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Ex Prez Pranab Mukherjee bats for raising LS strength to 1,000, cautions against majoritarianism


New Delhi, Dec 17: Former president Pranab Mukherjee on Monday pitched for raising the number of Lok Sabha seats to 1,000 from the existing 543 and for a corresponding increase in Rajya Sabha's strength, arguing that India has a "disproportionately large size" of electorate for elected representatives.

Delivering the second Atal Vihari Vajpayee memorial lecture organised by India Foundation here, he also cautioned parties in power against "majoritarianism" and stressed on the need for carrying everyone along.

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He said people may have given some party a numerical majority, but a majority of voters has never supported one party in India's electoral history. "This message of the Indian electorate has never been clearly understood by political players. That is why we think we can do anything and everything when we have an overwhelming majority in the legislature.

But that should not be the case," he said, asserting that people have often punished such incumbents in the past.

"A numerical majority in elections gives you the right to make a stable government. The lack of popular majority forbids you from a majoritarian government. That is the message and essence of our parliamentary democracy," he said.

Mukherjee also voiced his misgivings over the idea of simultaneous Lok Sabha and assembly polls, something Prime Minister Narendra Modi has strongly pushed for, as he said it may be done one time through constitutional amendments but there is no guarantee that elected members will not express their lack of confidence in a government in the future.

In a nearly hour-long speech, the veteran parliamentarian strongly argued for lifting the freeze on the numbers of seats in Lok Sabha and state assemblies. The last time the strength of Lok Sabha was revised was in 1977 which, he noted, was based on the 1971 census that put the total population at 55 crore.

The population since then has more than doubled, and there is a "strong case" to remove the freeze in the delimitation exercise. It should be ideally increased to 1,000, he added. Noting that 16-18 lakh people are represented by one Lok Sabha member, he wondered how he or she be expected to be in touch with the electors.

"We need to think innovatively and not just resort to excuses without any basis. If the British Parliament can have 650 members, the Canadian Parliament can have 443 members and the US Congress can accommodate 535 members, why can't the Indian Parliament do so," Mukherjee asked.

Speaking on the topic "Has parliamentary democracy succeeded in India and the challenges ahead", the former president, who served between 2012-17, also questioned the rationale behind a new Parliament building, a demand that has come from many quarters.

"I seriously wonder, how a new Parliament building is going to help or improve the working of the parliamentary system in India," he said.

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If the strength of Lok Sabha is increased to 1,000, then the Central Hall can be converted into the Lower House and Rajya Sabha can be shifted to the current Lok Sabha, he added. He cited the lack of adequate woman representatives in Parliament as one of the "shortcomings".

Mukherjee also called for dealing with disruptions in Parliament "firmly" by Ethics Committee, saying MPs who do not respect the sanctity of the legislature should be acted against.

Remembering Vajpayee, the first BJP prime minister, Mukherjee hailed him as a consensus-builder who worked to take everyone along.

"Atalji was a great son of India. Although we worked in ideologically opposite pillars of the polity, his innate qualities as an orator, as a moderator and as a consensus seeker in both his roles as an opposition leader and later as prime minister impressed me greatly," he said.

"I have no hesitation in saying that he was an inheritor and practitioner of the best traditions and qualities of leadership that India can be proud of," he said.

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