A few days back, there was a news in the national media and dailies about the present Indian NDA government’s resolve that their Members of Parliament (MPs), including Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP) and other alliance partners, would not take salary and allowances for all the days wasted during the current Budget session due to opposition parties MPs constant disruption of the proceedings of both the Lower and Upper Houses of the Parliament. The parliamentary minister stated that salary should be given only if the elected representatives serve the people by carrying out their responsibilities and duties enshrined in the Constitution. He blamed the opposition, more particularly the Indian National Congress (INC or Congress), for their undemocratic politics by rendering both the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha non-functional. The stopping of the passage of the people welfare oriented bills is a criminal wastage of the taxpayers’ money.
Actually, the decline of the parliamentary system is not unique in the Indian context only, instead such a decline is being experienced throughout the globe; it is only the question of the extent of rot in various democracies. The poor performance of both the law makers as well as Parliaments institutions is gradually strengthening the view that once earning laurels across the world, the democracies are fast deteriorating to a rotten system in so far as its normal functioning and an effective governance is concerned. In several countries, the parliamentary system is leading to the weak and unstable governments and India is no exception, despite a commendable mandate of people during the last parliamentary elections. It is increasingly being felt that this system is prone to severe corruption, instability, leadership failure and failure in bringing progressive changes.
Conceptually, in the Indian scenario the government is accountable to the Parliament, being the highest legislative organ of the Indian democracy, and the Parliament comprising of the elected MPs is in turn accountable to the people of India. It’s so because the people of India every five year make a choice for their representatives to the Parliament through a popular mandate. In that sense, the MPs represent authority and wishes of the people. It is the irony of the electorate and nation that the same representatives instead of serving the people make mockery of the very system which made them by indulging in wilful sabotage and demeaning the very parliamentary institutions often for own petty personal and political ambitions and gains.
During the current NDA regime since May 2014, the smooth running of the legislative business in both Houses of the Parliament has increasingly become a distant dream. Though the Indian Parliamentary System has never worked in a true democratic spirit since the independence, the current disruptive trend had started during the previous UPA-II regime under Manmohan Singh as Prime Minister with the opposition led by the BJP pressing the government for taking action in several alleged multi-billion scams like Coalgate, 2-G Spectrum, Commonwealth Games and a host of Defence deals.
Though they did it in a calculative manner and at a measured scale to force the reluctant UPA government to initiate action for fixing the responsibility in the alleged irregularities, nepotism and kickbacks in the mega scams, the Congress, which couldn’t garner enough seats during the General Elections in 2014 even to be formally recognised as the main opposition party, is now doing the same indiscreetly and at a much greater scale in revenge to disrupt the proceedings of both houses of the Parliament. Since they do not have any issues of major policy failure or the corruption cases against the government, they are merrily doing it in vengeance with many assumed notions with a sort of hit and run policy. In the absence of worthwhile reasons, the Congress has become inventive and innovative making an elephant out of a mole from every incident of some significance.
In an endeavour to oppose and embarrass the NDA government, the most unfortunate and regrettable part of the strategy of the opposition is that they are acting with utter disregard to all decency and ethical democratic norms. It is the result of such deterioration that they are playing petty politics with utter insensitivity questioning the veracity of operations impinging the national security, vital inter-governmental defence deals for kickbacks without any evidence of corruption or leading fault, making common cause with the regional parties on selfish and divisive local issues, inciting minorities and dalits for violent behaviour to create unrest and serious law and order problems, questioning action and intention of the government in the context of Indian workers killed by the ISIS in Mosul, Iraq in 2014, and so on so forth.
With the continued utter confusion and pandemonium, the Parliament could hardly worked for a few hours during the cunrrent Budget session spreading over a month. We have witnessed a steady decline in the use of productive time of Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha over the years. Such frequent distractions have made the vital Question Hour to almost null and void in the Parliament, thus spoiling an opportunity for the MPs to ask questions of vital public and national importance to hold ministers accountable for the functioning of their ministries. In the following text, the author intends to explore the legacy, causes, maladies and remedies, if any, to upheld healthy traditions of the Parliamentary functioning.
