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Millennium Post

Dissent and disruption

The small step taken by Rajya Sabha Chairman, Hamid Ansari, last week, in his bid to check disruption of the house day after day, should have been welcomed but unfortunately, it proved counter-productive. He named 20 BJP and two Telugu Desam Party members for disrupting the proceedings and fixed them. When the names of the members were published in next day’s bulletin, the BJP kicked up a row, resulting in repeated adjournment of the house. While the Chairman did not withdraw the names, he agreed that the practice of naming will be discontinued till a final call is taken at the next all all-party meet.With precious days of Parliament wasted in shrieking and yelling, not once or twice but session after session, it is time there be a set of deterrent measures. Members are supposed to appreciate the weight of the responsibility placed on them by their voters.
It is expected of them to present their arguments with passions and, if need be, with force and eloquence, in the debates that form the substance of discussion and dissent within parliament. But what one sees in just the opposite. When members conduct themselves like ill-behaved, uncontrolled brats and when admonition and rebuke show no result, serious deterrence is the only possible solution.

A system of penalties should be worked out, at its broadest embracing, rationally, the very prerequisites that MPs enjoy.
One way to deter improper behaviour in Parliament would be to cancel the daily allowance of MPs if the house has been disrupted for a day. The deterrents may grow in proportion to the scale of disruption, that is, repeated disruption would not only mean an equivalent loss of daily allowance, but also a proportional decrease in other prerequisites, such as free tickets for travel, and so on. If disruption continues beyond certain stated limits, an MP would be debarred from contesting any election conducted under the Election Commission for a period of time, say, two years. Beyond and besides this, any political party identified as the chief initiator of disruption for more than one session of Parliament could be treated in the same way that is, debarred from contesting for a fixed period.

These are, of course, suggested solutions to what has, apparently, become an ineffaceable evil in India’s political life. Deterrents can be evolved on any single principle, the aim always being to create real pressure on errant people’s representatives to behave. Recall May 2002 when the Indian Parliament competed its 50 years, the Lok Sabha secretariat deemed it fit to commemorate the occasion by bringing out a handsomely produced book, Fifty years of Indian Parliament.

Atal Bihari Vajpayee was the prime minister at that time and he contributed a very thoughtful chapter for this book, aptly titled, Making Parliamentary Democracy Deliver on its Promise. The current leadership of the Bharatiya Janata Party would do itself a great service if it were to make Xerox copies of Vajpayee’s article and make it mandatory for each of their parliamentarians to read it as well as heed it.

Vajpayee wrote, ‘While constructive opposition is the essence of democracy, opposition for the sake of opposition weakens both democracy and good governance. Any attempt to destabilise a duly elected government disturbs the healthy development of democracy in India.’ These are words of wisdom, acquired over half a century of public life by one of the most respected and admired political leaders in India. One wonders what AB Vajpayee would make of the BJP’s parliamentary tactics. For the Opposition to stall Parliament day after day can only contribute to the collapse of the very institution, which is at the very heart of the Indian democracy. It will be understandable if as the principal opposition party, the BJP is not willing to help the government pass its legislation. It is under no obligation to enable its political rivals advance an agenda that may fetch the ruling party electoral dividends.

However, it is totally incomprehensible that the Parliament be not allowed to function at all. For example, the question hour can easily be allowed to take place; and papers placed on the table of the House. By disrupting even the question hour, the Opposition enables the political executive escape its basic obligation to explain and account its policies and actions. The fundamental democratic principle is that the rival views are heard and debated. To quote Vajpayee again: ‘It saddens me to note that the attitude of wanting to hear the opposite point of view is waning.
We are a diverse country.

Political pluralism is the very heart of our democracy. It is what lends vibrancy and vigour to parliamentary debate. The first principle of parliamentary conduct is to believe that every point of view has a right to express itself, so long as it is expressed within the rules set by the Speaker.’
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