When the history of Manmohan Singh’s prime ministership gets to be written, one important fact will not go unnoticed. He held office for 10 uninterrupted years without being elected by the people. Mr Singh was not a member of the Lok Sabha but of the Rajya Sabha (that too representing a province with which he created a tenuous link). Mr Singh thus knowingly violated the convention that the prime minister should belong to the Lower House. The word, “knowingly’’, in the previous sentence is used advisedly since a person of Mr Singh’s experience, wisdom and erudition could not have been unaware of the conventions of parliamentary democracy. For 10 years he ignored one crucial element of these conventions. It is difficult to imagine that the Congress party could not find for Mr Singh a “safe’’ seat from which he could be elected to the Lok Sabha. If such a seat could not be found for Mr Singh in the whole of India, then it is a sad commentary on his standing as a national leader. The truth is probably that no one, including the prime minister, was too concerned that a convention was being violated by his being a member of the Rajya Sabha.
Ignoring or violating the conventions of democracy is becoming part of the political culture of India. This is manifest not only in the unruly scenes witnessed in Parliament but also in the behaviour of individual members. To take a famous example, there was actually a debate over Somnath Chatterjee’s membership of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) when he was the Speaker of the Lok Sabha. The very fact that such a debate occurred is revealing. By the conventions of parliamentary democracy, a Speaker should be non-partisan, above the hurly-burly of politics. Mr Chatterjee should have ceased to be a member of a political party as soon as he became the Speaker. This did not happen and the result was an unseemly incident. There are members of parliament who are nominated by the president to be members of the House. The assumption is that since they are presidential nominees, such members should not speak for or represent the interests of any political party. This convention is honoured only in the breach. Thus the prime minister is not alone in violating some of the conventions of parliamentary democracy. But since he is the prime minister, he should have set an example. He failed to do this.