In a recent interview acclaimed author and Congress MP Shashi Tharoor was asked why he advocates the presidential form of government for India. The conversation began with a discussion of the disruptions frequently seen in Parliament…

[Excerpts of Idea Exchange published in The Indian Express on December 29, 2021]

IE: Are the frequent disruptions in Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha serving the purpose of the Opposition?

Tharoor: In the second term of the Narendra Modi government, Parliament has ceased to be a deliberative forum and legislative businesses have atrophied. Of course, in the last year due to the pandemic, the government didn’t even convene the Winter Session. This year’s Budget Session was abbreviated to the elections in five states. And then, the Monsoon Session was disfigured by multiple disruptions, amid which the government Bills were rammed through with minimal debate.

In the present Winter Session, we have seen the same story; a pattern of lack of discussions, disruption, avoidance of debates, and hasty unilateral passage of laws. That’s not what Parliament is supposed to be like. The government has no interest in being accountable and the Opposition feels that it is determined to show the intensity of their feelings on certain issues and through disruptions. The result is that Parliament is not functioning as it is supposed to. I fear it has been reduced to a combination of a notice board for unilateral government announcements and actions, a rubber stamp for the government’s legislative agenda, and a performance stage for Opposition protest.

IE: You say Parliament has been reduced to a notice board of sorts. Do you think it is the same for the Standing Committee and Joint Committee of Parliament?

Tharoor: I see little more constructive work with the Standing Committee, especially because they take place behind closed doors and no one is grandstanding for any camera. There are a couple of things in the committee system that mark a significant departure from seven decades of previous practice. One example I was a victim of, was when the BJP government decided that the perpetual tradition since committees existed of the External Affairs Committee chaired by an Opposition MP, they ended that practice and removed me as Chairman of External Affairs and put a BJP MP on top. The second kind of practice that you’re seeing is when there are contentious or sensitive bills, rather than referring them to a Standing Committee, within the mandate they fall, the government has consistently preferred to name instead a Joint Select Committee, which is always chaired by the majority party, namely the BJP. …

IE: Previously, you had advocated for a presidential style of governance within the country. What Prime Minister Modi is doing at the moment, is it what you foresaw when you were advocating for presidential style of governance in the country?

Tharoor: When I speak about a presidential system, I’m anchoring myself on one fundamental principle — of the value of separation of powers. Right now, you have a situation where people are not elected to legislate, to hold the government accountable; they’re elected to the legislature to be the government. And once they’ve created the government, they cease to have any independence or any value whatsoever. In a presidential system, you will have much less danger of the kind of autocratic rule that you’re seeing under Modi today, where anything he decides gets through Parliament. Right now, the Prime Minister has given us a situation where he is far closer to the kind of dictatorial ruler that people who oppose the presidential system are afraid of.