Institutional Legacy after Independence
After the Muslim League and possibly a few ambitious Congress leaders succeeded in their design and India was formally partitioned in 1947, the Indian National Congress remained the sole significant political party left to deal with the destiny of the independent India. Indian Communists were the only other significant opposition posing some challenge to the Congress in certain regions. However, since the Congress under Jawaharlal Nehru too adopted the left-centric policies, there was no significant ideological conflict with the left and other small socialist groups. Riding on the popularity wave of their role and achievements during the freedom struggle, despite Nehru’s arrogance, obstinate and idiosyncratic ways (He had many good qualities too), the Congress with Nehru as Prime Minister was able to run the country for long and till his death in 1964.
During Nehru’s period, the Communist Party of India (CPI) was only party which offered some noticeable resistance through the General Elections in 1952, 1957 and 1962 and in the Parliament with the Congress having an overwhelming majority, thanks to their appeasement policies and reservation towards the minorities, particularly Muslims, and Scheduled Castes/ Scheduled Tribes, respectively, with the support of other elite/upper class in India. Due to socio-economic policies adopted, Nehru’s personal preferences towards communism (China and USSR) and relaxed governance in the absence of any significant challenge in the Parliament and outside, the growth rate remained slow and despite serious foreign policy lapses including serious reverses and defeat in war with China in 1962, the Congress continued to remain first choice of the Indian electorate.
After the death of Nehru in May 1964, Lal Bahadur Shashtri, an honest and worthy politician, took the reigns as Prime Minister but his tenure was short-lived; the country had to go far another war in 1965, this time with the belligerent western neighbour Pakistan in her advances to snatch Kashmir. After a brief inconclusive war, the USSR leaders played host for forging peace with hostile neighbour and Shashtri died under mysterious circumstances in Taskent in 1966. After his death, despite the presence of several senior Congress leaders like K. Kamraj and Morarji Desai, the Nehru loyalist lobby had their way and Indira Gandhi was elected Prime Minister of the country. Next General Election were fought in 1967 with the Congress achieving simple majority facing serious reverses for the first time in the erstwhile strong bastion states such as Gujarat, Madras, Orissa, Rajasthan, West Bengal, Kerala and Delhi, and the Swatantra Party emerging as the major opposition with 44 Lok Sabha seats.
Though there was no significant challenge to the party in the Parliament, the Congress itself was riddled with the internal politics and conflicts between the old guards and Gandhi loyalists. On policy front too, while Indira Gandhi was in favour of populist pro-people left agenda, other senior leaders who distrusted Soviets, wanted a more right-wing socio-economic approach for the party and governance. This led to the split of the Congress party in 1969 leading to the expulsion of Indira Gandhi. With the majority members in favour, Indira Gandhi formed the Congress(R) while the old guards led by K. Kamraj and Morarji Desai as Congress (O), also known as Syndicate and Indicate for some time. Then in 1971 General Election, the Congress under Indira Gandhi again returned with a two-third majority in a campaign of Congress that focused on ‘Garibi Hatao’ (poverty alleviation), with CPI(M) emerging as main opposition with 29 seats. Also Gandhi led party was established as the real Congress.
In response to a Allahabad High Court order against the election of Indira Gandhi in 1975, she made the then President Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed to declare a state of emergency (25th June 1975 to 21st March 1977) effectively bestowing on her the power to rule by decree, suspending elections and civil liberties. This period of about 21 months is still considered the black phase and a blot on the Indian democracy and parliamentary practices.
Consequently, in the General Elections held in 1977, the Indian electorate outrightly rejected the Congress in the entire India, only retaining its bastion in the southern states. The experiment of the combined opposition with Morarji Desai as Prime Minister, however, didn’t work due to internal strife and individual ambitions of the senior leaders. Consequently, the Indian public once again put their faith back in the Congress under the leadership of Indira Gandhi by returning her party to power with a massive mandate in 1980, with the main opposition as Janta party with only 41 seats.
