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The Rediff Special/C Subramaniam

'The President can't just be a dummy'

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Does the 48-year-old Constitution require modification? Should India abandon the Westminster model and opt for a Presidential system? Rediff On The NeT continues the debate on whether the Constitution needs change and if the Indian people are ready for it by speaking to C Subramaniam, former Union finance minister and elder statesmen, one of the few members of the Constituent Assembly alive today. Interview conducted by Shobha Warrier.

C Subramaniam Last year in April, when I came to interview you, you said the time has come to review the functioning of the Constitution. Are you happy that the concerned people have started talking about it now?

Yes, I think we must review the Constitution now. Otherwise we will continue to be in the same muddle. See, we have reached a stage that we cannot even form a stable government now.

What are the problematic areas in the Constitution which have to be reviewed?

The main problematic area is our electoral system. In the electoral system, the party system has to play a very crucial role. Now there is absolutely no control over the political party system. Unless there is a healthy parliamentary party system, you can't function as a parliamentary democracy. Therefore, we have to regulate the formation and functioning of the parties, their collections, accounting, etc also.

More than that, the parties should prepare their members to become good legislators, to become good ministers. Now everybody goes there without any training and without understanding the various problems. That is why today you find debates in Parliament are not at all informative. It is mere shouting. We very rarely see any informed speech on any subject. That is because they have not been prepared for that. So, parties should not be merely election-running organisations, on the other hand, they should prepare their members to hold various offices of positions and responsibility, starting from the panchayat level, district level, state level and national level.

Taking into account, the diversity of and vastness of India, do you feel India should have the parliamentary system? Or, like Mr Advani suggested, should we switch over to the presidential system?

In my view, we have to continue with the parliamentary system. It is not necessary to switch over to a new system altogether with which we are conversant. Even during the British times, we had some sort of a democratic parliamentary system. I don't see any advantage in shifting to a new system and finding ourselves in an uncharted sea.

Of late, in India the parliamentary system has produced hung parliaments and unsuccessful coalition governments.

That is why I am asking, what is the reason for that? It's mainly because of the existing electoral system and the multiplicity of parties. Today you have 18, 20 parties in the government and in the Opposition, another 20 parties. This is not the way a parliamentary democracy should function.

What can be done to reduce the number of parties that are there in the fray?

For example, Germany has constitutionally reduced the number of parties. No party will be recognised unless they poll a certain percentage of votes in a national election. Here anybody can start a party and can get elected from a constituency where they have a caste advantage or linguistic advantage. Then, the one number party man becomes a minister too. So, this is not the way to function.

We should only have three or four, at the most five strong parties. Four is a good number. So, the coalitions will be of strong parties, not splinter groups like these.

We have had so many amendments in the Constitution. At present, should we rewrite the whole thing, or just make some more amendments?

No, it is not necessary to rewrite. There are certain areas which have to be reviewed and investigated. One area is the electoral system or the party system. Then, Centre-state relations. We should review not only the relations between the Centre and the state, but also between the Centre, state and panchayat raj institutions. The political and fiscal relationship should also be looked into.

Then, what should be looked into is the formation of the government itself. There should be some guidelines. Now there is absolutely no guidelines.

The President's powers have to be reviewed. He can't just be a dummy.

What according to you are the drawbacks of the presidential system?

In a presidential system, there is a difficult balance between the legislature and the executive. The USA has now one party in power in the legislature and the president is from another party. Naturally there are conflicts. So, even now, they have not evolved a proper arrangement where they do not have these conflicts. Apart from that, personality conflicts also could arise. Whereas here the ministry is within the Parliament and responsible to the Parliament. So, this is a better system, in my view.

This was discussed in detail in the early days and we came to the conclusion that the parliamentary system is the best, particularly taking into account the vastness of the country with different linguistic, cultural groups, religious groups etc. Therefore, one person certainly cannot represent the entire India. There is always the possibility of a person becoming a dictator as it happened in Italy and Germany in the past.

In a democracy like the United States, is not the presidential system functioning well?

They have two hundred years of experience! But we will be getting into the waters without knowing to swim. So, we will have to be struggling in a new system. In addition, we will have to see whether one person can represent the whole of India. Whereas now we have a Cabinet where ministers have powers to function.

In a presidential system, won't the people know who is going to lead the country? During the United Front experiment, nobody expected Deve Gowda or I K Gujral to become prime ministers of India. So don't you think people should get a chance to elect the leader directly?

Now we have a President in any event. So, we should see that the President should have some more powers.

What kind of power should the President have? In what areas?

For example, what can he do in the formation of the government. When the executive functions in an unconstitutional manner, the President can't take any action now. Take the case of UP. The UP governor's action was condemned even by the Supreme Court, but for the purpose of removing the governor, the President required the advice of the council of ministers and he couldn't get it. So, the governor continued and then caused great damage. Ultimately it was only after the BJP came into power that he resigned. So, these are all areas we should look into.

C Subramaniam interview, continued

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