We in India did not invent the idea of Parliament, the British did. Even the British did not invent the idea of a “Premier Ministre”, the French did that, though the British came to develop its meaning most. Because these are not our own inventions, when something unusual happens in contemporary India to political entities and offices known as “Parliament”, “Prime Minister” etc, contrast and comparison is inevitable with standards and practices that have prevailed around the world in other parliamentary democracies.
Indeed we in India did not even fully invent the idea of our own Parliament though the national struggle led by the original Indian National Congress caused it to come to be invented. The Lok Sabha is the outcome of a long and distinguished constitutional and political history from the Morley-Minto reforms a century ago to the Montagu-Chelmsford reforms and Government of India Act of 1919 to the Government of India Act of 1935 and the first general elections of British India in 1937 (when Jawaharlal Nehru briefly became PM for the first time) and in due course the 1946 Constituent Assembly. Out of all this emerged the 1950 Constitution of India, drafted by that brilliant jurist BR Ambedkar as well as other sober intelligent well-educated and dedicated men and women of his time, and thence arose our first Lok Sabha following the 1951 General Elections.
“What are Lok Sabha Members and State MLAs legitimately required to be doing in caring for their constituents? First of all, as a body as a whole, they need to elect the Government, i.e. the Executive Branch, and to hold it accountable in Parliament or Assembly. For example, the Comptroller and Auditor General submits his reports directly to the House, and it is the duty of individual legislators to put these to good use in controlling the Government’s waste, fraud or abuse of public resources. Secondly, MPs and MLAs are obviously supposed to literally represent their individual constituencies in the House, i.e. to bring the Government and the House’s attention to specific problems or contingencies affecting their constituents as a whole, and call for the help, funds and sympathy of the whole community on their behalf. Thirdly, MPs and MLAs are supposed to respond to pleas and petitions of individual constituents, who may need the influence associated with the dignity of their office to get things rightly done. For example, an impoverished orphan lad once needed surgery to remove a brain tumour; a family helping him was promised the free services of a top brain surgeon if a hospital bed and operating theatre could be arranged. It was only by turning to the local MLA that the family were able to get such arrangements made, and the lad had his tumour taken out at a public hospital. MPs and MLAs are supposed to vote for and create public goods and services, and to use their moral suasion to see that existing public services actually do get to reach the public.”
What about the Rajya Sabha? I said in the same article:
“Rajya Sabha Members are a different species altogether. Most if not all State Legislative Councils have been abolished, and sadly the present nature of the Rajya Sabha causes similar doubts to arise about its utility. The very idea of a Rajya Sabha was first mooted in embryo form in an 1888 book A History of the Native States of India, Vol I. Gwalior, whose author also advocated popular constitutions for the “Indian India” of the “Native States” since “where there are no popular constitutions, the personal character of the ruler becomes a most important factor in the government… evils are inherent in every government where autocracy is not tempered by a free constitution.” When Victoria was declared India’s “Empress” in 1877, a “Council of the Empire” was mooted but had remained a non-starter even until the 1887 Jubilee. An “Imperial Council” was now designed of the so-called “Native Princes”, which came to evolve into the “Chamber of Princes” which became the “Council of the States” and the Rajya Sabha. It was patterned mostly on the British and not the American upper house except in being not liable to dissolution, and compelling periodic retirement of a third of members. The American upper house is an equal if not the senior partner of the lower house. Our Rajya Sabha follows the British upper house in being a chamber which is duty-bound to oversee any exuberance in the Lok Sabha but which must ultimately yield to it if there is any dispute. Parliament in India’s democracy effectively means the Lok Sabha — where every member has contested and won a direct vote in his/her constituency. The British upper house used to have an aristocratic hereditary component which Tony Blair’s New Labour Government has now removed, so it has now been becoming more like what the Rajya Sabha was supposed to have been like.”
The Canadian upper house is similar to ours in intent: a place for “sober second thought” intended to curb the “democratic excesses” of the lower house. In the Canadian, British, Australian, Irish and our own cases, the Prime Minister, as the chief executive of the lower house has immense indirect power over the upper house, whether in appointing members or even, in the Australian case, dissolving the entire upper house if he/she wishes.
