India’s ‘Inglorious Revolution’: Country now has ‘Prime Ministerial Government’ from a parliamentary one

State power is being centralized in a single person, the Prime Minister, or a cabal. A political duopoly is being crystallised. Parliament has been reduced into a constitutional ornament

Wikimedia Commons
Wikimedia Commons

Faisal CK

The ‘Glorious Revolution’ a.k.a. the ‘Bloodless Revolution’ of 1688 that occurred in England is a milestone in the history of parliamentary democracy on planet Earth. The revolution marked the end of a fierce tussle between the king and the Parliament for supremacy, the fall of absolute monarchy, and the sunrise of parliamentary sovereignty in England.

King Charles I who ascended the throne in1625 was a votary of the Divine Right Theory and as such he held the view that he is responsible only to God for his actions and to nobody else. In 1628, the Parliament submitted the ‘Petition of Right’ before the king setting out some specific individual protections against the state. The king took it as a challenge to his absolute authority and the Parliament was eventually dissolved by the king.

This led to a civil war between the king and the Parliament that ended up with the beheading of the king in 1649. “…the English people , who have always been very conservative and averse to rapid changes, should thus set an example of how a tyrant and traitorous king should be treated,” commented Jawaharlal Nehru about the execution of Charles I in his book ‘Glimpses of World History’.

The civil war did not finish with the regicide, however. King James II again quarrelled with the Parliament. The Parliament won the war and James II fled from England. James II was replaced by his daughter Mary and her Dutch husband, William of Orange by the Parliament in 1688. This event is called ‘Glorious Revolution’ as it marked the end of absolute monarchy and the beginning of parliamentary sovereignty in England.

The Parliament won the ‘Bill of Rights’ of 1689 in reciprocity from King William of Orange. The ‘Bill of Rights’ asserted the nation's "ancient rights and liberties" and abrogated the king’s power to suspend Acts of Parliament, to levy money without the consent of Parliament, and to maintain a standing army in peacetime without the consent of Parliament.

The ‘Bill of Rights’ asserted that the election of members of Parliament ought to be free, that freedom of speech and debates in Parliament "ought not to be impeached or questioned in any court or place out of Parliament", and that Parliament ought to be held frequently. Mary and William of Orange were crowned swearing an oath to uphold the laws made by Parliament. ‘Glorious Revolution’ made the Divine Right Theory illegitimat, endorsed John Locke’s Social Contract Theory and gave birth to constitutionalism. The American Revolution accelerated the velocity of this movement.

The greatest advantage of parliamentary democracy that evolved out of the ‘Glorious Revolution’ is that it closes the room for centralisation of power. The Cabinet is the nucleus in parliamentary democracy in the Westminster Model where the Prime Minister is only the first among equals.

“The accumulation of all powers…in the same hands, whether of one, a few, or many, and whether hereditary, self-appointed or elective, may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny,” said James Madison, the father of the American Constitution. Parliament plays a vital role in decentralisation of power. Parliamentary opposition too has a crucial role in prevention of tyranny and absolutism.

In England, parliamentary opposition is called ‘His Majesty’s Loyal Opposition’ and ‘Shadow Cabinet’ plays a significant role in parliamentary process.

While shaping India’s constitution, our founding fathers were deeply influenced by the spirit of ‘Glorious Revolution’ and the American Constitution.

However, India is now undergoing an ‘Inglorious Revolution’ that is running in a reverse direction of the spirit of ‘Glorious Revolution’. State power is being centralized in a single person, the Prime Minister, or a cabal. A political duopoly is being crystallised. Parliament has been reduced into a constitutional ornament. The decision making is shifted from Cabinet to some extra-constitutional institutions. The Opposition has turned weak and ineffective. The whole system is moving towards ‘Prime Ministerial Government’ from a parliamentary one.

Richard Howard Stafford Crossman, who was a Cabinet minister in Harold Wilson's governments of 1964–1970, had pointed out the paradigm shift of British system from parliamentary to Prime Ministerial one in his introduction to Walter Bagehot’s ‘The English Constitution’ in 1964.

The lethal combination of a dictatorial Prime Minister, ineffective Cabinet and weak Opposition has practically neutralised India’s parliamentary democracy. Lok Sabha has no official Opposition leader. Parliamentary democracy is most suitable to accommodate diversities of India. The constitutional principles of secularism and federalism are designed to serve this purpose. But the ruling dispensation is hell-bent to bring about an inorganic and mechanical unity despite living diversities.

The modus operandi followed for passage of the Constitutional Amendment Bill abrogating the special status of Jammu & Kashmir, Triple Talaq Bill, Citizenship Amendment Bill etc. amply demonstrated the contemptuous attitude of the Central Executive towards the Parliament. The Bills were not sent for scrutiny by Select Committee, and nor were stake-holders consulted.

Bicameralism is devised to check hurried legislation. The story of ‘senatorial saucer’ demonstrates it. George Washington is said to have told Thomas Jefferson that the framers of the American Constitution had created the Senate to "cool" legislation just as a saucer was used to cool hot tea. But in today’s India, Rajya Sabha is often by-passed by declaring some Bills like the Aadhar Bill as money Bills that need no approval by Rajya Sabha.

The last session of Parliament held in September was crippled by cutting short of Zero Hour and Question Hour. The three farm Bills were bulldozed through by the government. Parliamentary Committees were kept dormant for a long period. The Aarogya Setu App that raised serious concerns over citizens’ right to privacy was rolled out without parliamentary approval. The skipping of the winter session is the latest blow to Parliament.

It is as if Charles I and James II are taking re-incarnations in present day India. There was an Oliver Cromwell to dethrone Charles I and a William Sancroft, Archbishop of Canterbury, to resist James II. People solidly supported them. When James II sent Sancroft to the Landon Tower as a prisoner, the very soldiers on guard knelt to receive his blessing. But, alas, today’s India, in these days of ‘Inglorious Revolution’, has neither a Cromwell nor a Sancroft!

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