The BJP once seriously considered changing the country’s system of government. Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee was very interested in the presidential form of government. In a speech in 1998 he declared that “we should discuss the merits of the presidential system.”
He said, “I often wonder whether the British Westminster model has been defeated by the Indian reality.” His home minister, LK Advani, had also made a series of speeches and wrote articles pushing for a presidential system. He went so far as to say, “The basic structure doctrine doesn’t bind us to parliamentary democracy.”
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The Vajpayee government went ahead and appointed a commission under the chairmanship of Justice Venkatachalliah: The National Commission to Review the Working of the Constitution.
However, in the face of opposition’s brouhaha, the commission was asked to recommend changes only within the contours of the parliamentary system. The commission made 250 recommendations, but its report was never placed before Parliament.
Deen Dayal Upadhyay’s Philosophy – Integral Humanism
But was the BJP serious? Could it really adopt the presidential form of government? Is there a possibility that this could still happen?
Well, we all see how PM Narendra Modi is running a presidential-style campaign. He loves the concept of a single leader running the show, and a single election for the whole country. It seems he would be inclined to adopt the presidential system.
But would the RSS go along?
I have made an attempt at understanding Deen Dayal Upadhyay’s thought process, who was the Sangh’s and the BJP’s main ideologue. Upadhyay was critical of our Constitution all his life. He presented his plans to change the system in 1965 under his philosophy of Integral Humanism.
His thoughts about a new India, a Dharma Rajya, were adopted by the BJP as its official philosophy. To this day, the party wishes to rebuild India according to Upadhyay’s vision.
Some BJP and RSS thinkers are already working to draft a new Constitution. In 2016, RSS ideologue and once powerful general secretary of the BJP Govindacharya, declared in an interview that they “will rewrite the Constitution to reflect Bhartiyata.”
In 2017, BJP Union Minister Anant Kumar Hegde also said: “We are here to change the Constitution and we'll soon change it.”
So what kind of a system did Upadhyay have in mind?
Many of Upadhyay’s ideas fit with the presidential form of government. In fact, Upadhyay’s ideas fit better with the presidential system than the parliamentary system. Let me just cite three of his main ideas.
“Dharma Rajya doesn’t mean a theocratic state, where a particular sect and its prophet or guru rule supreme. All the rights are enjoyed by the followers of this particular sect. Others either cannot live in that country or at best enjoy a slave-like, secondary citizen’s status,” he said.
If we put aside silly arguments over semantics, of what Dharma means or Hindutva or Bhartiyata means, Upadhyay’s basic idea is that India should not be a theocratic state and instead have equality of people from all sects which matches with the presidential system than the parliamentary system.
Because in the parliamentary system, as we know, the majority rules.
In a Hindu majority nation, this means a sectarian government. Which Upadhyay will not approve of, and didn’t. To him Dharma meant innate law, which is universal. And nothing is more universal than true secularism, where governments don’t engage in establishing or appeasing or hurting any religion.
Decentralisation of Power
Upadhyay’s second principle of governance was that an individual alone should not be the basis of the Constitution. He wished for the community to have a greater say in governance. Once again, this principle matches more with the presidential form of government than the parliamentary form.
The presidential system is decentralised, so communities can be more engaged in self-governance. For example, in America there are 90,000 local self-government bodies, from school districts, to ambulance services, to public utilities, all managed by local communities themselves.
Third, Upadhyay was against the existing Constitution because it threatened India’s integrity. “According to the first paragraph of the Constitution,” he wrote, “India, that is Bharat, will be a federation of States’, that is, Bihar mata, Bangla mata, Punjab mata, Kannada mata, Tamil mata, all put together make Bharat mata. This is ridiculous,” he said.
“We have thought of the provinces as limbs of Bharat mata, and not as individual mothers. Therefore our Constitution should be unitary instead of federal.”
Upadhyay’s Vision Congruent With American Democracy
Upadhyaya’s notion of an indivisible union of diverse states is more congruent with the presidential form of government. The US model is called federal, but it creates a more indivisible union than the parliamentary system, because it has no provisions that can allow states to supersede the national Constitution.
Today, our Parliament can grant powers to our state governments to secede from the Union which is dangerous; which, as we know, it has in the case of Kashmir and Assam or Nagaland and so on. Under an Americanised Constitution this will not be possible.
The legislature will have no powers to go beyond the boundaries of the national Constitution. It was the ironclad union of the American Constitution that saved that nation from falling apart, even during their Civil War.
Thus for all three basic principles suggested by Updhyay: Universal Law, Indivisible Union, and Community Self-Rule, the presidential system would be the better choice.
(The author is Founder and CEO of the Divya Himachal group and author of ‘Why India Needs the Presidential System’. He can be reached @BhanuDhamija .This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)