Any Lok Sabha MP who neither sits with the Opposition nor is a sworn-in member of the Government is a Backbench MP of the Government party or its coalition.
Shrimati Sonia Gandhi is the most prominent of such Backbench MPs in the 15th Lok Sabha, just as she was of the 14th Lok Sabha, and has chosen to be in a most peculiar position from the point of view of parliamentary law. As the leader of the largest parliamentary party, she could have been not merely a member of the Government but its Prime Minister. She has in fact had a decisive role in determining the composition of the Manmohan Government as well as its policies. She in fact sits on the Frontbenches in the Lok Sabha along with the Manmohan Government. But she is not a member of the Government and is, formally speaking, a Backbench MP who is choosing to sit in the Frontbenches.
(Dr Manmohan Singh himself, not being a member of the Lok Sabha, may, formally speaking, sit or speak from among the Frontbenches of his own Government only by invitation of the Lok Sabha Speaker as a courtesy – such would have been the cardinal reason why Alec Douglas-Home resigned from being Lord Home and instead stood for a House of Commons seat when he was appointed British Prime Minister.)
Sonia Gandhi’s son, Mr Rahul Gandhi, is also a Backbench MP. From all accounts, including that of Dr Singh himself, he could have been a member of Dr Singh’s Government but has specifically chosen not to be. He has appeared to have had some much lesser role than Sonia Gandhi in determining the composition of the Government and its policies but he is not a member of it. He is, formally speaking, a Backbench MP, indeed the most prominent to actually sit in the Backbenches, as he had done in the 14th Lok Sabha, which, it is to be hoped, he does in the 15th Lok Sabha too.
Now Rahul Gandhi, Sonia Gandhi and their 541 other fellow 15th Lok Sabha MPs were declared winners by May 16 2009 having won the Indian people’s vote.
(Incidentally, I predicted the outcome here two hours before polls closed on May 13 – how I did so is simply by having done the necessary work of determining that some 103 million people had voted for Congress in 2004 against some 86 million for the BJP; in my assessment Congress had done more than enough by way of political rhetoric and political reality to maintain if not extend that difference in 2009, i.e., the BJP had not done nearly enough to even begin to get enough of a net drift in its favour. I expect when the data are out it shall be seen that the margin of the raw vote between them has been much enlarged from 2004.)
As I have pointed out here over the last fortnight, there was no legal or logical reason why the whole 15th Lok Sabha could not have been sworn in latest by May 18 2009.
Instead, Dr Manmohan Singh on May 18 held a purported “Cabinet” meeting of the defunct 14th Lok Sabha – an institution that had been automatically dissolved when Elections had been first announced! The Government then went about forming itself over two weeks despite the 15th Lok Sabha, on whose confidence it depended for its political legitimacy, not having been allowed to meet. Everyone – the Congress Party’s Supreme Court advocates, the Lok Sabha Secretariat, the Election Commission, Rashtrapati Bhavan too – seems to have gotten it awfully wrong by placing the cart before the horse.
In our system it is Parliament that is sovereign, not the Executive Government. In fact the Executive is accountable to Parliament, specifically the Lok Sabha, and is supposed to be guided by it as well as hold its confidence at all times.
What has happened instead this time is that Government ministers have been busy taking oaths and entering their offices and making policy-decisons days before they have taken their oaths and their seats as Lok Sabha MPs! The Government has thus started off by diminishing Parliament’s sovereignty and this should not be allowed to happen again.
(Of course why it took place is because of the peculiarity of the victory relative to our experience in recent decades – nobody could remember parliamentary traditions from Nehru’s time in the 1950s. Even so, someone, e.g. the former Speaker, should have known and insisted upon explaining the relevant aspect of parliamentary law and hence avoided this breach.)
A central question now is whether a Government which has such a large majority, and which is led by someone in and has numerous ministers from the Rajya Sabha, is going to be adequately controlled and feel itself accountable to the Lok Sabha.
Neither of the Lok Sabha’s most prominent Backbenchers, Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi, have thus far distinguished themselves as Parliamentarians on the floor of the Lok Sabha. In the 14th Lok Sabha, Sonia Gandhi, sitting in the Frontbenches, exercised the enormous control that she did over the Government not on the floor of the House itself but from outside it.
It would be best of all if she chose in the 15th Lok Sabha to actually physically sit in the Congress’s Backbenches because that would ensure best that the Government Party’s ministers in the Frontbenches will keep having to seek to be accountable to the Backbenches!
But this seems unlikely to happen in view of the fact she herself seems to have personally influenced the choice of a Speaker for the 15th Lok Sabha and it may be instead expected that she continues to sit on the Frontbenches with the Government without being a member of it.
That leaves Rahul Gandhi. If he too comes to be persuaded by the sycophants to sit on the Frontbenches with the Government, that will not be a healthy sign.
On the other hand, if he continues to sit on the Backbenches, he may be able to have a salubrious influence on the 15th Lok Sabha fulfilling its responsibility of seeking to seriously control and hold accountable the Executive Government, and not be bullied or intimidated by it. His paternal grandfather, Feroze Gandhi, after all, may have been India’s most eminent and effective Backbench MP yet.
Subroto Roy, Kolkata
A lawyer friend tells me she thinks it a “technicality” that there is no Lok Sabha or Parliament in India today despite eleven long days and nights having passed since the 15th Lok Sabha came to be elected by the people of India. “At least we did not get Advani and Modi to rule”, is how she sought to justify the current circumstance. I am afraid I think she has produced a non sequitur, and also forgotten the constitutional law she would have read as a student.
The best argument that I think the Government of India shall be able to give justifying their legal error in not having the 15th Lok Sabha up and running yet 11 days after India’s people have spoken would run something like this:
(1) The President of India invites a Council of Ministers led by a PM to form the government and has done so.
