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DOCTRINE OF LAPSE

There is an unusually strident refusal on the part of the Congress president, Sonia Gandhi, to name her party’s prime ministerial candidate. She has tried to be very proper by saying that the leader will be selected by members of the Congress legislative party once the new Lok Sabha is formed. There are some problems with this attempt to be proper by the strict norms of the Westminster model. First, is the point of consistency. After having nominated, for two terms, a prime minister who does not belong to the lower House of Parliament, Ms Gandhi can hardly invoke the practices of the British political system. There is another point to remember. The present prime minister, who should by all conventions be seen as the head of the Congress within Parliament, has declared that he is not in the running for the top job for a third time. Those who will be voting for the Congress in the forthcoming general elections deserve to know who will be guiding the future of the country when and if the Congress were to be called upon to form the government. The Congress president refuses, for reasons best known to her, to name that leader. This is unfair to the voters as the party expects them to vote without knowing who is going to lead the government.

The Bharatiya Janata Party may be under the illusion that it does not face a similar problem since it has announced Narendra Modi as its prime ministerial candidate. The fact of the matter is that the BJP has a leader of the party in the lower House of Parliament. Obviously, the party feels that Sushma Swaraj, the leader of the BJP in the Lok Sabha, is not good enough to be its next prime ministerial candidate. The nomination of Mr Modi can be interpreted as a vote of no confidence for Ms Swaraj. Yet the latter continues to be the leader of the BJP in the lower House. Logically, she needs to step down as the party prefers someone else to be the leader. The BJP’s present leader in the Lok Sabha is only a nominal one since she is in no position to direct the party’s future. The BJP, thus, is no more free of contradictions than the Congress, so far as democratic praxis is concerned.

It is easy to see these lapses in practice not as contradictions or lacunae but as forms that are emerging as special to Indian democracy, and that these forms do not necessarily have any relationship with the practice of democracy at its original site. This argument is attractive and has advocates especially among those who prefer Indian democracy and not democracy in India. But the problem is that the Constitution drew heavily on British practice and the parliamentary procedures are all based on British precedent. The first major breach from these occurred with a prime minister from the upper House. The breach could become a slide.