Now yesterday apparently Shrimati Sonia Gandhi, as the duly elected leader of the largest political party in the 15th Lok Sabha, accompanied by Dr Manmohan Singh, as her party’s choice for the position of Prime Minister, went to see the President of India where the Hon’ble President apparently appointed Dr Singh to be the Prime Minister of India – meaning the Prime Minister of the 15th Lok Sabha, except that Dr Singh is not a member of the Lok Sabha and apparently has had no intent of becoming one.
In 2004 Shrimati Gandhi had declined to accept an invitation to become PM and instead effectively recommended Dr Singh to be PM despite his not being a member of the Lok Sabha nor intending to be so. This exploited a constitutional loophole to the extent that the drafters of our 1950 Constitution happened not to have explicitly stated that the PM must be from the Lok Sabha. But the reason the founders of our democratic polity such as BR Ambedkar and Jawaharlal Nehru did not specify that the PM must be from the Lok Sabha was quite simply that it was a matter of complete obviousness to them and to their entire generation that this must be so— it would have been appalling to them and something beyond their wildest imagination that a later generation, namely our own, would exploit such a loophole and allow a PM to be appointed who is not a member of the Lok Sabha and intends not to be so.
Ambedkar, Nehru and all others of their time knew fully well that the history and intended purpose of the Lok Sabha was completely different from the history and intended purpose of the Rajya Sabha. They knew too fully well that Lord Curzon had been explicitly denied the leadership of Britain’s Tory Party in 1922 because that would have made him a potential PM when he was not prepared to be a member of the House of Commons. That specific precedent culminated a centuries’-old democratic trend of political power flowing from monarchs to lords to commoners, and has governed all parliamentary democracies worldwide ever since — until Dr Singh’s appointment in 2004.
When such an anomalous situation once arose in Britain, Lord Home resigned his membership of the House of Lords to contest a House of Commons seat as Sir Alec Douglas Home so that he could be PM in a manner consistent with parliamentary law.
Dr Singh instead for five years remained PM of India while not being a member of the Lok Sabha. Even if reasons and exigencies of State could have been cited for such an anomalous situation during his first term, there was really no such reason for him not to contest the 2009 General Election if he wished to be the Congress Party’s prime ministerial candidate a second time. Numerous Rajya Sabha members alongside him have contested Lok Sabha seats this time, and several have won.
As of today, Dr Singh is due to be sworn in tomorrow as Prime Minister for a second term while still having no declared intention of resigning from the Rajya Sabha and contesting a Lok Sabha seat instead. What the present-day Congress has done is elect him the leader of the “Congress Parliamentary Party” and claim that it is in such a capacity that he received the invitation to be Prime Minister of India. But surely if the question had been asked to the Congress Party under Nehru or Indira or Rajiv: “Can you foresee a circumstance ever in which the PM of India is not a member of the Lok Sabha?” their answer in each case would have been a categorical and resounding “no”.
So the question does arise why the Congress under Sonia Gandhi has with deliberation allowed such an anomalous situation to develop. Its effect is to completely distort the trends of relative political power between the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha. On the one hand, the Lok Sabha’s power is deliberately made to diminish as the chief executive of the Government of India shall not be from the Lok Sabha but from “the other place” despite the Lok Sabha having greater political legitimacy by having been directly elected by India’s people. This sets a precedent that might get repeated in India in the future but which contradicts the worldwide trend in parliamentary democracies over decades and centuries in precisely the opposite direction – of power flowing in the direction of the people not away from them. On the other hand, the fact this anomalous idea has been pioneered by the elected leader of the largest political party in the Lok Sabha while her PM is in the Rajya Sabha causes a member of the lower house to have unexpected control over the upper house when the latter is supposed to be something of an independent check on the former!
It all really seems an unnecessary muddle and a jumbling up of normal constitutional law and parliamentary procedure. The Sonia-Manmohan Government at the outset of its second term should hardly want to be seen by history as having set a poor precedent using brute force. The situation can be corrected with the utmost ease by following the Alec Douglas Home example, with Dr Singh being given a relatively safe seat to contest as soon as possible, if necessary by some newly elected Congress MP resigning and allowing a bye-election to be called.
