Democracy under threat
The Parliamentary gridlock stalling the no-confidence motion sets a bad precedent for the future of the world’s largest democracy.
No one should be surprised at watching the newspaper and primetime TV headlines that state unambiguously that the current session of the Parliament is heading towards a washout. This is the 12th straight session that has been wasted so far. In fact, we see almost the same headlines at the close of every Parliament session since the past two decades with the result that the people are gradually getting disenchanted with the MPs for not fulfilling their stipulated duties. What are the functions and duties of an elected Member of Parliament? There are four important functions: to perform budget scrutiny, protecting the interests of the constituents, functioning as a watchdog over the government and above all making laws. Are they performing their duties for which they have been elected?
This belligerence is not only pertaining to the Congress-led Opposition now, as when the BJP was the Opposition it too was doing the same thing. While the government blames the Opposition, the latter blames BJP for not reaching out to them. Congress President Rahul Gandhi in a rally in Karnataka on March 25 said, "In the Parliament, a no-confidence motion against the Modi government has been moved. For the past 10 days, it has been stalled because the government is afraid." This is a clear case of launching an active blame game.
While earlier the political parties used to keep up the pretension that they were willing to work, it was clear from day one that neither the government nor the opposition had any intention of allowing the Parliament to function during this session. Significantly, this is the first time that the Modi government is facing a no-confidence motion brought up separately by the Congress, the TDP and the TRS. The AIADMK is threatening to bring in another.
Both the presiding officers had been pleading with the members to allow the house to function but that has been to no avail. The Chairman of the Rajya Sabha M Venkaiah Naidu lamented, "I am filled with sadness at the disorder, indiscipline and inappropriate conduct in the House." He made several appeals to the members asking them to not further erode the "quality of polity". He finally succeeded in making the Rajya Sabha bid farewell to the 60 retiring members last week. Speaker Sumitra Mahajan had no such success.
The Upper House was only able to pass the Payment of Gratuity (Amendment) Bill 2017, while the Lok Sabha has cleared the Finance Bill 2018 without any discussion as also a Rs 89 crore spending plan for the next fiscal year in less than half an hour. The House passed the 21 amendments to taxation proposals in the bill by a voice vote as also the appropriation bill containing the budgetary plans for 99 government departments and ministries.
The Opposition blocked the government in both the houses on various issues. Mainly, the four regional parties from the south – AIADMK, TRS, YSR Congress and Telugu Desam supported by the other opposition parties stalled the business. Every day as soon as the house began its proceedings the 37 AIADMK members trooped into the well of the house demanding the setting up of the Cauvery water management board as ordered by the Supreme Court. The TRS wanted its 12 per cent reservation for Muslims in the state to be notified under the ninth schedule. The Telugu Desam, an ally of the NDA, after quitting the alliance last month became more belligerent demanding a special status for the state of Andhra Pradesh as promised at the time of the bifurcation of the state in 2014. Not to be outdone, the YSR Congress, too, is demanding the same and both the parties have separately given a no-confidence motion against the Modi government.
Politically, it is not unexpected keeping in view of the upcoming Assembly elections to Karnataka where both the Congress and the BJP are engaged in a direct fight. As for the AIADMK, it is competitive in its local politics, which is now playing out in the Parliament. Same is the case with the TDP and YSRC. The TRS is indeed playing to the gallery to its home constituency.
Losing one more session does not augur well for the government as well as the Opposition. There are many issues, which are important and deserve immediate attention like the agrarian crisis, the Nirav Modi-PNB scam, the Iraq issue, Cambridge Analytica's data sale, the Ram Navami clashes in West Bengal and Bihar, and so on. Certainly, it is for the government to ensure that the business is transacted in both the houses and also reaches out to the opposition. But the Opposition also has its responsibilities in ensuring debate, discussion and ultimately an expose of the government. Right now the relationship between the government and the opposition has completely broken down. The government should also take note of the growing north-south divide with the southern states complaining of a step-motherly treatment.
If this continues, the people of the country may no longer place their trust in politicians who they believe are taking them for a joy ride. They are already disenchanted with the political class as was witnessed in the increasing number of NOTA votes in the ballot paper indicating their anger. The Parliament is a temple of the democracy and if this breaks down, the democracy will also be at the pedestal of complete shatter.
(The views expressed are strictly personal)