A remedy for the new malady

By Inder Jit

(Released on 28 August 1984)

Outrageous developments in Andhra Pradesh and earlier in Jammu and Kashmir and Sikkim have posed yet another threat to our young democracy. More and more people in New Delhi and elsewhere ask: Is there no remedy against the new blight which has afflicted our body politic? We have experienced political harlotry in this country for many years, beginning with massive defections in Haryana. Now the nimble Indian political mind at the Centre and in the States has evolved yet another invidious device to topple Governments with massive majorities in their respective legislatures, as in the case of Mr N.T. Rama Rao. It has even invented a method to overcome the hurdle, if any, posed by a ban on defections, boldly introduced by the late Sheikh Abdullah in the case of Jammu and Kashmir. Defections, which have come to acquire at least some odium, have been substituted by vertical organisational splits which are sought to be justified on the ground of an honest difference of opinion on policies and plans or their implementation — and projected as a natural development within a political party.

A way has also been found to side-step the basic democratic norms in accordance with which the majority of a Government should fairly be tested only on the floor of the House and not in a Raj Bhawan. The Governor’s pleasure, namely his subjective satisfaction, has absurdly and unwisely been elevated to pre-eminence in deciding which leader enjoys the support of a majority at any given time. Consequently, the Governor of Andhra Pradesh has been able to get away with the rape of democratic conventions at high noon by merely chanting the mantra: “I am satisfied, I am satisfied.” What is more, a mantra has been evolved not only to enable New Delhi to put through its “Operation Topple” but also to defend it without batting an eyelid. The Home Minister, Mr P.V. Narasimha Rao, merely repeats: “The Governor had no alternative; the Governor had no alternative…” Loud protests from the Opposition in Parliament have made no difference. Mr Rao knows he has a massive majority behind him which he has not hesitated to use as a “brute majority.”

What happened first in Sikkim, then in Kashmir and now in Andhra Pradesh differ in detail. In Sikkim, the State’s Chief Minister, Mr Nar Bahadur Bhandari, was dismissed by the Governor, MrHomiTalyarkhan, even when he enjoyed the support of 28 MLAs in a House of 32. His crime? Mr Bhandari’s refusal to follow the diktat of New Delhi in regard to the grant of citizenship to Nepalis in Sikkim. In Kashmir, Dr Farooq Abdullah, was dismissed and Mr G.M. Shah appointed Chief Minister ignoring acknowledged norms and, above all, the State’s anti-defection law. Mr Jagmohan is entitled to still claim that Dr Abdullah had lost the majority — a fact that the latter did not contest. Nevertheless, Mr Jagmohan went wrong on one basic point, apart from his failure to test the majority of the rival claimants on the floor of the State Assembly. Mr Jagmohan had no authority to ignore the anti-defection law and determine that the 12 MLAs who had withdrawn support from Dr Abdullah had only split from the National Conference and not defected, even if he had consulted top legal opinion.

In Andhra Pradesh, Mr Ram Lal acted indefensibly — an action which was condoned only by those who thought they would be able please Mrs Gandhi somehow and prove themselves to be more loyal than the King. History will not forgive him for reducing politics to a farce wherein he even ordered the arrest of the Chief Minister of his State — a Chief Minister who was then visiting him in the Raj Bhawan and had not yet been served the dismissal order. History will also not forgive him for dragging politics down to the level of the gutter and creating a situation in which the country was treated to more than one unedifying spectacle: NTR parading 162 MLAs at Rashtrapati Bhawan and MrBhaskara Rao parading 95 MLAs the same day in Hyderabad. The number of Telugu Desam MLAs added upto 35 more than their known total strength of 211. At the same time, however, developments in the three States have a common denominator and pose a common question: Can something be done to cry a halt to the latest bout of destabilisation and give the system its much-needed stability and healthy norms?

