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Never has the separation of powers between executive and legislative organs been more necessary than today.

It has become increasingly clear that Prime Minister Narendra Modi runs a parliamentary system in a presidential style. This gives Indians the worst of both worlds: an unfettered executive with an automatic parliamentary majority – which, unlike true presidential systems, is not held in check by an independent legislature.

I have long been an advocate of a presidential system for India, something that surprises my party colleagues, who see its advocacy as merely enabling the entrenchment of someone like Modi in our country. Indeed, four years of Moditva rule in India have convinced me of the virtues of a presidential system – but for the opposite reason. Only a truly presidential system could keep the excesses India has been subjected to in check. 

Let’s look at the record of the last four years under our nominally parliamentary system. The Modi government’s two most dramatic decisions – the overnight demonetisation of 86 per cent of India’s currency in value, and the so-called ‘surgical strikes’ across the Line of Control between India and Pakistan – were taken by the PM with a handful of unelected advisers rather than, as would be expected in a parliamentary system, by the cabinet. 


Also read: Fuel prices are the poster child for the government’s mismanagement of the economy


Both were unilateral decisions made by the executive without any legislative input, not even by those legislators entrusted with formal executive authority in his own government. They were implemented by a small handful of bureaucrats who enjoyed the PM’s trust in total secrecy, in a manner that involved what former UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali once called ‘stealth and sudden violence’.

Such dramatic and stunning actions, conceived and conducted essentially in and by the PM’s office, appear to be a hallmark of Modi’s leadership style. He has more faith in bureaucrats, who are after all trained administrators, than in politicians, who only know how to win elections. In the cabinet reshuffle in September last year, it was telling that three of his four new ministerial appointees were former bureaucrats, two of whom had to be subsequently elected to the Upper House as required by the Constitution.

None of the usual constraints of the parliamentary system inhibit Narendra Modi. He has a majority in the Lok Sabha and does not need to waste time in legislative deal-making. He has a few token ministers from his allies in the cabinet, but they have very little authority and if they bridle at that, they are dispensable, since he does not need their parties to make up a majority – and they know that. He spends a large proportion of his time travelling – 59 foreign countries visited so far at the time of writing and countless destinations in India, the latter almost entirely in perpetual campaign mode. 

Although it was an American president, Theodore Roosevelt, who spoke of his office as a ‘bully pulpit’ to preach to the nation, it is an Indian Prime Minister who has now discovered his position gives him a ‘bully pulpit’ too. It should be in Parliament that the Prime Minister exercises his considerable skills of oratorical persuasion, but Modi has spoken more often in foreign assemblies than in his own Lok Sabha. 


Also read: Modi is no Obama, hasn’t reached out to Indians in pain: Shashi Tharoor on Alwar lynching


He disdains the legislative fray, for which he reveals thinly veiled contempt. As he has already demonstrated in Gujarat, in his view a legislative majority exists only to enable and institutionalise his executive power; once he has that, he does not need the legislature, except for the unavoidable task of passing his Budget and pushing through laws, both of which his majority enables him to do without serious legislative input.

The number of sittings of Parliament has declined precipitously, and when it meets, disruptions are frequent (and sometimes engineered by the government itself, which in 2018 passed its Budget without debate amid the din). As a result, Parliament has effectively ceased to be a forum to demand and receive accountability from the government. Answers to questions addressed to the Prime Minister are given by the minister of state in his office; the PM himself is usually absent.

It is Narendra Modi’s wilful railroading of the Indian Parliament that makes the case for a genuine presidential system amply clear – never has the separation of powers between executive and legislative organs been revealed to be more necessary than today.

Dr Shashi Tharoor is a Member of Parliament for Thiruvananthapuram and former MoS for External Affairs and HRD. He served the UN as an administrator and peacekeeper for three decades. He studied history at St. Stephen’s College, Delhi University, and International Relations at Tufts University. Tharoor has authored 17 books, both fiction and non-fiction; his most recent book is ‘Why I am a Hindu’. Follow him on Twitter @ShashiTharoor.

