'Parliament sovereign in democracy is misapprehension'

'Parliament sovereign in democracy is misapprehension'

Mark Tully. (Photo Wikipedia)

Veteran British journalist and former BBC India correspondent Sir William Mark Tully on Thursday said that a number of imbalances in India stem from the "misapprehension" that Parliament is sovereign and it can do anything it wants unchecked.

He said that a democracy can function because of institutions and hence their role in the governance should be stressed.

"...the crucial point to remember is that the sovereignty of the people expressed through their representative is not an absolute rock sovereignty. Parliament cannot be called an absolute ruler," he said.

"A lot of imbalances in India come from the misapprehension that Parliament is sovereign, therefore, the Parliament can do anything it wants unchecked. Also, politicians, who are members of Parliament as representatives of people, can do anything they want," Tully said at an annual inter-collegiate festival of St Xavier's College here.

"Everyone must have come across politicians, who say 'Don't you know who I am?', when his autonomy is limited or should be limited and he should realise that he or she has limitations," he added.

"I think the importance of institutions in governance needs to be stressed. It is because of institutions a democracy can function. Because what do institutions do...each institution performs a specific function and they operate on each other as checks and balances. So there is system of checks and balances, where each institution balances the other," Tully said.

Therefore, autonomy is very important for institutions to have the freedom to function without interference, he said, adding that in all spheres of government and life it is hugely important.

Talking about the executive, he said, the civil service that has to have its own autonomy.

One of the main reasons for the autonomy of executive being challenged is because of political interference, which is done with the thought that politicians have the sovereign right to interfere.

The political interference makes it difficult for executives to do their jobs, he added.

"We can't just blame politicians. Undoubtedly, many of the problems are due to politicians and they are not held in high regard, but many of the criticisms are unfair. There is undoubtedly, in my view, the civil servants themselves have to be blamed for these problems.

"There is need for the civil servants to recover their ethos and pride. We also need to blame the general public for often asking politicians to interfere on their behalf with the executive," he added.

One of the institutions that is highly criticised, and in some ways rightly so, is the police, Tully said.

"I do think that the police needs radical reform. I believe that the police is a classic example that India after Independence took over the institution from the Raj and had not done enough to reform this institution... This is one of the institutions that requires radical reform," he added.

The judicial institution, the courts, also suffer from interference and they are not functioning as they should function, Tully opined.

"There is one dispute of appointment of judges. If you want to maintain the dependence of the judiciary, you must not allow the government to have any say in the appointment of judges. You have to find another way for their appointment. Otherwise, the government will interfere in the working of courts," he added. 

Get a round-up of the day's top stories in your inbox

Check out all newsletters

Get a round-up of the day's top stories in your inbox