In the wake of the nationwide response to social activist Anna Hazare’s relentless campaign for a strong Lokpal as an antidote to corruption, a new issue that has come up for public debate is the claim of supremacy of Parliament. In response to his team’s threat of a fresh agitation if an effective anti-corruption machinery is not put in place, political leaders, cutting across ideologies, have claimed that Parliament is supreme and hence it should be allowed to act as per its wisdom. This contention is based on the premise that in a democracy people’s will is represented by that august body.
In this context, I would like to raise five basic issues:
- Do parliamentarians really represent the people?
- Do they have adequate knowledge to deliberate on all issues?
- Do they fully participate in the discussions in Parliament?
- How do they conduct themselves both inside and outside Parliament? And,
- How connected are they with the people they claim to represent?
An analysis of various data and available information should help us in finding answers to these vital questions. Our elections are known to be flawed. Money plays a decisive role in the conduct of elections and the aam admi cannot dream of becoming an MP. Many of the candidates in the electoral battle are tainted with criminal cases and political parties often renominate non-performing candidates. Above all, in a large number of cases the elected representatives would have polled less than half the votes cast ? very often ranging between 50 and 65 per cent of the electorate in a constituency. How can they, therefore, claim to be representatives of the people?
The second issue is about their knowledge level. With due respect to our parliamentarians, I wonder how many of them have a basic knowledge of the patent regime, science and technology, environment degradation, nuclear radiation, cybercrime, the right to information or the international financial crisis. With very little or superficial knowledge of these issues they have passed different laws. Assuming that one cannot be a master of everything, do MPs have informed supporting staff to brief them and where there is need, do they study the material available to participate in discussion?
Another issue often highlighted is their participation. How many MPs attend the sessions during crucial debates? How many official bills of serious public concern have been passed without any discussion in Parliament? How many of the MPs introduce private members’ bills? How many of them raise important issues of public concern during zero hour? How many MPs ask questions on matters of public importance?
A perusal of the records will expose the MPs who seldom open their mouths, who rarely attend the sessions but claim attendance allowance and who compel the Speaker to adjourn the House for want of a quorum.
The fourth issue is about their conduct both inside and outside what is considered the sanctum sanctorum of democracy. Throwing papers, running to the well of the House, shouting at the top of their voice, holding dharnas and stalling the proceedings with impunity do not inspire confidence in their capability to represent the people, nor do they protect the sanctity of Parliament. When business in the House is stalled there is no wage cut for them. Obviously, people pay for such ?misconduct? by their representatives. If we look at the State Legislatures, they are far worse. About the behaviour of ministers and legislators, the language they use to counter a contrarian view, the physical gestures and the tendency to use chairs and microphones as missiles against colleagues including the Chairperson, ? the less said the better.
Finally, people’s representatives should have a connect with the people whom they represent. How many of them conduct block-level meetings in their constituencies to hear people’s grievances? How many of them entertain the ordinary voters in case they want to meet them? How many public meetings do they attend fully to hear issues being debated? (They generally come late and leave the stage immediately after the inauguration or their speech). How many of our MPs and MLAs take up development issues of their people? How many of them have utilised the MPLADS fund for development for which it is intended? There are many more questions of this kind.
There is a progressive and sharp decline in parliamentary standards. The commitment to representative democracy is diluted by the political leadership itself, and not by social movements. In fact, such social activism has helped bring progressive legislation like the RTI Act of 2005.
The spontaneous and massive response to the campaign for an effective anti-corruption law is a coping mechanism to liberate the people from a deep-rooted cynicism about our parliamentarians who claim to have a monopoly of knowledge, wisdom and concern for the well-being of their constituencies. Our political leaders irrespective of their ideologies should do introspection and devise measures to restore people’s faith in the system. Until that is done, the claim that Parliament is supreme will be a meaningless rhetoric