(2) The President must be satisfied that the PM commands a majority in the Lok Sabha, and the President has been satisfied by the 322 “letters of support” that the PM produced.
(3) The Government of the day calls parliamentary sessions and does so at its discretion, and the Government of the day headed by this PM has announced when it shall call the 15th Lok Sabha which will be in a few days yet.
Any such argument, I am afraid, would be specious because it simply puts the cart before the horse.
Parliament is sovereign in India, to repeat what I have said several times before.
Parliament is sovereign in India — not even the President who is the symbol of that sovereignty. We do not follow the British quite exactly in this because we are a republic and not a monarchy. In Britain sovereignty rests with “The King in Parliament”. With us, Parliament is sovereign and the President is the symbol of that sovereignty. In all matters of state, our President must act in a manner that Parliament and parliamentary law says.
Parliament is sovereign in India — not the Executive Government, certainly not its largest political party or its leader.
Parliament is sovereign in India because the people of India have chosen it to be so within the Constitution of India.
Parliament is sovereign in India and the people of India have elected the 15th Lok Sabha which has still not been allowed to meet eleven days later.
To the contrary, as noted days ago, the purported “Cabinet” of the 14th Lok Sabha, a dead institution, met on May 18 2009, some 48 hours after the 15th Lok Sabha had already been declared! The 14th Lok Sabha in fact stood automatically dissolved in law when General Elections came to be announced.
Is all this merely a “technicality” as my friend believes? I think not.
Executive Government in India derives its political legitimacy from being elected by Parliament, i.e., from holding the confidence of Parliament, and that means the Lok Sabha.
The Government of the day might for sake of convenience have a prerogative of calling sessions of the 15th Lok Sabha once it has been constituted but the Government of the day cannot logically constitute a Lok Sabha after a General Election because it itself receives legitimacy from such a Lok Sabha.
If the 15th Lok Sabha has not met, confidence in any Executive has yet to be recorded, and hence any such Government has yet to receive legitimacy.
Do “322 letters of support” suffice? Hardly. They are signed after all by persons who have yet to take their seats in the Lok Sabha! (Let us leave aside the fact that the PM, not being a member of the Lok Sabha, is in this case unable to be one of those 322 himself!)
Yet we have 79 “Ministers” of this new “Government” holding press-conferences and giving out free-bees and favours etc already. As I have said before, Ambedkar, Nehru and others of their generation, plus Indira and Rajiv too, would all have been appalled.
Because the incompetence of the fascists and communists in the Opposition may continue to be expected, it will be up to ordinary citizens and voters of India to point out such simple truths whenever the Emperor is found to be naked. (Our docile juvenile ingratiating media may well remain mostly hopeless.)
Subroto Roy, Kolkata.
There are at least three Supreme Court lawyers, all highly voluble, among the higher echelons of Congress Party politicians; it is surprising that not one of them has been able to get the top Party leadership of Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh to see the apparent breach of normal constitutional law in Parliament not having met more than 10 days after it was elected.
A Government has been formed, Ministers have entered their offices and have been holding press-conferences and taking executive decisions, wannabe-Ministers continue to be wrangling night-and-day for the plums of office — BUT THERE IS NO PARLIAMENT!
Today is the death-anniversary of Jawaharlal Nehru and last week was the death anniversary of Rajiv Gandhi.
Nehru, whatever his faults and infirmities, was an outstanding parliamentarian and a believer in the Westminster model in particular. He was intimately familiar with its unpoken customs and unwritten laws. He would have been completely appalled by the situation today where luminaries of the party that goes by the same name as the one he had led are paying obeisance to his memory 45 years after his death but have failed to see the absurdity in having a Government in office with no new Parliament ten days after a month-long General Election was over! (Incidentally, had he not left explicit instructions against any hero-worship taking place of himself too?)
Rajiv knew his grandfather and had acquired a sense of noblesse oblige from him. He too would have been appalled that the procedural business of government had been simply procrastinated over like this.
It surprises me that Dr Manmohan Singh, having been a post-graduate of Cambridge, having earned a doctorate from Oxford, and more recently having been awarded honorary doctorates from both Ancient Universities, should seem so unaware of the elements of the Westminster model of constitutional jurisprudence which guides our polity too.
It is too late now and the mistakes have been made. I hope his new Government will come to realise at some point and then keep in mind that our Executive receives political legitimacy from Parliament, not vice versa. An Executive can hardly be legitimately in office until the Parliament that is supposed to elect it has been sworn in.
As for our putative Opposition in the Parliament-yet-to-meet, it seems to have drawn a blank too, and eo ipso revealed its own constitutional backwardness and lethargy.
Subroto Roy, Kolkata
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.
Subroto Roy, Kolkata
The Hon’ble President of India invites the leader of the single largest political party in the 15th Lok Sabha to visit Rashtrapati Bhavan.
The leader does so, bringing with her, her own nominee for the Prime Ministership of India as she herself wishes to decline the invitation to be PM.
The President meets the leader alone and extends the invitation.
The invitation is respectfully declined with the recommendation that the Hon’ble President may perhaps consider instead the name of the person nominated by the leader.
The President agrees and extends the invitation to the latter in the presence of the leader. The latter accepts with thanks.
The President observes that since the PM-elect in this case happens not to be a member of the Lok Sabha, she hopes that he shall soon become one.
The meeting ends.
The leader of the single largest political party in the 15th Lok Sabha publicly announces her nominee for the position of Prime Minister.
The Hon’ble President of India comes to learn of this from the newspapers or television and extends an invitation to the latter.
The latter visits Rashtrapati Bhavan, receives and accepts the President’s invitation to form a Government.
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