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Mainstream, VOL LVII No 15 New Delhi March 30, 2019

Prime Ministerial Candidate in a Parliamentary Democracy

An Unconstitutional Way To A Constitutional Institution

Sunday 31 March 2019

by Deeksha Gupta and Anubhav Bijalwan

The practise of declaring the prime ministerial candidate by the political parties before the parliamentary elections is on the rise. The ruling party had declared Narendra Modi as its prime ministerial candidate in September 2013, much before the votes were polled for the 16th Lok Sabha elections in 2014. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had earlier declared senior leader L.K. Advani as its prime ministerial candidate for the 2009 Lok Sabha elections.1

There has been a gradual moulding of a political convention to declare the prime ministerial candidate before the elections and contend the elections based on his name. Recently, the BJP’s national General Secretary Kailash Vijayvargiya has dared the Opposition parties to declare their prime ministerial candidate in the following words: “It’s really good to see Opposition parties trying to forge an alliance to fight against us. But, first let them declare their prime ministerial candidate, and then they should dream of fighting against us and ousting us.”2 These statements reflect the growing mentality of the political parties to consider the declaration of the prime ministerial candidate before the elections as a step necessary to establish their position as a strong contestant.

Indian Parliamentary Democracy: Principles Violated by Prime Ministerial Candidate Declaration

India is a parliamentary democracy with an indirect form of elections. In other words, the Prime Minister of India is not directly elected by the people of the nation but rather the citizens vote for Members of Parliament (MPs) from their respective constituencies and the MPs of the majority party in the Lok Sabha nominate their leader who eventually becomes the Prime Minister. Declaring a prime ministerial candidate before the elections and thereafter contesting the entire election in his name violates the settled principles of a parliamentary democracy in two ways:

First, it makes the election of the Prime Minister a direct election rather than an indirect one. This was clearly manifested in the 2014 general elections which were totally Modi-centric as was exemplified by the “Abki Bar Modi Sarkar” slogan that gained popularity in the 2014 elections.3 His election campaign was more like a presidential election campaign as that of the United States of America where the members of the Congress tend to be elected on the basis of their individual personalities and their positions on various issues. Whereas in a parliamentary set-up the principal question facing the voter in a parliamentary election is which party will command a majority. A candidate’s individual merits or policies are usually only marginal issues. However, in the 2014 elections people were asked to vote for Modi as their Prime Minister rather than for a party or the MP of their respective constituency.4 The whole election was centred around the personality of Modi and his views on various issues.5 Thus, the practice of declaring a candidate for the Prime Minister before the elections has completely changed the nature of elections in India.

Secondly, as per the constitutional mandate, after the general election, the MPs of the political party obtaining majority of the seats in the Lok Sabha, elect their leader who is consequently appointed as the Prime Minister of the country. The underlying rationale is that India is an indirect form of democracy where people participate in the law-making process of the country through the elected MPs and it is presumed that the elected MPs have been mandated by the people of the country to elect their leader in the form of the Prime Minister.

Declaring a prime ministerial candidate before the elections is in violation of the above mentioned constitutional mandate as the person announced as the prime ministerial candidate before the election is elected by the political party and not the elected members of Parliament. Only a handful of people appoint him as a prime ministerial candidate rather than the majority of MPs elected to the Lok Sabha. For instance, before the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, Narendra Modi was announced as the prime ministerial candidate by the 12-member Parliamentary Board of the BJP. In case the same person’s party wins the election, the process of election of the leader of the Lok Sabha remains a mere formality and the elected MPs do not get to have a say in the appointment of the Prime Minister.

Also, it is pertinent to note that even in the case where the person declared as the prime ministerial candidate eventually becomes the Prime Minister of India, the candidate has won election only in his constituency, that is, one constituency and he has been able to become the Prime Minister since his party has attained majority seats in the general elections. It is not the case that he has been elected by a majority of the population or that he has won the election in the majority of the constituencies of the country. It is his party and not him who has won a majority seats in the general elections.

Comparative Study of Parliamentary Systems of the World

A study of some of the foreign parliamentary democracies drives home the point that the essence of parliamentary democracy lies in indirect election of the Prime Minister.

United Kingdom:

India has adopted the parliamentary form of democracy from the United Kingdom which follows the practice of indirect form of election of the Prime Minister. After the general elections, the monarch appoints the Prime Minister of the country who is generally the leader of the party acquiring a majority seats in the general elections.6 Although the general practice is that the leader of the party is appointed as the Prime Minister, there exists no convention of declaring the prime ministerial candidate. This is the sole prerogative of the monarch, even though he cannot exercise his sole discretion while appointing the Prime Minister.7

The practice in the United Kingdom is that the parties elect their leader under whose leadership they contest the whole election. This may be the case that the parties elect their leader through a well-defined process,8 but it has never been the case that a party contests an election naming a particular person as the prime ministerial candidate turning the election into a direct form of election and taking away the prerogative from the monarch.