While we do not have such a ceremony literally, we do have its republican equivalent in the well-established constitutional custom of the President of India after a General Election inviting one person to be Prime Minister and to form the new Government.
It soon shall be your solemn duty to invite such a new Prime Minister of India to form the Government.
Given the results of the 15th General Elections to the Lok Sabha, that invitation may be extended only to the Leader of the winning coalition in the Lok Sabha, who is Shrimati Sonia Gandhi.
The outgoing Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, not having contested the Lok Sabha election, may not by you be invited to be Prime Minister at this stage.
What happened in 2004 was that Shrimati Sonia Gandhi declined to accept such an invitation and instead effectively appointed Dr Singh to be PM despite his not being a member of the Lok Sabha nor intending to be so.
This exploited a constitutional loophole to the extent that our Constitution did not explicitly state that the PM must be from the Lok Sabha.
What may have been passable as the hurried exploitation of a loophole in 2004 is surely not acceptable in 2009.
Why the founders of our democratic polity such as BR Ambedkar and Jawaharlal Nehru did not specify that the PM must be from the Lok Sabha was quite simply that it was a matter of complete obviousness to them and to their entire generation that this must be so — it would have been appalling to them and something beyond their wildest imagination that a later generation, namely our own, would exploit this loophole and allow a PM to be appointed who is not a member of the Lok Sabha and intends not to be so.
Ambedkar, Nehru and all others of their time knew fully well that Lord Curzon had been explicitly denied the leadership of Britain’s Tory Party in 1922 because that would have made him a potential PM when he was not prepared to be a member of the House of Commons.
That specific precedent (culminating a centuries-old democratic trend of political power flowing from monarchs to lords to commoners) has governed all parliamentary democracies worldwide ever since — until Dr Singh’s appointment in 2004.
In fact, when such an anomalous situation once arose in Britain, Lord Home resigned his membership of the House of Lords to contest a House of Commons seat as Sir Alec Douglas Home so that he could be PM in a manner consistent with parliamentary law.
I believe you are fully within constitutional law and precedent to invite Shrimati Sonia Gandhi to form the new Government of India after the 15th General Elections to the Lok Sabha. If she declines and instead requests again the use of the loophole to appoint Dr Singh as PM, I believe that parliamentary law and precedent requires him to resign from the Rajya Sabha and instead contest a seat in the Lok Sabha.
Beginnings of a solution to the long-standing border problem: there are distinct Tibetan, Chinese and Indian points of view that need to be mutually comprehended.
First published in The Sunday Statesman, January 13 2008, Editorial Page Special Article
WAR is an existential experience from which nations emerge altered, reflective and sometimes more mature. Germany tried to purge anti-Jewish hatred, Japan to adopt pacifism, Britain to break class-structures, Russia to explode Stalin’s cult. America learnt little from its Vietnam debacle, creating new tactics and technologies to reduce American casualties in war but not showing any improved capacity to comprehend the world beyond its shores and borders.
India after the 1962 defeat by Mao’s China learnt less than was possible and necessary to do. The Government’s official history concluded: “In a fundamental sense, the origins of the 1962 Sino-Indian conflict lay in Chinese expansionism and occupation of Tibet. The issue got further aggravated due to failure of the Chinese to win over the Tibetans. Indian asylum to the Dalai Lama raised Chinese suspicions about ultimate Indian intentions. On the other hand, India, while tacitly accepting the Chinese occupation of Tibet through a treaty in 1954, failed to obtain any quid pro quo on the border issue.” This is true enough but a deeper probe is also possible.
India’s 20th Century political and intellectual leadership may have grossly failed to comprehend critical world events in a realistic manner, specifically Vladimir Ulyanov’s German-assisted Bolshevik coup d’etat, the Kuomintang and Maoist takeovers in China, as well as India’s own struggle for Independence. After BG Tilak, Annie Besant, GK Gokhale and other founders of Indian nationalism passed from the scene, leaders arose like MK Gandhi, MA Jinnah, SC Bose and J Nehru who tended to be consumed, to lesser or greater extent, by their own hubris and were less able to see India’s fortunes and capacities in context of a larger world. None had military, administrative or public finance experience needed for practical government; instead there arose almost a new hereditary caste of the “professional politician” who has no other vocation or anything better to do in life. Nazi-admirers like Mashriqi and Rahmat Ali among Muslims and the Mahasabha and RSS among Hindus also lent mainstream Indian nationalism a harsh distasteful colouration.
