India is often said to have evolved “into an almost Presidential-style parliamentary democracy”, according to a concept note on the proposed museum for prime ministers in New Delhi’s Teen Murti complex, The Indian Express reported on Friday.
Several members of the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library objected to the observation after the concept note was circulated among them before a meeting on July 26, The Telegraph reported. The note was an annexure to the agenda for the meeting.
Referring to the prime minister’s position, the note said: “This position has only gained strength over the decades though there have been ebbs and flows, reflecting the immediate political realities. It is often said that India has evolved into an almost Presidential-style parliamentary democracy.” The note said it was “quite different” in other countries that follow the Westminster model.
“Unlike the standard Westminster parliamentary model, where the Prime Minister was the first amongst equals, in India right from the early days of independence, the position was different,” it said. “The Prime Minister assumed leadership of the Council of Ministers, issuing directions to individual ministers, became not just the coordinator of the government but actually its driving force for the most part.”
The note also referred to an “exchange of letters” between Jawaharlal Nehru and Sardar Patel “on what the Prime Minister can, and cannot do” to show that right from the initial years, the Prime Minister’s Office has been the “nucleus around which the government was organised”.
Nehru Memorial Museum and Library Society Director Shakti Sinha, who prepared the note, clarified that it was a “draft concept note”. “The way Indian democracy operates, the Prime Minister is the most important functionary,” Sinha told The Telegraph. “And, the PMs’ museum is essentially an attempt to study Indian democracy through the eyes of the Premier. That’s all the note is; it is not a political or an ideological document.”
Sinha told The Indian Express that the note is no longer relevant since the new museum has been approved. “It was only meant as a descriptive note and not for advocacy,” he said.
Professor Udayon Misra, who was dropped as a member of the society last month, had questioned the note in a letter to the society on July 23. The annexure “detailing the project makes for really disturbing reading” as it suggests that “in the Indian democratic experiment, it is the Prime Minister who is virtually the supreme head”.
Misra had said that the statement about India evolving into Presidential-style parliamentary democracy was a “rather subversive argument” in “clear violation of the provisions of the Constitution of India which has absolutely no space for an ‘almost presidential’ Prime Minister”.
“It is a dangerous trend for our democracy and it is all the more unfortunate that this document should have emanated from an institution like the NMML,” he said in the letter.
The proposal to set up a museum for all the prime ministers in the Teen Murti complex has been criticised, with the Congress alleging that it was an attempt to “obliterate” Nehru’s legacy. Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh urged the Centre to leave the Teen Murti complex “undisturbed”, but Sinha said the plan was merely to democratise the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library.
The Centre recently replaced three members of the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library society who have been critical of its decision to set up the museum for prime ministers. Apart from Misra, economist Nitin Desai and former bureaucrat BP Singh were removed as members of the society, while academic Pratap Bhanu Mehta resigned.
They were replaced by journalist Arnab Goswami, former Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar, Bharatiya Janata Party MP and president of the Indian Council for Cultural Relations Vinay Sahasrabuddhe and chairman of the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts Ram Bahadur Rai.