Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is not contesting elections to the Lok Sabha, the lower and popular house of parliament.This is for reasons of health and also because the constitution permits the prime minister to be a member of either of the two houses of parliament.Like Singh, we have had prime ministers from the Rajya Sabha earlier but they sought to get elected to the lower house and succeeded easily.As the de facto head of the government, the prime minister is expected to earn people’s approval directly.Mayawati recently took a dig at Singh over the issue.”This Manmohan Singh has not contested any public election…he was brought back door in Rajya Sabha and made prime minister,” the Bahujan Samaj Party chief said at an election rally.”If Manmohan can become PM, why can’t an educated Dalit woman.”This is possibly the first instance in Indian politics where the sitting prime minister has decided to stay away from the race.But should India’s prime minister be a member of the Lok Sabha?The opposition, after initially trying to make it a poll issue, now seems to have lost the plot.The question keeps popping up on internet discussion boards.FOR– Those who support the idea of a prime minister from the lower house say that a popular vote marks acceptability by the people as compared to someone nominated to the Rajya Sabha.– Such a person having earned the people’s mandate is seen as less susceptible to manipulation.– A person’s performance as an MP is seen as a necessary test of his competence and claim to the top job.– Some even suggest that a prime ministerial candidate should seek election with a pre-announced team, something like the shadow cabinet system in Britain.AGAINST– The most convincing argument against the idea is that the constitution puts no such caveat.– The upper house is seen as a talent pool where competent candidates are sent after consideration. This compensates for impulsive behavior of voters which can sometimes make “good” candidates unelectable. For example, Manmohan Singh lost the 1999 Lok Sabha election from the posh South Delhi constituency.– It is also felt that any prime minister would work according to the party’s ideology, membership of a house being irrelevant to his policies and performance.– Moreover, the prime minister is in any case indirectly elected (by the party MPs), so the argument of his having greater acceptance may not cut much ice.– Some feel that if the person is a representative of the majority party and competent then nothing else should count. Others say the proposal calls into question the very rationale of having an upper house, and therefore, needs to be fleshed out.One comment on the online forum points to the question being a moral rather than a legal one.There are two facts to bear in mind.In the Westminster system of democracy, a prime minister from the upper house would be an anachronism.Secondly, the constitution review commission recognised the lower house’s pre-eminence in its recommendation that the prime minister be directly elected by the house in the event of a hung poll verdict.As for the practical aspect, the Congress is contesting around 400 seats in these elections, and finding a safe seat for a politician like Manmohan Singh, the sitting prime minister, should have been easy.In March, opposition leader L.K. Advani raised the issue at an election rally.”Singh will be more acceptable to the people of India if he decides to fight the elections and go to the Lok Sabha,” he said.Did Advani have a valid point?
Rahul Gandhi spoke at a news conference in Amritsar last month. Somewhat predictably newspapers and TV channels covering the event focused on his comments on the anti-Sikh riots of 1984 and his defense against being called a rookie by a seasoned political rival.
Another Himalayan kingdom is falling, a chapter closing on an ancient historical tradition. But will the modern system of democracy do a better job?