The period was remarkable with the rise of militancy in Punjab demanding an independent Sikh state that led to an extreme action of engaging army to flush out sikh militants from the precinct of the Golden Temple in Amritsar in an operation code named "Operation Blue Star". Post operation Blue Star, many Sikhs personally held Indira Gandhi responsible for desecrating the shrine and excesses committed against the community that led to assassination of Indira Gandhi by some sikh personnel guards deployed on her security duty in 1984. The immediate fall out was a large scale violence, riots, mass killing and other excesses against thousands of Sikhs country-wide and return of the Congress in power with the largest ever tally of 415 out of 542 seats in the Lok Sabha, with virtually no opposition left in the Parliament.
Since independence and till 1989 General Elections, barring a failed experiment of Janta Party in 1977 for about three years, it was the Congress all the time in power with a sweeping or at least comfortable majority in the Parliament. Left parties and other Socialist outfits had a small and disorganised presence and, ideologically, they were not very different. Shyama Prasad Mukherjee, who was a cabinet minister in Nehru’s government after independence, was increasingly disillusioned with the latter’s working and ideology. Hence he had finally quit the government and formed a new right wing party on socio-economic ideology under the name of Bhartiya Jana Sangh (BJS) in 1951.
Till 1971, the BJS fought General Elections at own strength with a right wing agenda without registering much presence or impact on the psyche of the Indian electorate; the maximum number of the Lok Sabha seats achieved by the party was 35 in 1967. After the failure of the Janta Party experiment, the party emerged in a new avatar and nomenclature as Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP). Thus during all these years, the Congress didn’t have to face any united and effective opposition in the Parliament. They had, by and large, a smooth sailing and say in the conduct of the Parliamentary business on the floor of both the lower and upper houses.
The General Election 1989 could be taken as a watershed in the parliamentary history that changed the course of the nature and quality of debate as also brought the conduct of the parliamentarians under scanner. After these elections, the era of coalition governments actually started (1977 was an exception) as none of the national party ever succeeded in obtaining the absolute majority on its own strength. The National Front with Janta Dal as chief constituent formed the government in 1989 under Mr VP Singh and proceedings on many occasions were marred with heated exchange among the members on Bofors Scandal and other controversial issues leading to obnoxious and verbal abuses among members on many occasions. The coalition government once again didn’t last for long forcing another mid-term General Elections in 1991. He is also responsible for spreading the trend of caste-based politics adding the another dimension of the other backward classes (OBCs) which were so far identified with the rest of electorate other than the minorities and SCs/STs.
The Congress yet again emerged as the single largest party but away from the majority by a few dozen seats. The party, however, returned to power with the assistance of Left and other like-minded socialist parties forming the government under Mr Narsimha Rao. This arrangement somehow worked with minimum adjustments and bargains for the next five years and the period ushered in a new dawn or era in the Indian democracy in form of the liberalization of economic policies. This was a much needed reform that came late at least by two decades yet so far so good for the economy and development of the nation. Then the Congress was once again rejected by the electorate in 1996, followed by an age of uncertainty as several governments were formed and brought down and three General Elections held in 1996, 1998 and 1999 during a short period.
The nineties of the previous century was also remarkable in the emergence of several regional parties and leaders representing local aspirations based on the caste, creed, religion and region as also economic disparities and developmental parameters. This also strengthened the possibilities of forming new alliances and fronts based on mutual convenience and interests. After 1999 General Elections, the NDA with the BJP as the chief constituent formed the government with Atal Bihari Bajpai as Prime Minister, followed by two terms of the UPA (coalition) regimes with the Congress as the leading partner and Manmohan Singh as Prime Minister. The Coalition governments since 1999 were largely stable but the disjointed yet strong opposition had kept them on tenderhooks all the time during the Parliamentary sessions and beyond. The period has not only seen the maximum deterioration of moral values and ethics of parliamentarians as also the nature and quality of debate, its contents and ultimate output.
In fact, the last elections in 2014, the overwhelming mandate of people reminds the strength and reach of a party and government akin to that of Nehruvian era but ironically enough this has not been able to provide necessary stability and unity of approach. Instead, it has added a new dimension and qualms as to how a handful unruly MPs can sabotage and derail the entire legislative business and congenial atmosphere in the parliament. Also the growing dichotomy and consequent cognitive hiatus between the Parliament as an institutions and rowdy parliamentarians is causing concern and a larger question if the democracy and parliamentary system are any longer able to provide a good governance model.