Canada:

Canada also follows the Westminster parlia-mentary system with a machinery of indirect election of the Prime Minister, adopted from the United Kingdom. Like the United Kingdom, the executive branch of the government here comprises of Crown (head of the state, represented by the Governor-General), Prime Minister (head of the government) and the Cabinet.9 The Prime Minister is appointed by the Crown and is generally the leader of the party obtaining a majority seats in the House of Commons. In Canada also, the election is contested by the parties in the leadership of the party leader and no declaration regarding the prime ministerial candidate is made. In other words, the Prime Ministers are not specifically elected to the post.10

Australia:

Australia is also a product of the Westminster parliamentary system with the executive branch of the country being headed by the Prime Minister who, like in other parliamentary systems, is not elected directly by the voters but rather is elected by the votes cast by the members of the government.11 The peculiarity of the post of the Prime Minister in Australia is that it is not mentioned in the Constitution of the nation but rather is a product of the country’s political conventions and tradition.12

As already mentioned, the Prime Minister is elected by the vote cast by the members of the government. Therefore, in Australia the focus in campaigns is not upon local issues and the particular viewpoints of candidates. The focus, instead, is upon which party shall run the government and which party leader will be the Prime Minister. Voters are asked to vote Labour or Liberal, not because of the particular viewpoints of individual candidates but because the candidates will exercise their one significant vote by electing the party leader as the Prime Minister. The personality and the particular views of the candidate may be important in a district where the election is closely fought, but otherwise they are of minor concern.

Conclusion

The practice of declaring a prime ministerial candidate before the election corresponds to the direct form of elections and should be discouraged as it is not warranted by the parliamentary democratic set-up. The Indian experience with the practice has been that the voters are wooed by the personality and views of a particular individual and not the political party. This is similar to the presidential form of elections in the USA. 

Footnotes

1. PTI, ‘Narendra Modi anointed BJP PM candidate, Advani disappointed’ (The Times of India, September 13, 2013) <https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com...> accessed February 23, 2019; Frank Jack Daniel, ‘Narendra Modi declared BJP’s prime ministerial candidate’ (Livemint, September 14, 2013), <https://www.livemint.com/Politics/d...> accessed February 23, 2019.

2. PTI, ‘BJP mocks all-party meet, asks Oppn to reveal PM candidate’s name’ (The Economic Times, December 9, 2018), <https://economictimes.indiatimes.co...> accessed February 23, 2019.

3 Arka Ray Chaudhary, ‘How ‘Ab Ki Baar Modi Sarkaar’ Slogan Helped BJP: The Impact of ‘Ab Ki Baar Modi Sarkaar’ Slogan on Voter’s Psyche’ (OnlyMyHeath, May 15, 2014), <https://www.onlymyhealth.com/how-ab...> accessed February 23, 2019; Nistual Hebbar, ‘Ab Ki Baar Modi Sarkaar’ campaign: Narendra Modi had higher recall value than BJP’ (The Economic Times,  May 15, 2014), <https://economictimes.indiatimes.co...> accessed February 23, 2014.

4. Pritha Mitra Dasgupta, ‘From Narendra Modi to brand Modi: Meet the team behind BJP’s unprecedented poll campaign’ (The Economic Times, May 1, 2014), <https://economictimes.indiatimes.co...> accessed February 23, 2019; Maulik Pathak, ‘Elections 2014: Brand Modi reaps success of efforts’ (Livemint, May 16, 2014), <https://www.livemint.com/Politics/r...> accessed February 23, 2019.

5. Christophe Jaffrelot, ‘The Modi-centric BJP 2014 election campaign: new techniques and old tactics’ [2015] 23 (2) Contemporary South Asia,<https://doi.org/10.1080/09584935.20...> accessed February 23, 2019.

6 ‘Parliamentary Elections’ (Parliamentary Education Service) <https://www.parliament.uk/documents...> accessed February 24, 2019.

7. ‘General Elections’ (www.parliament.uk) <https://www.parliament.uk/about/how...> accessed February 24, 2019.

8. Neil Johnston, ‘Leadership Elections: Conservative Party’ (House of Commons Library) accessed February 24, 2019.

9. ‘Executive branch of Government in Canada’ (House of Commons Canada) <https://www.ourcommons.ca/About/Com...> accessed February 24, 2019.

10. W A Matheson, ‘Prime Minister of Canada’ (The Canadian Encyclopaedia, April 9, 2009) <https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/prime-minister> accessed February 24, 2019.

11. Larry Rivera, ‘The Selection Process for Australian Prime Minister’ (tripsavvy, December 12, 2018) <https://www.tripsavvy.com/australia...> accessed February 25, 2019; ‘Prime Minister’ (Parliamentary Education Office) <https://www.peo.gov.au/learning/fac...> accessed February 25, 2019.

12. Larry Rivera, ‘The Selection Process for Australian Prime Minister’ (tripsavvy, December 12, 2018) <https://www.tripsavvy.com/australia...> accessed February 25, 2019.

The author are III year students of Dr Ram Manohar Lohia National Law University, Lucknow.

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