Parliamentary Disruptions - Time for Hammer to Fall by Proloy Bagchi SignUp

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Parliamentary Disruptions
- Time for Hammer to Fall
by Proloy Bagchi Bookmark and Share

The serial disruption of the Parliament has caused anger and anguish all over. While some people have been condemning the Congress for its thoughtless blocking of all business in the Upper House others have been blaming even the BJP – the ruling combine- of doing the same when the UPA was at the helm. If one comes to think of it, the politicians of all shades are the same. They only have craving for power and, if they cannot corner it, they would not allow those in power to govern. BJP, quite seemingly, is getting paid back in its own coin.

With the continued disruption of the two houses questions have already been asked about the relevance of the Parliament where no work is done. People have sent their representatives to this national constitutional body to legislate and work on their behalf. If that is not done where would be the rationale to constitute a parliament that is adjourned day after day on account of the uproar created by the elected representatives. In several sections of people disruptions are being reckoned as anti-democratic – harmful for democracy that has been so assiduously nursed and nurtured in the country. If the proceedings are blocked serially from one day to another and legislative work is hampered it certainly would be damaging to the faith of people in the Parliament and its legitimacy.

In a recent statement, even the Vice President, the Chairman of the Upper House has expressed his fear that people would lose faith in the Parliament if the disruptions continue. He has cited several reasons relating to the conduct of members that has given rise to misgivings in the minds of people who form the electorate. The Chairman cited, inter alia, criminal antecedents of members, dispensing favours by them for a consideration, spurt in assets after being elected, defections and electoral malpractices are what, he said, were eroding the faith of people in parliamentary democracy. This is further accentuated by indiscipline exhibited by members in the House, the daily uproar like that in a fish market that renders the Parliament ineffective to carry out its business.

“All is not well that ends up in the well (of the House)”. This is how the Chairman described the members’ indiscipline that is frequently witnessed in the two houses. Now the members have even graduated to carrying placards inside the House with slogans written on them as if it is a tussle or fight between a trade union and management. Worse is shouting of slogans inside the House. One recalls even as the Prime Minister was replying to the debate on the President’s address there were people of the Opposition constantly raising slogans right through the PM’s speech. Curiously, no cognizance was taken of this constant distraction by the leader of the Congress Party or the Speaker. If the Opposition was unhappy with the government there certainly were more decent ways of expressing them instead of trying to drown the PM’s speech in the racket and din of slogans. Causing disturbance or obstructing PM in his speech is highly reprehensible for the PM is head of the government who has been elected by a majority.  He can in no way be prevented from speaking his mind. Doing so is highly indecorous and unmannerly.

The Chairman’s own party is not quite innocent in this matter. Regardless of their all justifications, they too shouted and hollered to subdue the voices of the government when they were in Opposition. It has always been said that disruptions are what the Opposition will always attempt; it is the responsibility of the government to run the houses. That would mean while the Opposition would try its best to block proceedings the government should try and run the house. How can that be possible? If civilised debate cannot resolve the issues, should the government and the Opposition settle the matter after a physical duel? That is unthinkable in a democratic set up.

Only solution would seem to be to take strong action against those small numbers of people who choose to make avoidable and needless disturbances and keep them out of the House. That unfortunately cannot be done for the simple reason the chairpersons of the legislative houses have no such specific powers. He/she, it seems, can name a member for his undesirable behavior and on being so named such a member is expected to immediately withdraw from the House. That seldom happens in these days of falling standards of civic behavior.  Recourse to use of marshals is seldom taken.

 In fact, the chairpersons have not been given any specific punitive power to maintain a semblance of a standard of behavior. At the same time they have the power to run the houses smoothly and efficiently, a wider interpretation of which perhaps, can be taken recourse to in extreme cases. The Constitution was framed in civiilised times when members were cultured and decent. It probably never occurred to the framers of the Constitution that a day might dawn on this land when the speakers of the several houses would need a whip to crack at elected representatives. The constitution makers probably never imagined that uncouth dregs and uncultured louts would be offered tickets for elections to the august bodies and, worse, they would even be elected

It is needless to emphasise that standards of behavior of the members have fallen over the years. Gone are the days of decent gentlemanly debates over matters on which the opposition had an utterly different view. Yet the members never crossed the line and maintained the dignity of the House as also their own. The first few parliaments were constituted of the finest of Indians who were highly civilized intellectual giants.

Nonetheless, in spite of the severe constraints the speakers of Gujarat and Tamil Nadu assemblies suspended practically the entire opposition for unruly behaviour and obstructing the proceedings. Although the action was criticized in the press as suspension of the entire opposition would tend to be anti-democratic. A house without an opposition cannot represent all interests of the people. But when the opposition opposes for the sake of opposition and does not allow the government to have its business conducted stern action would seemingly be necessary.

 With efflux of time the standards fell and it is now plumbing the depths. The current Chairman of the Upper House has had occasion to mention that political parties have a responsibility to ensure people of proper antecedents are selected for being elected to legislative houses. If the Opposition is faulted on this score, the ruling party ought to equally be blamed. Their rough and crude quality has been revealed in several fracases in different legislative assemblies. When the objective is to wrest power at any cost quality of candidates is perhaps never in the reckoning

A day has now come when imploring a member disturbing the proceedings to sit down or keep quiet doesn’t quite work. What works is punitive action – an action that hurts a member’s image as well as his finances. It is, therefore, time now for the hammer to fall to keep and nurse the faith of people in democracy and democratic values. For too long have we been witness to the politics of the bizarre. By any stretch of imagination, disruption of the Parliament for almost three weeks is a bit too much.

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