Democracy and Heads of State

So this one is about the two largest democracies in the world – India and the US, and a sketchy view of their heads of state. If we tried comparing, its hard to say who is doing better – honestly. A year back, it never seemed like that would be in question.

India follows the Westminster model of parliamentary democracy, with the Prime Minister being the head of the state. That means in practice, the PM would be a person who enjoys popular support demonstrated by electoral success, be leader of the largest political party in a multi-party system and is the face of the central government. Instead, in India today, we all know who pulls the strings and the extent to which we have all taken for granted the sight of our PM deferring to the revered Family – a compromise which we understand represents the political compulsions of today. Not that coalition politics and the proliferation of regional parties have made it any easier to govern in the first place. But has the demystification of the PM’s office hurt governance in India? I am not sure it has (at least not until there is a credible opposition). We gave him a second chance, with a pretty decisive majority, that too. But the present ruling formation has surely changed the way we perceive the head of our state.

Now look at the US – a country that follows a Presidential system – the POTUS is elected directly by the people and usually has either rock-star charisma or strong ideological appeal. And yet, we are all too familiar with Obama’s domestic political battles. The opposition of course has been relentless in their vitriolic opposition, not just to Obama’s policies, but to the man himself. In the absence of multiple parties, members of his own party take turns amending, stalling or out-rightly opposing one policy proposal after the other. No, I dont think that is necessarily a bad thing – every democracy needs checks and balances on the prominent seats of power. However, it is a little tragic to see the very agenda which brought the man to power, riding on a wave of mass hysteria, being systematically eroded/defeated by domestic politics. After all this, will he get a second chance? He might. But will there be a repeat of the global euphoria? If there is even a semi-sane opposition, it may be a tough call!

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