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21 Comments Share Your Views

21 COMMENTS

  1. 1. The two decisions of demonetization & surgical strike will have to be secretive for strategic reasons. One should rather appreciate it even if he does not like the decisions.
    2. For useful contribution from elected members,the quality of members should improve a lot. As of now, You cannot depend on them for any quick decisions
    3. Though our PM has visited 59 countries, the amount of time he spent in his home office is much more then any other PM in the recent past
    4. Yes, PM is kept on permanent campaign mode, but it is not his fault neither iris to his liking. He did suggest synchronized elections to States & Centre, but the opposition is suspect of the motive.
    5. Please, see my blogs:

    https://lvnaga.wordpress.com/2018/10/23/worlds-largest-working-democracy-india/

    https://lvnaga.wordpress.com/2008/08/01/indian-democracy/

  2. 1. For the legislature or parliament to be effective, we need to get much better people elected than the present lot
    2. As of now, it is indeed true, the democratic legislative process is agonizingly slow
    3 True, PM has visited 59 countries. But the total amount hours he has put in through his office is much more than any other PM in the near past.
    4 PM is permanently in campaign mode, yes. He is not happy about it and hence he has suggested, synchronized elections for states and Centre. He needs the cooperation of others for this.
    5. Please see my following blogs:

    https://lvnaga.wordpress.com/2018/10/23/worlds-largest-working-democracy-india/

    https://lvnaga.wordpress.com/2008/08/01/indian-democracy/

  3. It takes me to surprise that such a learned person like makes such baseless comments on modi’s foreign trips. The opposition for some reason makes it sound like Modi was travelling to fulfil his tourist aspirations. Why don’t you ever focus on the outcomes of those trips? Modi – first prime minister to visit Israel and Rwanda…both from which we only have to gain. India is now going beyond the conventional ties with the emerging countries to grow for better. Modi has also clarified once in parliament that his visits are so purposeful. I hope you can glance through beyond the “no. Of trips ” part.

    Secondly, ever since, the opposition has been creating a havoc in the parliament . While modi’s popularity has got many of us to even watch the legislative proceedings it is annoying to sit through amidst the opposition’s shouting their lungs out. It is certainly not how intellectuals behave.

    While criticising Modi you may also think of why he has become so popular. Your criticism is one of the reason why. Because he connects to people. He talks to people. He makes every effort to bring in the opinion of the laymen. If this is happening at the cost of his speeches in the parliament I don’t see how is it hindering the legislative process in any way. He infact epitomises the true democratic leadership where people are heard and thanks to his fan following more and more people are becoming politically aware and conscious. This is not to say that all his decisions have been perfect but running a diverse democracy is indeed no joke.

  4. rather poorly written piece, a little surprising from the usually cogent Tharoor

    almost little written about the presidential system and its benefits to begin with (& who better than Trump to build a case for that!)

    Worse all the points that he makes against Modi actually are an indictment of the parliamentary and bureaucratic system we have – which is a sad state of affairs. Lets fix that can we?

  5. How silly of tharoor? compare and contrast Shri Narendra Modi in parliament with Shri maun-mohan singh in parliament. What has tharoor got to say about the lies that rahul gandhi has said and it s rebuttal by France, Anil ambani, and formally by the defence minister in parliament. If there is corruption why have the ocngress not filed a case? they are just crying over a complete lack of power and for the reason that people of india cannot be hoodwinked by them any longer. Facts matter. Bring them to the table then we can talk. Whose party is blocking functioning of parliament? Who is pushing the prime minister into a position where he is forced to resort to executive action supplemented only by lok sabha approval?

  6. Great idea. I am sure BJP will be ready for it. Vajpayee had already talked about it. Will Congress be ready for it ?
    Then you can have as Modi suggests simultaneous elections for parliament and states with separate elections for legislature and executive. All this will of course require constitutional amendment. But will Congress agree?? Our cities are in a dire need for direct election of a mayor. Atleast start there.

  7. Well Shashi Tharoor lecturing on virtues of democracy is not in sync with his feudalistic mindset . This man has called economy class in flights to be cattle class. He thus treats the majority of Indians in cattle category.

  8. These congressmen who are ready to stoop to any level want them to be informed of demonetisation and surgical strikes. Then what will be the outcome? Tharoor you are proving to be more idiotic than people thought.

  9. What a knowledgeable person Mr. Tharoor is !!! He only kept quiet when Dr. Manmohan Singh used to take advise of Sonia ji by sending files to her. So much knowledge but didn’t know who killed her wife !!!

  10. I agree with Tharoor for different reasons. Going for presidential form will limit the role of law makers to making legislation and thereby stops all sorts of horse trading and its attendant corruption. More so in the case of states. India must give a try for this type of government at least for decisive governance.

  11. Firstly if parliament is being derailed, is solely because of Tharoor’s party which is not allowing smooth progress for pretty reasons. It was their chosen VP who played a major role in stalling RS.
    Secondly if he expects a decision like surgical strike to be taken after legislative approval, it speaks very poorly of his understanding of how a country should be run.
    And lastly, forget presidential system, let Tharoor’s party agree for a presidential style debate between good leader and Modi, that will make him regret this article.

