Saturday, May 31, 2014

Tracing the legislative history of India.

Representative Bodies in Ancient India.

On 26th January, 1950, India achieved an important milestone in the democratic history by establishing modern parliamentary institution. But it doesn't mean that it was first time, when India witnessed a democratic institution in its realm. 
During Vedic Period (circa 3000 BC to 1000BC), there was a system of Sabha and Samiti as mentioned in Rigveda. Both Sabha and Samiti differed in function and powers. Samiti can be compared with modern day general assembly or house of people, whereas Sabha can be placed at equal footing with modern Upper House. It consisted of elected elderly members.
There were certain features of democratic set up during that period, which are:
  1. free discussions and decision by vote of majority existed during that period. The decision of the majority could not be overridden.
  2. King was subject to Dharma, which is equivalent to modern day concept of Rule of Law. His power was subject to will of people, customs, usages and injunctions of Dharmashashtra.
  3. He held in trust the state for welfare of his people.
  • Texts such as Aitreya Brahman, Panini's Ashtadhyayi, Arthashashtra, Mahabharata; Greek, Jain and Buddhist scholars and Manusmriti are evidences of existence of number of functioning republics during post- Vedic era.
  • Sovereignty in these republics (known as Samgha or Ganrajya) lied in large assembly, which elected not only executive leaders but also military leaders. This assembly also decided foreign affairs and issues of war and peace. 
  • The Pali texts reveal procedure and practice of assembly, that was based on legalism and constitutional;ism of most advanced type.
  • Speaker or Vinayadhara and Whip (Ganapuraka) were aware of terms like resolution, quorum, vote by majority etc.
  • voting in assembly was done by tickets (Salakas)- woods of different colours for different opinions.
  • Complicated and serious matters were referred to a Special Committee elected from amongst the members of assembly.