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The 3 organs of State and their harmony

The annual conference touched on many important concepts, including the “Separation of Powers” and the harmonious working of the three organs, with each one doing its job without interfering with the others.

By Vivek K Agnihotri

It was a grand event, both in terms of conceptualisation and execution, especially in comparison with its predecessors, which used to be fairly routine and nondescript. Organised at various state headquarters by rotation, the annual All India Presiding Officers’ Conference is attended by Speakers of the Lok Sabha and state legislative assemblies as well as the Deputy Chairman of the Rajya Sabha and about half a dozen chairpersons of legislative councils, with their respective officials in tow.

The first conference was organised in 1921 and, therefore, the present conference was held in the centenary year, although it was the 80th event in the series as some had been skipped a few years in between. This time around, it was quite different. The venue itself was no humdrum urban conglomerate, but an exotic resort in Kevadia in Gujarat (200 km from Ahmedabad). It was in the vicinity of the Sardar Sarovar Dam and the Statue of Unity, the world’s tallest, to match the personality of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, the Iron Man of India. He was credited with forging the post-independence unity of 562 princely states with the Indian Union. The event was held from November 25-26 to ensure that it concluded on Constitution Day (also known as Law Day).

Against the backdrop of the Statue of Unity, the theme of the Conference Harmonious coordination between Legislature, Executive and Judiciary Key to a Vibrant Democracy sought to forge a unity of purpose and action among the three organs of the government. And rarely has a Conference been held which the president, vice-president and prime minister all attended like they did this one. Besides talking about the specific theme of the event, they touched upon a wide variety of topics. The concern for unity in diversity was sought to be underscored through recitals from the Vedas and various richas (mantras) which enjoined us to seek harmony through a meeting of minds.

Inaugurating the Conference on November 25, 2020, President Ram Nath Kovind said that in a democratic system, the medium of dialogue is the best method for not allowing the debate to become a dispute. Expressing happiness over the theme of the Conference, he stated that all the three organs of the State the Executive, the Legislature and the Judiciary have been working in harmony and the tradition had taken strong root in India. He exuded confidence that India’s democratic system would be further strengthened by adopting the conclusions drawn from the deliberations during the Conference.

The President observed that the democratic system was eventually governed by the supreme goal of people’s welfare, especially the upliftment of the poor, backward and deprived sections of society and the progress of the country. He expressed confidence that the three organs of governance together would continue to work towards achieving this goal.

Earlier, Vice-President M Venkaiah Naidu told the august gathering that the “State” was in its best state when each of its three organs performed to the best of its potential in the domain specified for it, in pursuit of the mandate defined and prescribed in the Constitution.

The theory of “Separation of Powers” propounded by French philosopher and judge Montesquieu in 1748 had its origins in his genuine concern to avoid autocracy and tyranny if the legislative, executive and judicial powers came to be concentrated in one organ or an individual. Still, the legislative and executive functions continued to be in the same hands till the middle of the 19th century. Ever since separate domains came into being, it has been a saga of friction and tension. The case of India since Independence is no exception. So, it is appropriate for us to take stock of the harmonious working of the three organs, and harmony lies in each organ doing its job without interfering with that of the others. This warrants a spirit of mutual respect, responsibility and restraint.

However, the vice-president observed that there had been quite a few judicial pronouncements that gave a distinct impression of an overreach, which raised one’s hackles. What he said before that was not quite picked up by the media. He had also said: “There have been cases when the rules framed under the delegated ‘Subordinate Legislation’ violated the provisions of original legislation by the Parliament. Violation of rights and liberties of citizens by the Executive at times is too visible for comfort. At times, the Legislature too has tended to cross the line. The 39th Constitution Amendment placing the election of president, vice-president and prime minister beyond the scope of judicial scrutiny in the circumstances in 1975 is one such instance…Our Constitution provides for checks and balances to ensure playing by the rules and harmony among the three organs of the State. It is a settled position that the Constitution is supreme and none of the three organs.”

More explosive was the reaction of the media to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s oft-repeated vision of “one nation, one election”; someone added “and one party” into the bargain. Be that as it may, “one nation, one election” was contextualised by him along with other far sighted initiatives such as “one nation one tax”, “one nation one ration card”, “one nation one agriculture market”, “one nation one health card”, “one nation one civil code” all supporting the idea that “one nation is a great nation”. It also attempts to unite a nation divided by various “fissiparous tendencies” (an expression popularised by Pt Jawaharlal Nehru) and thereby taking Sardar Patel’s integration of states to another level. He also said that after the Emergency (1975-77), the system of checks and balances kept getting stronger as the Legislature, the Executive and the Judiciary had learnt from the episode. He added that this was made possible on account of the confidence that the 130 crore Indians have in the three branches of the government.

In order to strengthen people’s contribution to harmonisation of the initiatives and activities of the three wings, Modi in his inimitable style, introduced a variation on the acronym KYC, namely Know Your Constitution. Thus, if “we the people of India” are genuinely and profoundly aware of the provisions of the Constitution of India, the three wings will get an apposite orientation for harmonisation.

What is this “harmonisation” that the legislators and other dignitaries were concerned about and how can it be achieved? Granville Austin (an American historian of the Indian Constitution) talks of three strands of the seamless web woven by the framers of the Constitution, comprising democracy, social revolution and unity and integrity. At one level, an equal emphasis on all three would ensure harmonisation. Excessive stress on one of them, at the expense of others, leads to disharmony, as the past experience has demonstrated. There was a period when the Executive and the Legislature sought to overplay the Directive Principles of State Policy against the Fundamental Rights, leading to a strong reaction from the Judiciary, resulting in an impasse. Respect for each other’s jurisdiction, rather than thoughtless insistence on the doctrine of separation of powers, is the need of the hour, in the spirit of innate harmony among the members of the Hindu holy Trinity (Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh). Culture helps overcome crisis, as Modi recently stated. Moreover, focussing on Mahatma Gandhi’s talisman that for every decision, its impact on the poorest of the poor should be kept in mind, would help the three organs harmonise their inter relations.

At another level, Modi’s exhortation to simplify the language of the statutes, including the Constitution itself, which is the biggest religious text of the country, is also the way forward.  He advised legislators to go to the people and create among them awareness about the parliamentary system of democracy. He asked them to actively participate in Youth Parliament competitions being organised by the government in different educational institutions.

Apart from various initiatives to make laws simpler, there is no denying the fact that explaining them in common man’s language will go a long way in achieving the objective. Several publications have been brought out by the government as well as experts and academicians for this purpose, including the latest venture of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. Prakash Javadekar, minister for information and broadcasting, unveiled an e-compendium of articles on the Constitution, Fundamental Rights and Fundamental Duties on November 26, Constitution Day.

However, let us not forget that we have a dominant oral tradition. Starting from the revered Vedas and going down to mythologies, parables and even grandmother’s recipes, we are fixated on the spoken word. Radio and television have reinforced this addiction. If, therefore, the outreach of the Constitution has to be expanded and made universal, we have to take advantage of this medium. A TV serial (Samvidhan) on the Constituent Assembly debates was produced by the Rajya Sabha TV in 2014. A similar initiative, in the form of creatively conceptualised and produced stories, to popularise the Constitution and its evolution over the past 70 years, in the tradition of serials such as Ramayana and Mahabharata, would perhaps do the trick. Or is deployment of audio books and radio plays as well as aggressive use of social media the way to go?

—The writer was Secretary, Parliamentary Affairs from 2003-2005 and Secretary General of Rajya Sabha from 2007-2012

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