Green revolution), and Sam Pitroda (Telecom Revolution), etc. Similarly, lateral entry in politics is justified with some of the successful examples. For example, P.V. Narasimha Rao wanted Manmohan Singh as the Finance Minister amid the economic crisis in the 90s. Was that for the national public good?
It is also argued that since there is a lack of knowledge pool in the elected political class, such kind of arrangement helps parliament with knowledge. It gives space to the talented people to get into the political sphere who can’t win the election since the election in India or anywhere in the world is not idealistic based on theoretical conceptions. On a similar notion, the upper house or council house (What we call today as Rajya Sabha and Legislative Councils in States) is justified.
A minister elected from outside or defeated in the election has to prove his confidence within 6 months. Non-confidence of the minister doesn’t continue for 5 years. If one fails to prove confidence (Like the case of Tirath Singh Rawat), he/she would not continue the office after 6 months in any circumstances.
Functional anarchy: Reasons against the motion
The assertion put to support the status quo that a minister lacks confidence only for six months and not for five years is problematic. First, Can this case be considered as a classic case of conflict of interest? Takes the case of Tirath Singh Rawat as a case study. He was a MP before becoming the CM of Uttrakhand. He didn’t resign for six months. Would it be just for one to hold office at parliament and at state assembly simultaneously? Political theorists should comment on the possible implications on federal structure in case of holding two offices together at center and the state.
Second, Can he also vote in Lok Sabha when he was the CM of Uttrakhand and a MP at Lok Sabha simultaneously. If yes, then would it be just? It indicates that he has represented Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha simultaneously. It violates Article 101 which says that no person shall be a member of both Houses of Parliament after 14 days without say, otherwise he would have loose membership of one of the houses as per the law. If not, then can we accuse these rules of absentees in parliament while discussing and voting?
Third, Tirath Singh Rawat took office and failed to prove confidence by winning by-election within the six months as per the current rule. Would it be just to consider his decisions valid, taken as a CM in Uttrakhand, in between the six months when he didn’t hold confidence? Fourth, Making a minister or head from outside who can’t fight election can be considered valid for a moment on the logic of the knowledge pool. But what about those who have been defeated in the hand of people? If people have already been defeated in the assembly election, then giving one extra chance to her would violate ‘equality of opportunity to those who have been defeated in the same election.
Fifth, Hannah Arendt has established the equivalence of political party to the onion-like structure. The totalitarian parties have an onion-like multi-layered structure where the outer layer is like party workers/leaders of low importance who have superficial positions. Takes the case of Mamta Banerjee, where she was defeated in an election, but she became the CM of West Bengal. One of the sitting MLAs from her party has become a political Martyr. TMC MLA from Bhabanipur, Sobhandeb Chattopadhyay has sacrificed his seat to allow CM Mamata Banerjee to contest the by-poll.
Sixth, It raised valid concerns – What is the fate of the political aspirations of the sitting representative who sacrificed? Can it be considered as a fraud with the people of Bhabanipur who chose Sobhandeb Chattopadhyay in Assembly election 2021? Seventh, The matter of paradox that how can the elected representative be not able to elect one head out of 294 elected representatives? Does West Bengal face a crisis of leadership where there is no alternative to Mamta Banerjee? Eighth, It would also be not justified to add another layer of burden on the limited resources for conducting by-election.
However, the Constitution of India also expects that people should not hold more than one seat at a time. Such kind of arrangement would decrease the credibility of Indian politics further in the eyes of people. Opening the back door to get in the favorite leader, irrespective of the result, is also not morally right. It violates constitutional morality. Thus, the time has come to go back to the drawing board and ponder upon these rules which don’t create fairgrounds for all.
- Legislative.gov.in | Representation of the People Act, 1951
- First post | Why India remains a functioning anarchy even now, 2013
- The Economic Times | Bar people from contesting from two seats: Election Commission, 2016
- The print | How Narasimha Rao and Manmohan Singh rescued India in 1991, 2021
- The Hindu | Why Tirath Singh Rawat had to resign as Uttarakhand Chief Minister, 2021
- Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy | Hannah Arendt, 2021
- India Today | Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee to contest from bastion Bhabanipur, MLA Sobhandeb Chattopadhyay resigns, 2021
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