The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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All Indian problems are essentially British. Nowhere is this contradiction better illustrated than in the implantation of the Westminster model on the Indian polity. In the mother of democracies, because there is no written constitution, conventions and established practices have the force of rules and regulations. There is also room for interpretation so long as that interpretation does not violate the established conventions. In fact, the conventions guide and determine the interpretations. In India, a young democracy, with a population uneducated in democratic practices and to which the spirit of parliamentary democracy is alien, there are very few if any established conventions with the force of rules. Thus, in a situation like the one now prevailing in Uttar Pradesh, after the fall of the Mayavati government, the governor of the state, Mr Vishnu Kant Shastri, has to exercise his discretion according to the way he chooses to interpret the relevant sections of the Constitution. Or what is worse, he may have to follow instructions from New Delhi and the political masters there. In other words, he has the scope to contemplate options and even, if he is that way inclined, play political games. This need not be the case if matters can be taken outside the accepted groove and beyond conventional wisdom.

The matter can be resolved and the scope for interpretation and choice removed through a series of simple and clear-cut rules. It could be laid down that in the case of a hung Bidhan Sabha or Lok Sabha, whichever political party or pre-election political formation (like the Left Front or the National Democratic Alliance) constitutes the single largest party/bloc in the assembly should be called upon to prove its majority on the floor of the house and then form a government. This group could be given, if so required, a stipulated time to prove its strength in the assembly. If it fails the majority test, the party/group with the next highest number of seats and so on. There is no need to reduce this principle to its absurd limit by allowing this option to all parties. It can be written down that only those having a certain percentage of the total seats will be allowed to claim a stake to form a government. Such a procedure, once in place, will automatically simplify the task of the governor and reduce the play of political influence and bias. It is difficult to imagine what, save an ersatz tradition, stands in the way of putting such a procedure in place. It is important to remember that what works by the River Thames may not necessarily work by the River Ganga.

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