Democracy means rule of the people with the consent of the majority. Parliamentary democracy is that type of democracy in which the people elect their representatives to the Parliament, and the function of ruling the country is vested in the party (or coalition of parties) who command the support of the majority of members. They hold the reins of the Government as long as they enjoy the confidence and support of the majority members.
The system was evolved in England after centuries of experiments, adaptations and modification. It was England’s gift to India. It has worked well in England as also in USA, France etc. with counter-checks. The country is divided into a large number of constituencies.
Members seek election from these constituencies. But they do so generally not in their individual capacities, but as members of a party. In effect, the people vote for parties. People vote for the progressive or the conservative candidates according to their personal inclinations or party leanings and affiliations.
The smooth working of the system in England is largely due to the absence of multiplicity of parties. In the parliamentary system of Britain there are two law-making houses—one elected on a broad popular franchise, the other on a hereditary principle. The obvious object is to prevent unconsidered or hasty legislation, to provide a restraint or a check on the former. In practice parliamentary democracy effectively works by an elaborate system of checks and counter checks.
Parliamentary democracy has, no doubt, some admirable features. It gives some weight to the will of the people. It obviates the urge for drastic changes or revolutions. It compels the rulers to keep in touch with the people and earn their goodwill. It gives considerable scope for debates” and discussions which expose the mistakes and misdeeds of the ruling party. It also provides respectable platform for ventilating grievances and criticisms in public. By admitting the press and the public to the debates, it ensures a healthy thrashing of all lively issues.
But perhaps the defects of the system counteract its merits in many essential directions. The first question is—it is suitable for a large country like India where the constituencies are so large and widely scattered that only the rich people or rich parties can stand the expenses of elections. This leads to various methods of disguised bribery.
Political parties seek financial aid from even foreign sources and plutocrats who naturally favour those who safeguard their interests, rule the roost. Poor but able and honest candidates are at a disadvantage. Naturally this indirect check on progressive forces ultimately excites violence; people who lack money are driven to desperation. In times of upheavals, parliamentary democracy often breaks down.
Parliamentary democracy has worked successfully in the English-speaking countries, mainly because of the existence of a two-party system. There are only the Conservatives and the Labour Party in UK and the Republicans and Democrats in USA who grapple and are in the fray for power. Mahatma Gandhi, who knew his people better than any, did not favour its adoption in India. His misgivings are almost coming true. In many of the states it is being kept by means not always very straightforward methods.
Multiplicity of parties is a potent at source of trouble. The lure of office or patronage too easily prompts defection from one party to another, thus creating a climate of instability. Regionalism has reared up its head dangerously. Each region is pulling in its own direction, encouraging fissiparous tendencies; the imposition of a central check on federal units may not work successfully.
A patch-up coalition government at the Centre will always lead to conflict if federal unit have more radical policies. Resort to Governor’s rule will not serve the purpose for long. Anticipating these difficulties, Gandhiji advocated what he called ‘panchayat raj’, which is nothing but a highly decentralised federalism. India having chosen parliamentary democracy, the future of her constitutional evolution is in the hand of the god.