Czechoslovakia’s great nationalist Masaryk (who famously denounced Austro-Hungary as a “corrupt, pretentious, senseless relic”) was said to be “a leader who planned further ahead than his contemporaries, understood the corroding effects of power, the vital need of restraint in the ruler, and above all the need for taking the nation into his confidence, educating it in the sense of drawing out all its innate qualities and sharing its manifold aspirations” (Seton-Watson). India’s clear-headed statesmen of that calibre were not among its most visible or ambitious. Vallabhbhai Patel, MAK Azad, C Rajagopalachari and others were left on the sidelines of free India’s politics ~ as Plato predicted, the genuine pilot of the ship of state will be hardly invited to take its wheel nor even want to do so.
Nehru alone, as chosen by Gandhi, came to wield actual power in the 1950s, having maneuvered Rajendra Prasad to being President. And Nehru, besotted in middle age with a married British woman, seemed awestruck by appearance of a victorious Maoist communism in China just as he had been adoring of Stalin’s Russia two decades earlier. The Congress’s friends among India’s official Communists and fellow-travelers never had much original indigenous grassroots support and always looked abroad for guidance. Non-alignment needed to be made of sterner stuff.
Nehru’s flawed management of the relationship with Communist China included not merely choosing a favourite like Krishna Menon to head India’s military, but also imagining himself a competent world diplomatist. Girja Shankar Bajpai would have been far superior as India’s first Foreign Minister. In 1952, Bajpai, then Governor of Bombay, wrote to Nehru saying India should inform Zhou Enlai the McMahon Line was firm in law and non-negotiable.
Was the McMahon Line firm and just? Nehru was no Curzon but it was as a Curzonian imperialist that Mao and Zhou saw him. All Chinese, whether Communist or Nationalist, chafed at the way the Manchu-dynasty’s Empire had been carved up. “China is our India” was Czarist Russia’s intent towards China itself. China had an awful political and military history from when foreign depredations began in the 1840s all the way until the Mao-Zhou era ended in the 1970s. Indeed China’s polity between the 1840s and 1940s suffered far greater chaos and anarchy than India’s in the same period.
From a Chinese standpoint, Younghusband’s diplomatic and military invasion of Gyantze and Lhasa in 1903-1904 was an insult they had been unable to militarily confront. Curzon sent Younghusband’s expedition because there appeared to be Russian intrigues with the Dalai Lama via the Russian/Mongolian agent Dorjiev who had transmitted Russian ideas of extending its new Siberian railway to Lhasa and posting Cossack soldiers there. The Russians seemed to want to adopt the Dalai Lama given his religious influence over Mongolia. The British were alarmed and determined to annihilate the influence of Dorjiev which they did. Thence came the Anglo-Russian Treaty of 1907 which specified British and Russian spheres of influence in Iran and Afghanistan, and stated Tibet would be dealt with internationally only through the Chinese Empire. The McMahon Line, as a recognition of the traditional boundary, flowed naturally from the legitimacy of the Anglo-Russian Treaty. As for Sinkiang, though a Chinese province since 1884 it came to be ruled by warlords under Russian influence.
The Mao-Zhou war machine was determined to take over and militarily hold both Sinkiang and Tibet as an assertion of new China’s self-definition against Russia and Britain; hence their denunciation of Nehru as a pawn first of Britain and then of Russia. China building a road surreptitiously between Sinkiang and Tibet through Aksai Chin was reminiscent of Russia’s coercive behaviour against China in building the Trans-Siberian Railway through Chinese territory to Vladivostok. At worst, the Indians would have to admit that erstwhile J&K State since October 1947 had become an ownerless entity whose unclaimed territory had been carved up by force by the new Pakistan, new India and new China.
