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Mainstream, VOL LVII No 9 New Delhi February 16, 2019

Do Not Undermine Parliament, Please

Sunday 17 February 2019

by D.K. Giri

To read in the papers that the two days (February 5 and 6) in the last session of the 16th Lok Sabha were wholly washed out by disruptions is quite sad and painful for those watching the democratic institutions, mainly Parliament. It goes without saying that Parliament is the supreme law-making body, the ‘temple of our democracy’ as the PM-to-be Narendra Modi hailed it before being sworn is as the head of government. Remember, he head-saluted the stairs in 2014 while entering the portals of Parliament to be sworn in as the Prime Minister.

Honourable Members of Parliament from across parties are known to be undermining Parliament. One remembers the Speakers of the Lok Sabha and Chairmen in the Rajya Sabha appealing in utter exasperation to the MPs not to disrupt, but discuss and debate in Houses. Alas, the unseemly ruckus and rupture continue unabated.

In entire Asia, India has enjoyed the unrivalled credit of maintaining its democracy since independence in 1947. The whole world looks favourably at the uniqueness of Indian democracy that is multi-cultural, multi-party and inclusive. Yet, we are increasingly becoming a paradox. While the Indian political consciousness has been steadily growing, the democratic institutions are not; on the contrary, they are in decline. This is seriously worrying. Continuous disruption of parliamentary proceedings is a case in point. India is a parliamentary democracy, it is the supreme law-making as well as monitoring body.

Looking at the consequences of disruptions and pandemonium in Parliament, according to some estimates, each minute of Parliament’s function costs Rs 26,035. On an average, Rs 20 crore has been lost from the 14th to 16th Lok Sabha. In the 15th Lok Sabha, an entire winter session was wiped out over the setting up of a Joint Parliamentary Committee on the infamous 2G scam. In the 14th Lok Sabha, 41 per cent of Parliament’s time was spent on law-making, which came down to 13 per cent in the 15th Lok Sabha. According to the Lok Sabha Secretariat’s calculations, 634 working hours were lost due to interruptions and adjournments; the 15th Lok Sabha was the ‘least productive in Indian parliamentary history’. Although we do not have the latest figures on loss of time and money, the disruptive acts continue till date. This is really sad and deeply worrying. While many countries in the world clamour for democracy, we do not seem to treasure our own.

It is true that one of the roles of Parliament is to monitor and control the government, by holding it to account on its policies and actions. But how does Parliament, or to be accurate, the Opposition, perform this role? It has to do so by using the parliamentary procedures, not by boycotting or disrupting them. This is not advisable. No party has the right to disrupt or paralyse the functioning of Parliament, the supreme and sovereign body of our democracy. Without going into depth, if MPs do not believe in debates and dialogues which are the core principles of democracy, how can we ask the Naxalites to embrace democracy? The only difference is Naxalites and other anarchists believe in violence, the MPs do not; but, their actions negate democracy. The leadership of all parties must rethink their parliamentary practices. Does any party think that, with lesser number of MPs, they cannot have their way, but they can make greater impact by disruptions—running into the well of the House, shouting slogans in Parliament and boycotting the proceedings? This is unbecoming of the biggest democracy and an aspiring power!

Political parties seem to play double standards. They react to situations opportunis-tically. Remember, in the winter session of 2012, BJP MPs demanded a JPC on 2G, the Congress Government initially said no, leading to disruptions by the Opposition and then finally gave in. Although the JPC did nothing greater than the CBI did under the direct monitoring of the Supreme Court, the entire winter session was wiped out by BJPs MPs stalling the proceedings.

Then the BJP came to be at the receiving end in the 16th Lok Sabha. The Congress did no better in the Opposition. Its supreme leader, Sonia Gandhi, apparently asked her MPs to be aggressive. One must remember, one wrong does not justify another. It is like saying: “I will steal because you have stolen.” The leadership of parties must issue whips to their respective MPs not to disrupt the proceedings.

Let us take the case of handling of the CBI by the Central Government which is now rocking Parliament. During the Congress regime, the Law Minister and PMO Secretariat did the incredible act by summoning the report of the CBI, the apex independent, investigative body. The report was to be submitted to the Supreme Court. The Law Minister’s explanation of proof-reading the report was ridiculous. The autonomy of the CBI was compromised. The Opposition then was right in demanding action on this serious lapse. It demanded the resignation of the PM and Law Minister; neither of them did.

What did the Narendra Modi Government do? They allowed the Director and his Deputy in the CBI to fight in public. They could have resolved it amicably or with systemic correction. Courts had to intervene to sort things out. As we know, the activism of the judiciary on governance issues is commensurate with the inefficacy of the executive. But that is another debate.

Even in the Supreme Court, the tussle on procedures etc. between the Chief Justice of India and judges played out in the open. Four honourable judges had to go to the media to air their grievances, which was the first such unfortunate incident in independent India.

Whatever the merits of the arguments on the CBI or Rafael or for that matter any other issue of concern, MPs have to go back to Parliament and use the democratic method; there is no other legitimate way. Disruption of the functions of Parliament is betrayal of the confidence of the people, denial of democracy. It is another matter again that the quality of the debates and effectiveness of Parliament are going down. But that is a concern which needs to be addressed through electoral reforms etc. to ensure that good quality candidates enter Parliament. We cannot throw the baby with the bathwater, we cannot dilute the role of Parliament and allow the Executive to govern by ordinances etc. In our political structure Parliament is supreme. As concerned citizens and voters we sincerely appeal to you, honourable MPs, please do not undermine it.

Prof Dr D.K. Giri belongs to the Schumacher Centre, New Delhi.

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