May 29, 2009 — drsubrotoroy
The Government of India’s 79 Ministers have taken to their offices like bees to honey yet the 15th Lok Sabha that the people of India elected a fortnight ago is still three days from being convened.
In other words, people have been taking oaths and entering offices as Ministers even before they have taken their oaths or their seats in the 15th Lok Sabha which accords the Government its political legitimacy by its confidence!
Let posterity recall that the 15th Lok Sabha was made to needlessly wait from May 16 2009 until June 1 2009 and despite this the Government formed itself and entered office during that time. It cannot be something that helps the psychology or morale of our elected representatives nor be something conducive to the smooth working of the House.
It is all a terrible constitutional muddle which I doubt the PM or his party or Government, or even the Opposition, will admit to or want to clear up on their own but shall probably have to await a Constitutional Bench of the Supreme Court of India telling them what parliamentary law is in due course.
May 25, 2009 — drsubrotoroy
Sad to say, Parliament’s sovereignty has been diminished, indeed usurped, by the new Executive Government.
Here is a brief record for future generations to know.
India’s people completed their voting in the 15th General Elections on Wednesday May 13 2009.
The results of how they had spoken, what was their will, were known and declared by Saturday May 16 2009.
There was no legal or logical reason why the 543 members of the 15th Lok Sabha could not have been sworn in as new MPs by the close-of-business on Monday May 18 at the latest.
On Tuesday May 19 the 15th Lok Sabha could have and should have met to elect itself a pro tem or even a permanent Speaker.
The Speaker would have divided the new House into its Government Party and its Opposition.
There would have been a vote of confidence on the floor of the House, which in the circumstances would have been in favour of the Government Party.
Observing this to have taken place, the Hon’ble President of India as the Head of State would have sent for the leader of the Government Party and invited her to form the new Government.
In this particular case, the leader of the largest political party, namely Sonia Gandhi, would have been accompanied perhaps by the Leader of the Lok Sabha, Pranab Mukherjee, as well as her personal nominee for the position of PM, namely, Manmohan Singh.
Sonia Gandhi would have respectfully declined the invitation of the President to be the new Prime Minister, and she would have also explained that she wanted Manmohan Singh to have the position instead.
The President would have said “Very well, Dr Singh, can you please form the Government?”
He would have said, “Yes Madame President it shall be a privilege and an honour to do so”.
The President would have added, “Thank you, and I notice you are not a member of the Lok Sabha at the moment but I am sure you are taking steps towards becoming one.”
End of visit.
Manmohan Singh would have been sworn in as PM and would have gone about adding Ministers at a measured pace. Later, he would have resigned his Rajya Sabha seat and sought election to the Lok Sabha on the parliamentary precedent set by Alec Douglas-Home.
What has happened instead?
On May 18 2009, instead of 543 members of the 15th Lok Sabha taking their oaths as required by parliamentary law and custom, Dr Singh held a purported “Cabinet” meeting of the 14th Lok Sabha — a long-since dead institution!
Some of the persons attending this meeting as purported “Cabinet ministers” had even lost their seats in the elections decided a few days earlier and so had absolutely zero democratically legitimate status left. All these persons then submitted their purported resignations which Dr Singh carried to the President, stating his Government had resigned. The President then appointed him a caretaker PM and he, along with Sonia Gandhi, then went about “staking claim” to form the next Government — turning up at the President’s again with “letters of support” signed by some 322 persons who were MP-elects but were yet to become MPs formally by not having been sworn in.
The President appeared satisfied the party Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh belonged to would command a majority in prospect in the Lok Sabha and invited him to be PM. Some major public wrangling then took place with at least one of his allies about cabinet berths — and that is the situation as of the present moment except that Dr Singh and several others have been sworn in as the Council of Ministers even though the new 15th Lok Sabha of 543 members has still not convened! It has been all rather sloppy and hardly uplifting.
Parliament is supposed to be sovereign in India.
Not the Executive Government or the largest political party or its leader.
