The recent swearing-in of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government in India, where Prime Minister Narendra Modi and a select group within the cabinet decided on the allocation of ministerial portfolios among the alliance partners without broader consultation, highlights a critical issue in Indian democracy: the concentration of power in the executive. This concentration of power has fostered authoritarian regimes, effectively negating the role of the people in the political process. While the Indian constitution claims to balance the executive, legislative, and judicial branches as three pillars of democracy, in practice, the executive wields disproportionate power, often rendering the other branches subservient.

This concentration of power is not limited to the making of the Cabinet. Neither is it a recent phenomenon but is rooted in the very structure and history of Indian democracy. The Indian constitution was designed not to limit political power. Various justifications were offered for this concentration of powers such as the violence and upheaval of partition, the need to integrate princely states into the Indian Union and national security and territorial integrity. The Congress Party which took over power from the British colonialist, on behalf of the Indian ruling establishment, argued that the Executive needed a free hand to implement the Nehruvian model of socialism.

The Constitution that was enacted in 1950 contained a vast armoury of coercive laws placed at the executive’s disposal. Somnath Lahiri, a Communist member of the Constituent Assembly, described the fundamental-rights provisions as having “been framed from the point of view of a police constable.” In effect, the first government of India had as much power as the colonial government. The Constitution makers preferred the Westminster model of governance, which places unlimited powers in the executive, as the preferred method of rule since they were already familiar with its nuances!

The Executive’s dominance is facilitated through various constitutional provisions. Articles 2 and 3 empower the central government to create and dismember states. Under Article 352, the President can declare a national Emergency under certain conditions. Article 356 allows the central government to impose its rule in states under the umbrella of “President’s Rule.” Article 360 enables the executive to declare a financial emergency. Article 123 grants the executive the power to promulgate ordinances, effectively allowing it to bypass the legislature. These provisions enable the executive to usurp legislative functions routinely and control the timing of legislative sessions​​.

Furthermore, the Tenth Schedule, introduced by the 1985 Anti-Defection Law, forces legislators to vote according to party directives under threat of disqualification, cementing the power of party leaders and undermining the autonomy of individual legislators​​. This legal framework has historically allowed the executive with substantial legislative majorities, such as Indira Gandhi in the 1970s and Narendra Modi today, to push their agendas with minimal checks and balances.

Governments, regardless of political affiliation, have consistently used state power to suppress dissent and maintain control, often invoking state security and social justice as justifications​​.

Key pieces of legislation such as the farm laws, the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), labour codes and the new Criminal Laws were drafted by the Executive and pushed through Parliament using the brute majority of the ruling party. These laws were enacted without broad consultation with stakeholders or sufficient debate, reflecting the executive’s overwhelming influence over the legislative process. The farm laws, for example, sparked massive protests from farmers across the country, while the CAA faced widespread criticism for its perceived discriminatory nature. The labour codes, similarly, were passed despite significant opposition from labour unions and workers’ groups. The new criminal laws have met with severe criticism from legal experts and others.

Historical precedents set by leaders like Indira Gandhi during the Emergency period (1975-77) have paved the way for contemporary practices. Gandhi’s government was marked by severe restrictions on civil liberties, media censorship, and political repression. These actions were enabled by constitutional amendments and legal instruments that expanded executive power at the expense of individual freedoms. The same tools are now being used by the current regime to consolidate power and stifle people’s protests​​.

The judiciary, often perceived as a counterbalance to executive overreach, is not an elected body accountable to the people. The appointment process for judges, coupled with political pressures, make a farce of the judiciary’s independence from the executive.

To address these issues, a comprehensive reform of the political process is imperative. This includes doing away with constitutional provisions that concentrate power in the executive and undermine the role of the people and their representatives. Additionally, mechanisms must be established to enhance the accountability of elected representatives to their constituents rather than to party hierarchies.

To enable people to take active part in decision-making, it is imperative to replace the current political system, which grants unlimited powers to the executive, with a framework where executive and legislative powers are combined into elected working bodies accountable directly to the people. The Parliament should be a practical body, where representatives actively execute and are accountable for their own laws, instead of being mere talking shops designed to deceive the public. This approach contrasts with the current parliamentary system in India where real state business occurs behind the scenes, leaving parliament to serve as a facade of democracy. In this proposed system, representatives would work like employees in an enterprise, directly responsible to their constituents and engaged in practical governance, thus eliminating the separation and privileged status of legislative and executive roles.

This transformed system should ensure that the elected representatives do not wield unchecked power but remain answerable to their constituencies. Additionally, the system must be designed so that the people retain residual powers, enabling them to influence key decisions and hold their representatives accountable. By instituting mechanisms such as the right to recall, referendums, and citizen-initiated legislation, we can foster a people-centred democracy that genuinely reflects the will of the people and prevents the concentration of power that leads to authoritarianism. This transformation is essential to replace the present party-dominated political process with a people-centred political process.

Source of image: https://latestlaws.com/adr/articles/judiciary-executive-legislature-analysis-of-separation-and-overlapping-of-powers#google_vignette

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