From an Indian standpoint, the traditional recognised boundary placed Aksai Chin clearly in Ladakh and not Tibet. Aksai Chain is a salt pit without “a blade of grass” but for all anyone knows, it could be rich in minerals. Karakorum Pass is also newly valuable to the Chinese as they seek to develop a land-route from Baluchistan’s Gwadar Port through Pakistan to China. If India has lost Aksai Chin and Karakorum Pass by force of arms without compensation, force of arms may be the only means of retrieval. Due compensation from China could be Chumbi Valley between Sikkim and Bhutan, and China seems once to have mentioned mutual perpetual lease of Aksai Chin and Chumbi Valley.
From a Tibetan point of view, the Amban representing the Chinese Emperor was driven out of Lhasa in 1912 and Tibet was independent of China for 38 years. Tibet has as much of a claim to be independent of China as Poland or Ukraine have had to be of Russia. As for the McMahon Line, it is indeed legally non-negotiable between China and India as it flowed directly out of the Anglo-Russian Treaty of 1907, and it was under that Treaty that China received international recognition of its formal suzerainty over Tibet since 1720 until that time. Mao once likened Tibet to the palm of a hand with Ladakh, Nepal, Sikkim, Bhutan and Assam as five fingers. Modern China must decide between such a metaphor of Maoist expansionism (which India would have to militarily resist) and joining the world of international law created since Grotius. Democratic conditions in Tibet would also have to be insisted upon so the Dalai Lama and other Tibetans may return home from India in peace and freedom.
First published in The Sunday Statesman Editorial Page Special Article, July 16 2006
Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan (1890-1988) was without a doubt the greatest political genius the Pashtun people have yet produced.
Understanding the political economy of the Pashto/Pakhto speaking peoples, as well as the Tajik, Hazara, Uzbek, Turkmen and other inhabitants of Afghanistan, remains a top intellectual challenge for everyone including themselves. Afghans have hardly lived a peaceful decade since Genghiz Khan destroyed them avenging his grandson in the 13th Century. Ghazni, Ghor, Peshawar etc. were launch-pads for attacks against the settled people of India’s fertile plains (most recently, the October 1947 attack on Kashmir Valley) while Herat saw wars by and against Iran.
Lyall, one of the architects of 19th Century British policy, thought Afghans “wretched”, “treacherous barbarians with whom it was an unfortunate necessity to have any dealings at all”… “I can only sympathise with the Afghan’s love for his country and his hatred against those who disturb him, although he has no scruple in disturbing others to the best of his savage ability”. Yet the British idea of Russian armies marching into India through Afghanistan was always a wild exaggeration, especially after joint boundary commissions demarcated the imperial spheres of influence. When the Russians did finally enter and occupy Afghanistan in 1978-79, they lived to regret it; and they arrived in independent India on passenger aircraft, were greeted as fraternal socialists selling weapons, and remain so today. Pakistan’s generals exaggerated the prospect of Russia seeking warm water ports, first to Nixon (as Vice President) then to Carter and Reagan, causing the Americans to happily supply weapons which the generals promptly turned against India.
Ghaffar Khan was and remains the only thoughtful figure in Pashtun history who invented a new, living political philosophy as a constructive force for his people’s peace and progress. Even though his ideology failed to take permanent root or survive among them, he commanded universal respect among all Pashtuns and Afghans and became “Badshah Khan” or “Bacha Khan” to them. Afghanistan’s civil war, in which the USSR was pit against the USA, Pakistan etc, stopped with a ceasefire in 1988 for his burial to take place in Jalalabad, with a funeral procession that was miles long.
Pashtun and other Afghan and Arab tribal people have become notorious today by their association with the dogmatism, intellectual insularity and retrograde ideology of Muslim extremism. Yet Osama bin Laden and his Taliban and other friends have been unable to make any moral argument for the cause of violence other than one built on revenge for perceived or misperceived injustices against Muslims. “Because you have done this and this to Muslim people, we are bound by the code of vengeance to do this to you” is just about the entire quantum of moral reasoning contained in Al-Qaida’s statements. “Revenge is a wild kind of justice” and circumstances can exist where injustice is so deep that only revenge suffices in rectification. The current case of the rape-murder of an Iraqi girl and her family by a group of renegade American soldiers may be one such, which explicitly led to the kidnap, torture and murder of some of the soldiers by Iraqis seeking vengeance. But justice too is a civilised kind of revenge, and the transition from a code of revenge to a code of justice is precisely the transition from tribal warfare to civilisation. In Western countries, it occurred recently enough when duelling with swords or pistols came to be banned, giving way to the law of torts.