The sovereignty of Parliament required Sonia Gandhi and Dr Singh to have realised
first, that the 14th Lok Sabha stood automatically dissolved when elections were announced;
secondly, that the 15th Lok Sabha could have and should have been sworn in by Monday May 18;
thirdly, that there should have been a vote of confidence in the Lok Sabha immediately which would have gone in favour of the Government Party;
fourthly, that only then should the Executive Government have been sought to be formed;
and of course fifthly, that if that Executive Government was to be led by someone who happened to be a member of the Rajya Sabha and not the Lok Sabha, parliamenary law and custom required him to follow the Douglas-Home precedent of resigning from the former and seeking election to the latter at the earliest opportunity.
Let future generations know that as of today, May 25, the 543 persons whom the people of India voted to constitute the 15th Lok Sabha still remain in limbo without having been sworn in though we already have an Executive Government appointed!
The sovereignty of Parliament, specifically that of the Lok Sabha, has come to be diminished, indeed usurped, by the Executive. It is the Executive that receives its political legitimacy from Parliament, not vice versa. Nehru and his generation knew all this intimately well and would have been appalled at where we in the present have been taking it.
March 18, 2009 — drsubrotoroy
Nine months ago, on June 9 2008, I wrote but did not publish the op-ed article below “Pakistan’s progress” intended for an Indian newspaper. When the Mumbai massacres took place, I was rather glad I had not come to do so because its cheer and optimism contrasted too starkly with the vileness and viciousness of the massacres. Instead I turned to the legal, moral and political implications of the massacres, and several articles are to be found here on Kasab, competing jurisdictions in international law in prosecuting the crimes, and application of the Law of the Sea Treaty (which both countries have ratified) to jointly try and hang the masterminds at sea in international waters. Pakistan’s initial criminal investigation into the massacres received praise here, and I can only trust that both the Government of India and the Government of Pakistan will remain forensically focussed on that case of mass-murder and other heinous crimes until its appropriate conclusion.
Meanwhile, recent political events in Pakistan have made the article below relevant again; when it was written Pervez Musharraf had still not departed from office but the more abstract constitutional question raised in the article had to do with the relative powers of the Head of State and Head of Government in the new Pakistan. With the peaceful restoration of the Chief Justice to his high office, I am glad to say that the question I raised but did not publish nine months ago, namely, “A rare constitutional consensus might be developing – can it last long enough?”, seems to be headed at present to being answered in the affirmative.
March 18, 2009
Pakistan’s progress: A rare constitutional consensus might be developing – can it last long enough? Subroto Roy, dated June 9 2008
The dynamic evolution of politics in Pakistan should be judged not against Indian politics (rotten or exemplary as our politics can be at different times) but against its own initial conditions. It is an unimaginable luxury that Pakistanis in recent months have been discussing such sweet constitutional questions as how to restore judges unseated by soldiers having entered the Supreme Court, what to do with judges who took an oath despite such an abomination, how to maintain diplomatic relations between the PPP and PML(N), and most important of all, whether the military with its nuclear assets should report to the PM or President – in other words, is the Head of Government or Head of State the Chief Executive? It is a luxury too that Pervez Musharraf has become almost a distraction in Pakistani politics, that he himself indicates he may be running out of dramatic lines and may be getting ready to exit his country’s political stage, that the Pakistan Army is shocked by its realisation of its loss of prestige in society, that the Ex-Servicemen’s Society thinks Musharraf deserves punishment for having caused such a state of affairs. Dr Ayesha Siddiqa has pointed out that every Pakistani military strongman has been eventually removed, and has been removed not by democratic forces alone but by intra-military pressure.
It is likely we are at present witnessing such a critical moment, and it is naturally fraught with danger for any civilian prime minister and parliament because any intra-military conflict can descend into mutiny or worse. Pakistan Army officers have been deeply divided for years over Islamicisation already — onto which is now compounded the issue of loyalty to Musharraf (mostly paid for in American dollars) versus the urge to remove him in the best future interests of the military. Musharraf himself, with his usual braggadocio, has been claiming fealty to constitutional principles as well; so at least there is agreement on all sides that matters should proceed in an orderly and dignified manner and not by nefarious means.