West Germany and its vigorous democratic system provide an answer we seek. During the Weimar Republic prior to the rise of Hitler, Germany too was plagued by a plethora of political parties and instability. Governments fell like nine pins under a Constitution acknowledged by experts as the most democratic conceived until then. In fact, Hitler took advantage of the people’s disgust for uncertainty to abuse this democratic Constitution and its emergency provisions to impose dictatorship. The end of World War II saw a nation-wide reaction against twelve years of Nazi tyranny and a desire for a Constitution which would not only be democratic on the face of it but also guarantee a stable political and economic future. On May 24, 1949, West Germany gave itself the Basic Law which unequivocally puts across the following vital element: All state authority emanates from the people… The State exists for the use of the people not vice versa, as in totalitarian States — Fascist or Communist.

Like India, West Germany has a federal set-up and its leaders, namely States. Mercifully, however, the West Germans do not face the problem of Governors as we do. (The country’s Basic Law provides that the Legislature, the Executive and the Judiciary are independent institutions). There is no scope there for Governors to function as hatchetmen of some Central authority and, like mindless morons, dismiss Ministries in accordance with the pleasure and subjective satisfaction of their lords and masters in the national capital. The Basic Law also provides against repetition of a situation in which one Government was voted out after another without the slightest thought of the national interest. The malady has been effectively tackled and stability ensured through the novel provision in the Constitution of what is described as a constructive vote of no-confidence, used for the first time in the Bundestag on October 1, 1982 by the new coalition of Christian Democrats and Free Democrats to topple MrHelmnt Schmidt, leader of Social Democrats, and install MrHolmnt Kohl as the new Chancellor in a historic vote.

In essence, the provision seeks to make a vote of no-confidence, which is essentially a negative concept, something positive which, in the bargain, also strikes a blow for stability and against frivolous or personally motivated actions. Under the provision, a Chancellor cannot be brought down during his term simply because he no longer enjoys the support of the majority. The Chancellor can be brought down only if his successor is able to muster a majority at the same time. In other words, parliamentarians are barred from playing ducks and drakes with national stability and interest on the basis of their personal interests, whims or fancies. The founding fathers of the Basic Law were clear that defeating a Government on the floor of the House was not enough in a system with more than two parties. Those seeking a change of Government, it was felt, must simultaneously provide an alternative in the best national interest. Otherwise, there would be no end to politicking.

Adoption of such a constructive vote of confidence in India could have saved us all the trouble and turmoil created by the sordid happenings in Sikkim, Jammu and Kashmir and now Andhra Pradesh. There would have been no occasion for Mr Nar Bahadur Bhandari to be bundled out at the whim and fancy of the Centre and equally MrHomiTalyarkhan, who deserved to be sent home instead of being rewarded with a prize diplomatic assignment as Ambassador to Rome. There would have been no occasion for the cloak-and-dagger ouster of Dr Farooq Abdullah in Srinagar through a convenient make-believe split in the National Conference. (No one has spelt out to this day the basis of the split which raises the basic question: What is a split? Is it to be based on a clash over policies and programmes or merely over personalities?) We could also have been saved the disgusting happenings in Andhra Pradesh and their distressing fall-out in Delhi. There would have been no occasion for scores of people in Andhra Pradesh to fall martyrs to the cause of democracy.

The adoption of the constructive vote of no-confidence by us in India would ensure not only greater stability in the States, but also provide for a situation in which no one party is able to win a clear majority at the Centre — a possibility which cannot be ruled out in the wake of the developments in Andhra Pradesh, (Circles close to Mrs Gandhi now discount the possibility of a poll in November. They are almost certain that Mrs Gandhi will postpone the poll to early January, thanks to the adverse impact of the Andhra Pradesh developments on Mrs Gandhi’s own image as a democrat and the new stimulus these have provided for Opposition unity.) It might also be mentioned that India could have escaped much damage from the instability of 1979 had such a device been a part of our Constitution. We would also not have had to suffer the constitutional monstrosity under which MrCharan Singh was Prime Minister for six months without facing Parliament even once and securing its mandate. All in all, India needs what West Germany already has: a constructive vote of no-confidence. There is no other way if we are serious about having a healthy and stable democracy. — INFA