Ghaffar Khan attempted to change the Pashtun code in this one fundamental and all-important direction by abolishing the right to revenge. In its place he brought the doctrine of non-violence. “I am going to give you such a weapon that the police and the army will not be able to stand against it. It is the weapon of the Prophet, but you are not aware of it. That weapon is patience and righteousness. No power on earth can stand against it.”Patience and righteousness are not political virtues that seem to find much mention in Islamic or Afghan folklore, and doubtless they arose in Ghaffar Khan’s thought and actions at least partly through his encounter with Christian altruism, first with Rev. Wigram his schoolmaster, and later in adult life with the Tolstoy-Thoreau doctrines applied along with Jain ahimsa by MK Gandhi in the movement for Indian independence.
“It is the weapon of the Prophet” was Ghaffar Khan making explicit he was and remained at all times the most devout of Muslims and none could say otherwise; “but you are not aware of it” was his new move to tell his people they had misled themselves by sacerdotalism and needed to read the Prophet’s life and message afresh. He once told M. K. Gandhi how he explained to amazed Punjabi Muslim Leaguers the precise evidence in favour of non-violence from the Prophet’s life in Mecca, leaving his audience speechless.
Today’s “Taliban” were named for their purported piety; Lashkar-e-Taiba even means “Army of the Pious”, the typical image being of pious studious youth seated memorising scriptures in a Pakistani madrassa, and later waving AK-47s in a moving truck. Ghaffar Khan’s Khudai Khidmatgar “Servants of God” were their polar opposite. Each of some 120,000 members of the order took a fierce oath to non-violence and renunciation: “I am a Servant of God, and as God needs no service, but serving his creation is serving him, I promise to serve humanity in the name of God; to refrain from violence and from taking revenge; to forgive those who oppress me or treat me with cruelty; to refrain from taking part in feuds and quarrels and from creating enmity; to treat every Pathan as my brother and friend; to refrain from antisocial customs and practices; to live a simple life, to practice virtue, and to refrain from evil; to practice good manners and good behaviour and not to lead a life of idleness… I will sacrifice my wealth, life, and comfort for the liberty of my nation and people… side with the oppressed against the oppressor… live in accordance with principles of nonviolence… serve all God’s creatures alike… my object shall be the attainment of the freedom of my country and my religion. … will never desire any reward whatever for my service. All my efforts shall be to please God, and not for any show or gain.”
In their founder’s words, the Khudai Khidmatgars were to be ready to lay down their own lives for their cause and never take any life doing so. They became far more forceful practitioners of non-violence than their Gandhian Indian counterparts in the struggle for political freedom from the British, and hundreds of them died in Peshawar under British brutality.
In 1893, Durand’s controversial boundary-line gave the British control over the three mountain passes between Afghanistan and India in exchange for raising the annual British subsidy to the Afghan Amir by 50% from Rs 8 lakhs to 12 lakhs. Today, the Durand Line roughly separates perhaps 10 million Pashtun comprising 40% of Afghanistan’s population from perhaps 8 million Pashtun who are Pakistani nationals (no one has exact figures as there has been no census). In the 1950s and 1960s, the Afghan Government backed by the USSR, on pretence that the Durand Line had not been freely accepted by Afghans, wished for a “Pakhtoonistan” under its sway.
Though jailed by the new and nervous Pakistanis, Ghaffar Khan was averse to any truck with the Afghan Government ~ he had not demanded erasing the Durand Line but had demanded a separate and distinct “Pashtunistan”. A mature self-confident federal Pakistan today would bifurcate itself vertically into one or two mountainous western provinces on one side, and two or three river valley eastern provinces on the other. The former could be named “East Pashtunistan” if the Baloch agreed, or East Pashtunistan and Baluchistan otherwise, and extend to the port of Gwadar, while the latter would remain Punjab, Sindh and “Northern Kashmir”.
Along with an Afghan “West Pashtunistan” and an Indian “Southern Kashmir”, a stable design of peaceful nation-states from Iran through Afghanistan and Pakistan to India would be then finally in place. Badshah Khan’s influence in death may yet become greater than his influence in life.
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