Disrupting House harms democracy
During the UPA-2 regime, there were WhatsApp jokes doing the rounds that the day’s Parliament session lasted as long as one needs to cook a two-minute “Maggie noodles”. Now that the Maggie noodles are in hot water, one has to look for some other relevant example. Unfortunately, most political parties have been adopting disruptive politics in the Parliament to gain public attention.
The Congress is now following the same practice that the BJP adopted in the last ten years. They must be aware of the harm that this is causing to parliamentary practice. As President Pranab Mukherjee said, while addressing Parliament some time ago, “Parliament functions through debate and not disruption”. The sooner the political parties realise this better.
Disruptions, stalling business and walkouts increasingly define the present day Parliament’s way of functioning, resulting in the adjournment of critical sessions. The current Monsoon session is also facing the same danger, as there are no indications of either the government or the belligerent opposition relenting.
The cost of running Parliament is a whopping Rs 2.5 lakhs per minute which is funded by the taxpayer’s money. It is not as if the MPs are not aware of their dereliction of duty. Many new MPs who come to Parliament with great expectations are disappointed that they can’t even make their maiden speeches upon arrival. At a special golden jubilee commemorative session of Parliament in 1997, the members unanimously adopted a resolution to preserve the “prestige of the Parliament” by maintaining the “inviolability of the Question Hour”, refrain from “shouting slogans” and desist from interrupting the President’s address. But as is evident, these remain only in paper and are never implemented either in letter or in spirit. Daily stalling of both the houses of Parliament shows that they are not serious about their primary duties: namely to scrutinize legislation, oversee the functioning of Government of India, debate the budget and demands for grants and represent the concerns of their constituents. It is common knowledge that the members have fallen short of all these duties.
So the question is who will bell the cat? It is nobody’s case that scams should not be raised in the house. While the opposition parties want to embarrass the BJP on the corruption issue, the Modi government hopes to ride <g data-gr-id="59">over </g>the storm. The Congress demands the sacking of some top BJP leaders including Sushma Swaraj, Vasundhara Raje and Shivraj Singh Chouhan but the government is offering only discussion. The Opposition should realise that it might benefit more by exposing the scams on the floor of the house rather than blocking proceedings. With such a stiff attitude from both sides where is the room for compromise?
What is at stake is a reform agenda readied by the government. The entire world is watching whether Prime Minister Modi is able to push through the reform bills to create a healthy business environment. Eleven bills are waiting to be introduced and another 14 after the Rajya Sabha clears it. If Modi is able to push through two key reform bills – the GST and the Land Acquisition bill, then he could visit the US next month armed with increased credibility. Therefore, it is crucial for the BJP to reach out to the opposition and come up with a face-saving formula. The initiative has to come from the government, and the opposition has to be responsive. If the BJP wants results it should reach out to the opposition more so when the party is in a minority in the Rajya Sabha.
As for the Congress, there is not much credibility when it hits the BJP with the corruption issue, as people have not forgotten the series of scams including the 2G, CWG and Coalgate. However, being the main opposition party it has the duty of raising these issues and to that extent the Congress may be right, but there is a way of doing it. It can do so in a much better way by exposing the details of the scam through debate and discussion in the house.
Incidentally, disruptions in Parliament have a long history. While Pandit Nehru abhorred this practice, from the fourth Lok Sabha onwards - the first without Nehru present in the House - walkouts and disruptive behavior became increasingly common. Several prime ministers before Modi had faced such <g data-gr-id="65">belligerence</g> but a time has come to end this impasse. The need of the hour is for both the ruling party and opposition to collectively rise to the occasion in making Parliament an effective instrument. Secondly, the Parliament working days should be fixed.
Between 1952 and 1972 the Lok Sabha worked for an average of 120 days in a year. In <g data-gr-id="67">comparison</g> it worked for an average of 70 working days in the last decade. The Constitution Review Commission had recommended 120 days for Lok Sabha and 100 days for Rajya Sabha. For example in 2008, 16 bills and in 2009, nine bills were passed with less than 20 minutes of debate on each of them. After all, the passage of bills needs more debate and discussions despite the argument that those bills get scrutinised in committees and therefore debate in the house becomes redundant.
On the whole, it is the primary duty of every Member to maintain and project a good image of Parliament by his conduct both inside and outside the Houses of Parliament. The Government and opposition should indulge in <g data-gr-id="60">dialogue</g>. It is time for all concerned to decide whether Parliament should be noisily ineffective or a smooth functioning Parliament as it should be in a democracy. IPA