Maladies of the Institutional Decline
Going by records, one can conclude with a reasonable belief that after independence the parliamentarians used to attend the parliamentary sessions well prepared and heard with rapt attention. This system continued till many decades and people in the Parliament and outside used to experience outstanding debates and healthy output, and it was common that the even functioning of the executive was criticized and debated by the MPs of the ruling party itself. However, the experience during the last three decades and its careful analysis would reveal a painful transition from high standards and decency to the growing unruly behaviour of the MPs and catastrophic outcomes impinging on the parliamentary decorum and decency as an institution. Not only the frequency of parliamentary disruptions through pandemonium and walk outs has become the norm but also there has been substantial change in the vocabulary and dialogue of the parliamentarians.
The quality time of the Parliament is wasted on trivial issues, disorder, unruly behaviour and theatrics. A high percentage of MPs have a criminal background and record with pending cases; their convenient marriage with money, scams, crime and perversion has become norm of the day. The attendance during the debate is scanty, at times it falls even below the prescribed quorum, except in situations when parties specifically issue whips for a given reason. Many MPs are found wilfully missing from the Parliament during the normal parliamentary sittings, debates, question hours, budget discussions. All this is indeed adding to the growing rot in the parliamentary institutions and mistrust of the people on the parliamentarians and politicians at large.
Let’s see what are the maladies and causes for the catastrophic decline of the parliamentary institution in India over the years:
Decline in Moral Values and Ethics:
The first and foremost cause could be overall decline in moral values and ethics in public life over a period with the growing extreme materialism. This has affected the common public, and the parliamentarians rising from among the public are no exception. Their personal gain and ascendency to the limelight and prosperity gets priority over the parliamentary responsibility and image which would possibly be the last thing on their mind with so much at stake in personal domain. Frequent change of priorities and parties like clothes by certain MPs could perhaps be best explained this way.
Preferences and Priorities in Selection of Candidates:
Instead of the merits of the candidate on his social background, academic qualification, moral aspects and public image, the focus of the political parties is more on the candidate’s winning prospects based on the factors like caste, creed, religion, muscular strength and economic sustainability. This is the reason why many candidates with the criminal background and record are picked up if they show prospects of winning election in a constituency. It is obvious that an MP winning with the money and muscle power, criminal links and nexus with the corporate sector will not change overnight with a gentlemanly conduct in the Parliament for the good of the Parliamentary traditions and welfare of the common public. This could also be taken as the chief cause of the criminalisation of the politics.
Emergence of Coalition Governments with Multi-Party System:
This is another crucial reason for the decline of a healthy parliamentary system. After the eighties decade, no national party barring the exception of the current Modi government has ever been able to form the national government at own strength. Consequently, even if the leaders of the party were well-intentioned and righteous in approach, they had to forge alliances with many smaller parties to augment necessary support to form the government and run the legislative business in the Parliament. Such parties are often found to have different interests and sectarian approach to bargain, and the leading national party has to compromise on certain principles and priorities for the sake of continued alliance and stability of the government. This too has a critical bearing on the legislative business of the Parliament and an impediment on functioning of the government to pursue intended reforms and development.
Bargaining Factors of the Regional Parties:
Initially, a few regional parties were limited to the southern states but in 1980s this trend started in the northern and other regions of the country as well gaining further momentum in 1990s onwards. Currently, barring a few states like Gujarat, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Himachal Pradesh etc, numerous regional parties have emerged and started dominating the politics in the region having a bearing nation-wide with the simultaneous weakening of the erstwhile Congress as the only national party with large presence. These parties have limited perspective and political agenda restricted to meet the growing aspirations of the people of the respective state only. Many of them are resorting to political blackmail with the weak national parties to accord priorities to their limited and short-sighted approach and agenda. This has again led to compromising the national perspective including the quality of debate and legislation in the Parliament.
