- + Modi’s second term in office is blazing.
- + Backed by the Parliament, Modi’s policies are principally legitimate.
- + Modi’s two terms reflect certain flaws in the Indian Constitution.
Everybody who glances at Indian politics can agree on one fact – Modi has been on a roll lately. Since 2014, India has witnessed the implementation of drastic policies. There has been a radical shift not only in politics but also in the rising nonconforming sentiments of the people. In 2014, Modi entered office having made many great promises. With his Goods and Service Tax (GST) and Demonetisation policy, citizens thought that Modi could go no further in his second term.
However, they were proven entirely wrong. In the first few months of his second term itself, Modi has succeeded in amending the Article 370 (pertaining to Jammu and Kashmir), as well as enforcing the Citizenship Amendment Act in 2019 (CAA). But many Indians who acknowledged Modi’s ‘active policy-making’ – some more reluctantly than others – were left wondering, how is passing all these Bills?
BJP wins a majority in Parliament
Contrary to popular belief, Modi is still short of the dictatorial powers he is often accused of. Modi largely relies on the backing of the Indian Parliament for policy-making. This is mainly due to the single-party majority that BJP has achieved in 2019. By ensuring the legitimacy of these Bills, Modi pushed his policies forward through ‘democratic means’. More importantly, Modi waited for his second term until he had secured sufficient support in both the Houses of Parliament (something that many previous governments had struggled with) to pass most of the more controversial bills
The 2019 elections were a breakthrough for Modi’s BJP as it went to secure a single-party majority for the second consecutive term. Even the Indian National Congress (INC), a party that has won almost every election since independence was only able to achieve this fete in 1971. Otherwise, it always relied on coalitions to influence laws and policies in their way. But Modi’s victory certainly changed this.
For Modi, it was easy to win the 2019 elections due to his assertive actions in response to the Pulwama attacks that took place in February 2019. Moreover, Modi managed to transform the 2019 election campaign into a Presidential one and vetted Rahul Gandhi, the President of INC, against him. The ideological and policy differences between the two parties were irrelevant as the competition became about who was a more dynamic leader.
Single-party majority: A threat to Indian Democracy?
The Indian Parliament is divided into an Upper House as well as a Lower House; a majority of votes is required in both Houses of Parliament to pass a bill presented by the Government. Currently, two things are in Modi’s favour. First, he has been able to pass his bills in both Houses with a clear majority due to the support he has gained (the Upper House is usually the tougher one to gain control of but Modi managed to do so). Second, he encountered minimal opposition. The table below shows that the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) has a clear majority. Note the spike in the already high number of seats that BJP possessed. The composition of the Lower House reflects the growing disparity that has been observed in the past decade, especially on the basis of religion.
But one might ask, what is the threat of a party holding majority? Countries such as the UK and the USA have dominant two-party systems and they are perceived as ideals forms of governance. However, what is not taken into account in a country such as India is the extent of its diversity. Although India is a Hindu-majority country, the minority groups form a significant portion of the Indian population and their representation is key for a functioning democracy. People argue that BJP’s legitimate win reflects the voices of the people.
Yet, the fact that cannot be contended is that the secular nature of the constitution is still threatened. It is a different matter if a party is elected solely on an ideological basis. But 51% of the votes received for NDA were by Hindus. So when the majority of the BJP supporters are Hindus, the BJP has to inadvertently be attentive to their largest voter-bank (this is, of course, reflected in political parties across the world). Indian politics and elections, unfortunately, are heavily based on religion. This also means that preserving the secular nature of India is nearly impossible if the responsibility lies in a single party.
A flaw in the Indian Constitution
Another drawback, ironically not due to the BJP, lies in the electoral system itself. India follows an SMDP system which reduces the proportionality of representation. Let’s refer to some theory now. Duverger argued that SMDP systems encourage two-party systems. According to Duverger, the ‘mechanical effect’ of the non-proportional systems serve as an advantage to larger parties and give small parties fewer seats in comparison to the votes won.
In the case of India, this has especially been seen in the formation of large coalitions to secure votes in Parliament to maintain their relevance. This has consequently led to a seemingly two-party system. India’s constitution is based on that of its former coloniser – the UK. This brings up an entirely new debate on whether a single political system can be applied to such different countries (refer to the USA’s democratic hegemony).
While this is an evident shortcoming in the Indian Constitution, not much can be done in the near future to alter it. Given Modi’s track record for 2019, it can be assumed that more drastic policies will be implemented – and legally. This is the more worrisome aspect because the only body that can possibly counter the government is the Supreme Court.
If a law is implemented after a majority consensus in Parliament, the court cannot do much in this aspect because, in theory, it has been done so democratically. However, the Supreme Court has the power to keep a check on the unconstitutional nature of any of the bills passed or through secondary violation of an article.
Suffice to say, there has to be an approach to increase government accountability to the citizens, especially if it finds it easy to amend the constitution or pass bills without moving a finger. And this is not just applicable to Modi’s government. The past 5 years have shown the Indians that loopholes in the constitution exist and, if not corrected, can be taken advantage of by any future opportunistic government.