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May 7, 1998


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Non-Congress Opposition parties feel review of Constitution is unnecessary

Rajesh Ramachandran in New Delhi

A billion people ruled by one man. Surely, a complex proposition, but one the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party and Home Minister Lal Kishinchand Advani want.

The BJP, as is well known by now, wants to change the character of the world's largest democracy by carrying out a review of the country's 48-year-old Constitution.

Its intention is to replace the present Westminster model of parliamentary democracy, with a Presidential form of government, as it exists in the US.

The party does not have the required strength in Parliament to carry out such a major reform, and even its allies -- with whose support it has just about breasted the simple majority tape, leave alone the required two-thirds majority mark -- would not like to sacrifice their bargaining powers vis--vis the Centre by plumbing for the Presidential system.

And the rest of the political parties, barring the largest Opposition party, the Congress, see the BJP's attempt to review the Constitution as subversion of democracy and the Constitution.

They argue that a Constitution that has been amended so many times can be amended further as per requirements, and that even a debate on the review is unnecessary.

The unspoken fear is that a comprehensive review, as against a simple amendment, would obviously tamper with the basic structure of the Constitution, which includes secularism and socialism.

Janata Dal leaders allege that while initiating the debate, BJP vice- president and spokesperson K L Sharma had talked about deleting secularism and socialism from the preamble to the Constitution.

"Attacking China and a debate on the presidential form of government are all diversionary tactics. The Sangh Parivar had always held the opinion that secularism should go. The Vishwa Hindu Parishad's Swami Vamdev had, at a Sadhu Sammelan in 1992, proposed an alternative Constitution," Communist Party of India national secretary D Raja told Rediff On The NeT.

The CPI alleges that the BJP cannot legitimately come to power and carry out its agenda. Hence it wants to alter the present system and subvert the Constitution.

"The BJP knows that Muslims and Dalits are vote blocs who would never vote for them. The alternative is to get the Hindu middle class talk about a Presidential system. The attempt is to create a smoke-screen so that nobody bothers about corruption and the ministers who had to be dropped on that account," says Raja.

The Congress has, curiously, taken the debate in right earnest, with working committee member Arjun Singh indicating that the party would discuss the matter at the CWC level.

In fact, it was the Congress which, in the early 1980s, initiated the debate with leaders like Vasant Sathe talking about the need for a change-over.

But it was dubbed as former prime minister Indira Gandhi's attempt to invest herself with all executive powers and also to ward off any threat from the Opposition parties.

Now the Congress's arch-rival and its successor in power has re-initiated the debate for almost the same reason.

The BJP openly blames the present system for frequent elections and the political instability.

But the third front parties and the Left fear that any step in the direction of a Presidential system would lead to the country's disintegration.

"It would lead to fissiparous tendencies and thus weaken the bonds of national unity. The unity comes from greater powers to the states and the system of accountability through elected representatives at various levels," veteran socialist and Janata Dal founder leader Surendra Mohan told Rediff On The NeT.

The third front leaders also feel the BJP is barking up the wrong tree on the instability issue, since they believe instability is the result of the deprived sections clamouring for their share of power and prosperity.

Surendra Mohan sees the BJP's proposal as an attempt to block the aspirations of these deprived sections. He warns that any attempt to ward them off would only aggravate tensions and end in the eventual disintegration of the country.

Those opposed to the Presidential system point out that now all ministers are accountable to Parliament, but they will not be in the Presidential system.

The biggest problem with a Presidential form of government, its detractors point out, is the centralisation of executive powers in one person, whose impeachment or removal becomes an extremely difficult process.

"I don't like the idea of a billion people being ruled by one man, whoever he may be. And there are no such gods that you can bring to earth. I think a billion people are entitled to have a participative democracy," Chief Election Commissioner Dr M S Gill had told Rediff On The NeT in an earlier interview.

Dr Gill had then argued that no great angel can take the country to prosperity. "I think India's democracy is deep-rooted and the people like it that way."

No question of changing Constitution's secular nature, says BJP

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