  12. Prof PK Sharma,Freelance Journalist,Barnala(Punjab)

    Whatever the writer opines about NaMo’s either style or mode of functioning, the nation is concerned with the concrete results !
    Then it is the spirit -sincerity behind the decisions that matters !
    The collective wisdom and collective responsibility indeed pay rich dividends in the long run !
    If legislature and executive have ornamental values in the system then the question arises
    “Is it really Sab Ka Saath Sab Ka Vikas ?” a slogan very often echoed by BJP and its activists !

    Overall, the scenario is quite dismal, disappointing and dangerous on various fronts in India!
    Time for pondering over and introspection for a bright, happy and prosperous future of Indians !

    Prof PK Sharma,Freelance Journalist
    Pom Anm Nest,Barnala (Punjab)

  13. This article is rubbish. American president did not take any approval while attacking Osama bin laden in Pakistan. Presidential system is definition better than present system from governance point of view. Shashi tharoor seems to be behaving like Rahul Gandhi. No longer seems to be intellectual as he claims himself.

  14. The poor and needy vote based on who bribes them with what. Now India did not need a parliamentary democracy that British dumped on us. Presidential is what was needed but the complexity of uneducated franchise meant doles and double doles with reservations. So Modi is taking a leaf from Indira ‘s experience and we have presidential and parliamentary democracy with doles and reservations in addition to a unilateral authority by Modi

  15. “Moditva”!!!! Scared of using the word Hindutva Mr. Tharoor? Once Bitten twice shy? Scared of a backfire eh? You’re rattled and so is your leader, that explains the temple runs. You are finally acknowledging the actual majoritarian hindu vote bank that has kept you in power upto 2014, whom you have so long used and abused but instead pampered the minority. You could have got away Hindu bashing pre 2014 without any consequence, but now your carefully worded article post your slippery anti hindu comments shows you are scared. Whether Modi stays or goes, Hindus, of whichever type, moderate, intellectual, or fanatic, are now a political force to reckon with in India’s politics. Democracy is finally working in this country as now the polity has a massive vote bank which they have neglected for so long. The modi-hatred made the opposition finally realise they need this votebank with them.

  16. ഫെഡറൽ സംവിധാനം കേരളത്തിൽ ഇങ്ങനെ എന്നിട്ട് കേന്ദ്രത്തെ കുറ്റം പറഞ്ഞു നടക്കുന്നു അന്തംകമ്മി അന്തംകമ്മി കേരളത്തിൽ വികസനം മാത്രം അല്ല സ്വസ്ഥ ജീവിതം സഞ്ചാരം വിശ്വാസം എല്ലാം തകർക്കുന്നു. പൊതു സമൂഹം ഈ ക്യാന്സറിനെ ജാതി മത രാഷ്ട്രീയ വിശ്വാസത്തിനു മുകളിൽ ആയി ഉയർന്നു ഇവരെ പുറത്തു ആക്കുക സാക്ഷര സുന്ദര കമ്മിക്കേരളത്തിൽ മാത്രം ആയിരുന്നു ഇന്ന് മോട്ടോർ വാഹന ഹർത്താൽ. രാജ്യത്തെ മറ്റു ഭാഗങ്ങളിൽ ജനങ്ങൾ ഒരു ബുദ്ധിമുട്ട് ഇല്ലാതെ യാത്ര ചെയ്യുന്നു. തമിഴന്മാരുടെ നാട്ടിൽ പോലും ഒരു ഹർത്താൽ ബന്ത് ഇവ ഉണ്ടായിരുന്നോ. അവിടങ്ങളിൽ ഇല്ലാത്ത ജനപച്ചം ആകേണ്ട കമ്മിക്കൂട്ടം കേരളത്തിൽ വിലസുന്നു അതാണ് കേരളത്തിൽ മാത്രം ഇത്തരം മനുഷ്യയാത്ര സ്വാതന്ത്ര്യം ഹനിക്കുന്ന നടപടി യഥേഷ്ട്ടം ഉണ്ടാകുന്നതിനു കാരണം. ഇവർക്കെതിരെ പൊതുസമൂഹം ഉണരട്ടെ
    https://m.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=432420893931356&id=100014903462509

  17. Congres has disturbed both the houses number of times & made the parlmentary work difficult which is harmful to democracy. Modi ji is not responsible for this.

  18. Shashank Tharoor is being disingenuous here. If anything, Modi’s mentor was the grand doyen of the dictatorial style: Indira Gandhi. Since the Congress has never had a majority in parliament for ages, they may have accepted coalition politics as the gold standard in a parliamentary democracy. I’m not sure I agree with that. And a Presidential system is far more likely to have a rogue dictator if the individual is so inclined.

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