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

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Engineering Flexibility without Accountability

Changing chief ministers reflects a deep damage to substantive accountability in a democracy.


Parliamentary democracies operate through principles of accountability, as well as allowing for flexibility—to expand or enhance the demands of the democratic will. The head of a government, chosen by the members of the legislature, falls within the category of primus inter pares—the first among equals. They assume the confidence of the legislators (elected by the voters), and in fulfilling this, they stand to add substance to the institution and to the overall operation of parliamentary democracy. It has been argued that the burden of democratisation, seen through the functioning of this post/institution, is incumbent on assuring stability as a means of perform­ing the democratic will, while also ensuring a certain flexibility to remove or replace at times ministerial members using considered judgment that such members are cause for people’s dissatisfaction. Against this background, examining the quintessential “kissa kursi ka” in Indian politics in many cases dilutes this principle of democratisation or accountability and seems to rely more on capitalising on flexibility to meet specific demands, sometimes very narrowly constructed. The recent case of changing chief ministers of state governments can be a defensible practice given the framework of Indian electoral democracy and, hence, in principle, difficult to condemn. However, the way these changes unfold, points at several glaring constraints as well as barriers to any notion of substantive democracy.

Recently, Gujarat’s new chief minister took the oath of office, replacing the incumbent who had led the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to a victory in the last assembly elections in 2017. The sudden replacement, however, caused all sorts of speculation at the causes for this change. In fact, the whole council of ministers were replaced en masse. The thrust in the sudden change appears to be non-performance, with the exacerbated rural distress and poor management of the COVID-19 pandemic. The exact outcome of this change will reveal itself, but there is no doubt that Gujarat’s politics appears to be in a flux and hence this is to be “managed.” In this process of managing, we get some indication of how the institution of the chief minister, cabinet, and the political party is placed within the constellation of electoral democracy.

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Updated On : 25th Sep, 2021
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