An unparliamentary democracy
Indian Express, December 20, 2015
India has a
remarkable electoral democracy, which, with its 800 million
voters, is an envy of the world. The executive is functioning
well; note the amazing breakthrough in the India-Pakistan
negotiations. India did well at Paris and Shinzo Abe was
generous with the deals. The judiciary is active across the
board on green issues and social issues, holding the powerful to
account as in the National Herald case.
The problem is with
the legislature. The Winter Session has proved to be worse than
the Monsoon Session. There are daily disruptions. Parliament
during the day has come to resemble the TV news channels at
night. Not much work seems to be done and the GST Bill looks
like it may miss another deadline.
This is bad but not
news. In the Budget Session in 2010, the Lok Sabha functioned
only for two-thirds of its time and the Rajya Sabha
three-quarters. That was much better than the Winter Session of
2013 where the wastage rate was 94% for the Lok Sabha and 81%
for the Rajya Sabha.
But the anger and
the bitterness are the most disturbing aspects of the present
scene. Indeed there is an escalation of language and imagery
which is remarkable. Even outside Parliament, the language has
reached hyperbolic proportion. Thus the alumni of St Stephen?s,
no doubt the cream of the liberal, tolerant elite, have accused
the principal of being like ISIS. Professor Irfan Habib also
used ISIS as an analogy for the RSS. ISIS kills and beheads
people, abducts, enslaves and subjects women to appalling
violence, and has been killing their fellow Muslims with
impunity. How does one lightly use such a label to describe what
can be a difference of opinion, even of ideology? Then the Chief
Minister of Delhi calls the Prime Minister a psychopath. Why
In the parliamentary
arena, the week before the Winter Session seemed promising. The
Prime Minister had tea with Sonia and Rahul Gandhi. The Finance
Minister was consulting the Opposition about GST. But as soon as
the session opened, one thing after another with little
relevance to the business at hand has provided the excuse for
rushing to the well. The breaking news of previous night is used
to break up Parliament.
The root cause is
unparliamentary behaviour. In my 24 years as a British
parliamentarian, I have never once seen members shouting,
leaving their place, rushing to the Speaker (we have no well)
let alone waving banners. Members enter and leave the chamber
bowing towards the throne. They shout in the House of Commons
but the Speaker can always scold the members into submission.
They enter and leave bowing to the Speaker.
This contrasts with
the weak position of the presiding officers in the two houses.
Why do MPs disobey the presiding officers and thereby humiliate
them? The whips of the many parties have become cheerleaders in
the disruption and not constraining elements as they should be.
In this they have the approval of their leaders who aspire one
day to be in power themselves, no doubt to face the same music.
Then they will blame the Opposition and the cycle will resume.
Parliament has been
turned into a general purpose complaint akhada. This prevents it
from being a forum for serious debate. India deserves better.
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