The relevant comparison of the present situation is with the recent past. Let us look back just a few years, say to the autumn of 2005 when the initial post 9/11 Western backlash against Pakistan had been renewed after the London Underground bombings. On 1 September 2005, during the scheduled Islamabad visit of the Indian Foreign Secretary, the PAF launched massive month-long war-games against an assumed Indian enemy. It involved “the entire fleet, including US-made F-16s, French Mirage fighter aircraft and Chinese-built jets” and “using all assets” in an exercise “closest to war you can get in peacetime”; from the Hindu Kush to the Arabian Sea “8,200 operational sorties” would be flown, Shaukat Aziz witnessing the start, Musharraf the finish. Hardly had this orgy of militarism concluded when northern Pakistan and parts of J&K were hit by the devastating earthquake; Musharraf visited quake-hit areas still dressed in battle gear down to his para wings.
Pakistanis of all classes were appalled at the ineptitude of their government in face of the earthquake and it was inevitable the military would be held responsible. What had been the opportunity cost in fungible resources of those “8,200 operational sorties”? The military’s extremely expensive “assets” were designed for war with India and had bankrupted the country but ordinary people had been left utterly helpless in a natural calamity. Future historians of Pakistan may well see the 2005 earthquake as a critical turning point in their political development just as the 12 November 1970 cyclone was in the history of Bangladesh.
A modern war between Pakistan and India, even a non-nuclear one, would be like a hundred earthquakes. Indians have not been so jingoistic as to contemplate such an exchange of destruction but less than a decade ago Gohar Ayub Khan, as Pakistan’s Foreign Minister, was boasting how India would surrender within a few hours in the next war – which was presumably a threat to unleash missiles, even non-nuclear ones, as a first resort against Indian cities and civilian populations. That such abominable Pakistan-India tension has today come to vanish might have been indicated during the recent IPL cricket final when Kamran Akmal jumped onto Yusuf Pathan or crashed into Mohammad Kaif as commercially driven team-mates led by an Australian captain and associated with what used to be Hindu Rajputana. So much for the “Two Nations Theory” in the 21st Century. Maulana Azad seems to have been proven right and MA Jinnah proven wrong after all.
The Pakistani state had become an oppressive war-machine solely guided by anti-Indian paranoia even while ordinary Pakistanis, through modern communications and technology, knew fully well India and Indians were not nearly as bad as the Pakistan Government was making them out to be. From an official Pakistani point of view, a nuclear bomb (even a purchased and assembled one) was needed out of fear India intended to destroy what remained of West Pakistan – a theory that could arise only from the delusion that Bangladesh had been caused by Indian intrigues. The Pakistan Army has been reluctant for more than a generation to face up to the reality of its behaviour in East Pakistan and the consequences that resulted; it has been far easier to blame India instead.
Yet Pakistan’s national hero, AQ Khan himself, born in Bhopal and extremely bitter at modern India as many former Indian nationals tend to be, has now said “Never! Never!” will there be an exchange of destruction in nuclear warfare between India and Pakistan. It may be a wise Indian diplomatic move to invite Dr Khan, stricken with cancer as he is said to be, to make a quiet private visit to his place of birth if he wished to (perhaps followed by a courtesy luncheon at BARC on the way home).
Of course Indians cannot forget the destruction that has been wrought in this country in recent years by our old Bogeyman, the ISI. Yet it is a fair bet that not only do we not comprehend the workings of that particular bureaucracy, nor do Pakistanis themselves, indeed the ISI itself may not comprehend itself in the sense that different ISI sections have been and may remain at cross-purposes or conflict with each other as has become apparent in the ongoing official attempts to suppress the new “Taliban”. Proper civilian control of the ISI is part of the same process as the proper civilian control of the Pakistan military as a whole, and what we are witnessing is nothing less than the first serious constitutional attempt in Pakistan’s history for that to take place. The whole subcontinent is hopeful and watching Pakistan’s transition. In the meantime, a milestone was certainly reached on 25 May when Pakistan’s young and brilliant sufi rock band *Junoon* performed in beautiful Srinagar to the delight of thousands of Kashmiris. The “United Jehad Council” and Syed Ali Shah Geelani had denounced them; in reply the band’s lead guitarist Salman Ahmed had the courage to say: “I want them to join us in the musical *jehad* for peace and ring the bells of harmony.” For peace to break out will of course require India’s participation and willingness as well.