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The Rediff Interview/Pratapsing Rane
May 27, 2003
Veteran Goa Congress politician and Leader of the Opposition in the state assembly Pratapsing Rane, 64, is uncertain if the Union Cabinet's decision to amend the Anti-Defection Act will end the problem of defections or instability within political parties.
Rane was probably the first victim of the defection game after the law against defections was passed in 1987. His government was toppled in 1990 by a group of rebels led by then speaker Dr Luis Proto Barbosa. Four years later, Rane became chief minister, but was dislodged yet again after a three-and-a-half-year stint.
During that decade, Goa saw 13 chief ministers and two premature dissolutions of its 40-member assembly.
The US-trained agriculturist-turned-politician, who has been in active politics for the last 32 years, told Sandesh Prabhudesai that even if the bill were to be passed, politicians would find new loopholes and the game of instability would continue.
How do you view the Union Cabinet's decisions to delete the clause that allows one-third legislators to legally split and to trim down the ministry size to a tenth of the size of the assembly or Parliament?
The decision of the Union Cabinet is not everything. By the time it comes as an amendment bill and is passed by Parliament, it may undergo several changes.
Do you have any doubts that it will be passed or have reservations about the proposed amendments?
I have no such doubts. Even the amendments are good and necessary. [But] I do not believe this will solve the problem of defections or instability. For me, it looks like patchwork. Politicians will find new loopholes and the game of instability will continue.
Instead of this, I feel the Constitution Amendment Committee needs to have a second look at the whole system of parliamentary democracy we are following. We are in the 21st century, where India is no more an island. We are part of the global economy. We need to assess how we have been functioning as a democracy, the state we are in, whether we are progressing or still lagging behind and what are the reasons for the current state of affairs.
We are in a coalition era today, not being provided with stable governments. In France, they amended the Constitution due to instability. Same is the case with Italy. There is no stability. Even in Goa, from 1963 to 1990, six assemblies had only three chief ministers and three to four ministers. But since 1990, this system has provided us with 13 chief ministers and not a Cabinet of less than 12 to 14 in a 40-member House.
But you headed a stable government for two consecutive terms in the pre-'90 era and were toppled within 75 days in the post-'90 era. Was it because your leadership became weak?
No, leadership is one issue. There is no ideology left anymore. During our times, we had a specific socio-political goal. Now what we have are the spoils of office. In fact, it has now further extended to the concept of sharing of the spoils. It is there from the panchayat level to the Centre.
What we need at this stage is a stable, accountable and responsible government. A new system needs to be evolved to serve this purpose. The existing system cannot provide it.
What kind of system?
A system where stability is the main thing. For example, any legislator should be given only two elected terms. Experience and all such arguments should be rejected outright, so that they do not become professional politicians and the game of spoils is lost.
The Supreme Court has come down heavily about assets and educational qualifications. Make it a law. Only a graduate or above should go to Parliament and [there should be] similar criteria for the assembly or panchayat level, with minimum educational qualification.
In the 21st century, we expect to deliver the goods and move ahead with the times and technology.
Do you mean to propose that elected bodies should consist of only educated people?
Not exactly, because everybody is getting educated today. But how will they understand if they are not educated? In the assembly I was told a cyber city is an industrial estate! Finally, we need to remember that we are working for human beings and not simply to construct buildings and roads.
In this system, the prime minister or chief minister should be elected directly by the people for a maximum period of two terms. He should be given a choice to select the experts in different fields, who understand the subject, as his Cabinet ministers. He should have the authority to hire and fire.
In today's system, the prime minister cannot decide but somebody sitting in Mumbai decides that Suresh Prabhu should not be in the Cabinet, in spite of the fact that he is honest and competent. The PM or CM should be given full authority to decide his Cabinet.
It means you want experts to rule the country. What do the legislators do then?
They legislate, discuss peoples' problems, and go home. What are we doing as an opposition today? We oppose. Most of the time, the government does not listen. We are now in the 21st century. The government cannot be in the hands of bureaucrats all the time. It should also not remain in the hands of politicians for too long, but only for two terms.
Do you mean to say Goa would have benefited more if you were not made chief minister a third time?
Definitely! Some new person could have taken over. I am here for the last 32 years. I am not very happy about it. I wanted to pull out last time. You know, 90 per cent of Americans do not allow new ones [legislators] to come in. There begins the exploitation process. They develop vested interests. They develop likes and dislikes.
We have to work out a participatory kind of democracy, where people have a say in decision-making on important policy matters. You may call it semi-presidential kind of system. If you want development, coalition governments cannot provide it. Even the choice of Cabinet is not left to the chief minister or prime minister.
I am getting the blame every day from my colleagues, for sitting idle all the time. But I am not for such kind of toppling games. What will we benefit? Who will come with us? Why should they [the BJP] join you unless they are given the office of the spoils? This is a trend everywhere.
In Mumbai, the man who split from [Vilasrao] Deshmukh's government changed his statement every time, alleging kidnapping and then denying it. In Tamil Nadu, MLAs are arrested under POTA for political gains.
Why is it happening? Do you think that politics, which was a social service at one time, has become a business today?
It is a money game. It is vested interest. It is partially a business, you may say. Therefore it needs to be changed. Let it be a business, otherwise. Let there be transparency in it. Simple majority rule, with all kind of characters, has no meaning.
In such a company of vested interests, do you think the powers to disqualify or requalify any member of the house should be vested in the hands of the speaker? Because even you were speaker for one term.
No, the speaker should not be the authority to decide on disqualification petitions. The speaker cannot be a neutral person when he is elected on a party ticket. Having a bias towards his party is obvious. He can be neutral only when any person who becomes the speaker is assured to be elected unopposed next time with no party fielding any candidate against him.
I personally feel the authority to hear the disqualification petitions and deliver a judgment should be handed over to the judiciary. They are not part of the legislature and cannot have vested interest.
You mean to say the British parliamentary system we have adopted has failed...
I would not say it has failed. But it is a fact that it does not work in a country like India anymore. Britain is a homogenous country. We have so many Britains in one India. It is a federal structure. People need to throw up a leader of national stature. I would not say the system has failed. But it needs total revamping.
Leaders like Vasant Sathe used to propagate the presidential system. Some people support a dictatorial system or army rule. But one Emergency has proved it beyond doubt that these are not the solutions. It should be democracy, but evolved with a new concept that is Indian and not imported.
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