Do you think India should adopt the US type of Presidential system?
Modern democratic governments are classified into parliamentary and presidential on the basis of the nature of relations between the executive and the legislative organs of the government. The parliamentary system of government is the one in which the executive is responsible to the legislature for its policies and acts. This type of model is prevalent in Britain, Canada, India and Japan. The presidential system of government on the other hand is one in which the executive is not responsible to the legislature for its policies and acts, and is constitutionally independent of the legislature in respect of its term of office. USA, Brazil and Russia are examples of this type of model of government.
Need for a shift from Parliamentary to Presidential system:
- The disgraceful political shenanigans the nation has witnessed, most recently in Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, and the horse-trading of MLAs to switch allegiances for power and pelf, are not merely an occasion for breast-beating about morality in politics or the opportunism of the cash-rich ruling party.
- For 25 years till 2014, our system has also produced coalition governments which have been obliged to focus more on politics than on policy or performance. It has forced governments to concentrate less on governing than on staying in office, and obliged them to cater to the lowest common denominator of their coalitions, since withdrawal of support can bring governments down. The parliamentary system has distorted the voting preferences of an electorate that knows which individuals it wants but not necessarily which parties or policies.
- Besides, India’s many challenges require political arrangements that permit decisive action, whereas ours increasingly promote drift and indecision.
- We must have a system of government whose leaders can focus on governance rather than on staying in power. Our parliamentary system has created a unique breed of legislator, largely unqualified to legislate, who has sought election only in order to wield executive power.
- It has produced governments dependent on a fickle legislative majority, who are therefore obliged to focus more on politics than on policy or performance.
- It has distorted the voting preferences of an electorate that knows which individuals it wants to vote for but not necessarily which parties.
- It has spawned parties that are shifting alliances of selfish individual interests, not vehicles of coherent sets of ideas.
- It has forced governments to concentrate less on governing than on staying in office, and obliged them to cater to the lowest common denominator of their coalitions.
- The parliamentary system has failed us.
- Pluralist democracy is India’s greatest strength, but its current manner of operation is the source of our major weaknesses.
Should India adopt the Presidential system?
- A presidential system centralizes power in one individual unlike the parliamentary system, where the Prime Minister is the first among equals. The surrender to the authority of one individual, as in the presidential system, is dangerous for democracy.
- The over-centralization of power in one individual is something we have to guard against.
- Those who argue in favor of a presidential system often state that the safeguards and checks are in place: that a powerful President can be stalled by a powerful legislature.
- But if the legislature is dominated by the same party to which the President belongs, a charismatic President or a “strong President” may prevent any move from the legislature.
- On the other hand, if the legislature is dominated by a party opposed to the President’s party and decides to checkmate him, it could lead to a stalemate in governance because both the President and the legislature would have democratic legitimacy.
- A diverse country like India cannot function without consensus-building. This “winner takes it all” approach, which is a necessary consequence of the presidential system, is likely to lead to a situation where the views of an individual can ride roughshod over the interests of different segments.
- Thus India is performing well on the scale of the Parliamentary system and needs to strengthen it.
Conclusion: India’s constitutional makers adopted the Parliamentary system due to factors like familiarity of the system, preference to more responsibility; need to avoid Legislative-Executive conflict and nature of Indian society. These factors still stand relevant at present for Indian polity. In fact, the matter of whether to change the Presidential system was considered in detail by the Swaran Singh Committee appointed by the congress government in 1975. The committee opined that the parliamentary system has been doing well and there is no need to replace it with the Presidential system.