Millennium Post

Parliament functioning at stake

Is there any hope of the 16th Lok Sabha functioning well? The beginning of the budget session on Monday shows signs of the repeat of the 15th Lok Sabha when the government could not transact much business throughout and the house did not discuss and debate many serious issues. One hoped that with a stable government and a fractured opposition in place, the Parliament might function better.

Prime Minister Modi began well in the previous session when he sought the cooperation of the opposition in his maiden speech in Parliament and the opposition too did not show any belligerence giving some hope that at last the Parliament may resume normal business in the current session.
But the current session began with disruption of question hour in Lok Sabha demanding admission of an adjournment motion on price rise. The same trend continued this week with disruptions on some issue or the other. It was also seen that members continued running to the well of the house shouting slogans. The frequent adjournments reminded one of the earlier times when the house met only to be adjourned often without transacting any business.

The massive majority for the NDA in the Lok Sabha does not mean that the government can ensure smooth functioning. Did not the weakest opposition during 1984 – 89 bring out the Bofors and other scandals and did not a handful of opposition stalwarts like Madhu Dandavate, George Fernandes Unnikrishnan, Somanath Chatterjee and Inderjit Gupta perform their role in an excellent manner? So the opposition, if it finds the right issues, can be quite effective.  That does not mean only walkouts and shouting slogans and disrupting the house.
As for the Rajya Sabha, the numbers are with the opposition. The NDA is in a minority and will find it difficult to pass the bills without the constructive cooperation of the opposition. No doubt Prime Minister Modi has already reached out to the parties like AIADMK and Biju Janata Dal to get support on issues. Taking recourse to a joint session is one option but the practice has been it was resorted to only on rare occasions.

So far two things stand out clearly. The first is that the government is still not able to deal with the running of Parliament despite having a weak and fractured opposition. The BJP does not want to give the status of the Leader of Opposition to the Congress, which is the single largest party but has less than 10 per cent of the strength of the house.  While Congress could keep quiet looking at the miserable number of seats it got in the recent Lok Sabha polls and bide its time, the party seems to be spoiling for a fight and insists on demanding the LOP post.  Congress President Sonia Gandhi has even knocked at the doors of the President Pranab Mukherjee. The government too could have shown its magnanimity by giving the post to the Congress. Both sides have not shown grace in dealing with this issue.

The second is that the opposition has not yet got its act together and bargain with a combined strength for better results. The Congress has not been able to get the support of the other opposition parties like the left and BJD and TMC. Each one of them is playing a solo role with the result issues get distracted. Had there been a united opposition, which could take on the government, things would have been different. For instance, in the Rajya Sabha when the Congress walked out on the price rise issue, the NCP, its allay did not follow it. The left walked out for some other issue.
The third thing, which is loud and clear is that despite the fractured results, the opposition is not able to digest the fact that the BJP is ruling with a massive majority as Information minister Prakash Javadekar observed in the house on Tuesday. This is more so for the Congress which is yet to come out of the shock that the people have rejected the party with a decisiveness. If the Parliament has to run smoothly it needs the cooperation of all parties. They should realise that by discussing and debating issues in a civilised manner rather than shouting would restore the dignity of the house, which has seen stalwarts. It is sad to see that just on the second day of the budget session, there was a scuffle between the TMC and the BJP members.

The new members should realise that question hour is an important tool to quiz the ministers and this should not be disturbed on any account. There are other tools like the short notice question and calling attention motion, which can focus the issues pertaining to the people as effectively as their walkouts.  The new members who number 315 should impress upon their parties to allow them to make use of these tools.

 The time has come now for political parties to rethink their strategy of obstructing business and think of how to start debating and discussing issues. After all Parliament is meant for two major things – scrutiny of the budget and law making. If the new Parliament, which has more than 315 new members decides to follow the same old path then there is no hope for the future. As it is, there have not been informed debates in the house except on rare issues. It may be too early to judge but the success of 16th Lok Sabha lies in the hands of its members and political parties. Will they do justice and perform their duties?
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