ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Parliamentarism, Not Presidentialism

Development and Democracy in India

To opt for a parliamentary over a presidential form of government is arguably the most significant, yet under-analysed, decision made by the Indian constitution-makers. The conventional view is that parliamentarism was an obvious choice given the British colonial inheritance. However, parliamentarism, far from being obvious, was a counter-intuitive choice given the postcolonial agenda of state-led planned development, historically demanding an empowered executive branch most suited to presidentialism. As opposed to the maximalist and plebiscitarian tendencies of presidentialism, parliamentarism was a way to mediate the potentially conflictual cohabitation of mass democracy and planned development.

Arguably one of the most significant choices made by the Indian constitution-makers, in terms of the effects it has had on the subsequent development of the political and institutional life of the country, was to have a parliamentary, as opposed to a presidential, system of government. Yet, this aspect of our constitutional system has received far less scholarly or analytical attention from scholars compared to matters like judicial review, fundamental rights, or even the much later innovation of the basic structure doctrine. On the other hand, it has also been a frequent target of critique. Presidentialism has been offered as a solution to what those critiques view as the fractious dysfunctionality and inefficiency of the Indian political system. This article suggests that the choice of a parliamentary form of government should be viewed as a central piece of the kind of social and political order that the founders of the postcolonial regime sought to institute.

Rather than abstract institutional analysis, one needs to situate parliamentary democracy within the concrete historical context of the postcolonial sociopolitical vision. It was a crucial mediating institutional mechanism for the two most significant, and potentially destabilising, elements of that new order: deliberate state-led socio-economic transformation (often referred to in contemporaneous parlance as planned development), and mass democracy with a universal adult franchise. Analysing the choice of parliamentary government on these terms helps us situate parliament as the mediating terrain whereby developmentalism and democracy could facilitate and stabilise each other.

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Updated On : 17th Aug, 2018
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