Discussion. Not disruption
President Pranab Mukherjee is not happy with the Opposition. In a stinging attack, the President said on Thursday that Parliament is not a place for dharna and disruption which amounts to "gagging of the majority" by the minority. "Disruption is totally unacceptable in a Parliamentary system. People send representatives to speak and not to sit on dharna and not to create any trouble on the floor," he said. As a long-time former Member of Parliament, Mukherjee’s observations indeed carry some weight, although this has been a standard practice among opposition benches irrespective of the parties occupying them. “Majority never participates in this disruption. Only minority comes to the well, shouts slogans, stops the proceedings, and creates a situation in which the Chair has no option but to adjourn the House. This is totally unacceptable," he added. These observations come at a time when little productive business has been conducted in Parliament for over a fortnight due to deadlock on the issue of demonetisation. But the opposition isn’t the only side culpable of wasting Parliament’s precious time. On Wednesday, veteran BJP leader LK Advani expressed his dismay over the way the Lok Sabha proceedings were being conducted, saying neither the Speaker nor the Minister of Parliamentary Affairs was running the House. "Neither the Speaker nor the Parliamentary Affairs Minister is running the House," he was heard remarking, amid slogan-shouting by Congress and TMC members. "I am going to tell the Speaker that she is not running the House ... I am going to say it publicly. Both sides are a party to this," he said as Kumar was seen pacifying the senior Parliamentarian. Neither side seems particularly keen on having a productive discussion on the main issues. On the one hand, the Opposition continues to engage in disruptive tactics, while our ruling dispensation is in no mood to listen to the voices raised by the other side. The Speaker of the Lok Sabha rejects the motions submitted for the adjournment of any other business to discuss a matter of urgent public importance—demonetisation. The government seems to be in a hurry to pass individual bills without any serious deliberation, which is deeply problematic for Indian democracy.
Demonetisation has derailed vast swathes of the economy, in particular for those sectors that function outside the cushy cashless zones of Indian cities. Experts across the board have reported on the acute distress it caused in rural areas, and analysts have predicted a sharp drop in India’s Gross Domestic Product this year. Meanwhile, neither the Reserve Bank of India nor the Government of India has given the people a definite timeline on when normalcy will return. Many wage earners and factory labourers are out of work; small-scale manufacturing units are closing down and people, especially those in rural areas, are still struggling to access cash. Despite the hardships caused by this decision, accentuated by the disastrous implementation, our opposition has been hopeless in cornering the government. There is a distinct lack of unity among the Opposition parties. Some have sought a Joint Parliamentary Committee to look into allegations of leaks before the “surprise” demonetisation decision, while others have demanded an apology from the Prime Minister for casting aspersions on opposition leaders. Some have sought a rollback, while others have dismissed the notion entirely. Addressing party MPs at its weekly meeting on Wednesday, Modi continued his tirade against the Opposition and insisted that the people are backing this scheme. “Janshakti is with the government on demonetisation,” he said. “What some Opposition parties are doing is undemocratic, and the issue should be debated in Parliament.” Despite this editorial’s opposition to the measure, there is a tiny bit of truth to his assertion. The Opposition should be ready for a debate on the floor of the House. Without a proper discussion on the subject, the Opposition has miserably failed to pin the government down in Parliament and force Modi to spell out the exact calculations that went into the decision. This has become all the more relevant, considering how in the month since demonetisation, the goal posts have been shifted several times with the Modi government running with a whole host of reasons for why Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes were banned in the first place. There's been a rapid shifting of goal posts, from tackling the scourge of black money to battling terror to fostering a cashless-digital economy.
With one more week left in the Winter Session of Parliament, time is of the essence. This session has been a total waste of the exchequer’s money. There seems to be a unanimous public consensus that the House will be unable to pass, introduce or even debate crucial pieces of legislation due to the deadlock over demonetisation. The least our MPs can do is to hold productive discussions on the subject. To conclude, JD(U) MP and Member of Rajya Sabha, Harivansh, once said: "I ask myself every day before I head to the Rajya Sabha about what I would do in the House. As an MP how do I repay the people for the privileges and facilities I enjoy if I am not able to raise their issues in the House? Is it not an unnecessary and unacceptable burden on the exchequer if we are not able to raise the problems of the people in the House? I can only hope that the great Parliamentary traditions of this country are restored and as Members of this privileged House we recognise our responsibilities and accountability to the people of this great nation." It is about time our MPs acted accordingly.