The recent illustration could be the flip-flop of the Telgudesham Party (TDP) of Andhra Pradesh led by a worthy politician Chandra Babu Naidu. Initially, he forged alliance with the BJP during the NDA government under Atal Bihari Bajpai in 1999, quit the alliance on flimsy grounds to support UPA regime from outside only to join NDA again during 2014 General Elections. Now he has quit the alliance because the Modi government could not accede to their unreasonable demand of granting ‘special status’ to Andhra Pradesh alone. Though substantial economic assistance at par with the alleged special status has been offered but the politically motivated TDP finds emotional aspect of ‘special status’ as more important. Consequently, a handful MPs from TDP joining hands with Congress and a few other smaller parties have effectively ruined the chances of any fruitful legislative business during the Budget session of the parliament.
Democracy Subjugated to Dynastic Oligarchy:
This trend was started during the later half of the sixties by the grand old party of the country itself when the Nehru loyalist successfully attempted to install Indira Gandhi as Prime Minister in 1966 despite the availability of many senior and experienced Congressmen. The subsequent developments in the following years effectively ensured that Nehru-Gandhi family and Congress become synonyms, any other leaders getting a temporary chance for the Congress President and the Government Head only if a worthy successor (!) from the Nehru-Gandhi family was not available and the substitute was staunch loyalist to the family.. People have not have forgotten the nemesis of Sitaram Keshary as the Party President and the experiences of the last UPA regimes under Manmohan Singh being run through proxy.
It should not be an issue if the successor is from a particular family but it certainly causes concern and raises eyebrows when the dynastic successor is found ignorant and illiterate from the basic facts and ground realities of the Indian society, culture and economic ethos despite the grooming of decades. The trend started by the Congress has become a norm in other national and regional parties too, barring a few exceptions of possibly the BJP and Left parties, and in the process many such political families have also amassed a wealth in astronomical figures in a short duration. It’s quite obvious that in such eventualities the merit is side-lined and parliamentary accountability, decency and decorum, debate and discussions are compromised and centred to suit the interests of the dynastic oligarch families.
Growing Unease and Indifference among People:
It is quite obvious that these development have a cascading effect on the psyche and morale of the common public. A general unease and frustration could easily be observed through interaction with the common man. Consequently, tempers run high and people are easily swept by the unwarranted developments and misinformation leading to frequent public chaos and disorder which is often engineered by the interested elements having political links. The Politicians often take advantage of this volatile situation as a handy excuse to raise issues in the Parliament to embarrass the government and derail the normal legislative business.
Temptation for the Media Publicity:
The possibility cannot be ruled out that many parliamentarians conduct themselves in a particular manner to present an impression and image to their followers and people at large of being a jujharu (fighter) and dedicated leader for serving their cause. They are aware that the parliamentary records are effectively digitised and direct telecast made of the parliamentary proceedings through the dedicated channels and ever expanding private media. So it may not surprising that many MPs are taking resort to heated arguments, protests, disruptive activities and walk outs to be seen as champions of public cause in own constituency and beyond.
Fall Out of Parliamentary Rot
Beyond any reasonable doubt, the maladies cited in the preceding paragraphs have taken a heavy toll on the overall effectiveness, working and performance of the Indian Parliament including various statutory and standing committees. Some of the common fallouts include decline in the number of productive days of parliamentary sittings, poor attendance of the members during the sessions, below average and unsatisfactory performance of participating members, poor quality of debate and contents, passing of bills without debate and proper scrutiny, and poor utilization of the Question and Zero Hours.
Parliamentary Sittings and Productivity:
It’s not difficult to find out the year-wise details of the parliamentary sitting in terms of the number of days and actual business hours including output in terms of the number of bills passed or questions answered etc. Even a cursory look at these findings would reveal that the number of the days of sittings of the Parliament is constantly showing decrease since independence. In 1950s, the average days of sittings was around 125 which has come down to about 75 in the recent years. Then those days, it was a by and large peaceful and harmonius working and now the days are marred with protest, frequent storming in the well, heated exchange and constant disruptions, thus further reducing the actual business time and consequent output.
Such figures for the recently ended Budget session are given in the following section of this write-up for the perusal of the readers. Perhaps the opposition MPs forget the fact that this approach would only give Executives more power and leverage to do needful through promulgation of Ordinances if legislation is stalled. Thus in a way, they are depriving themseves in contributing in the legislation in a meaningful manner. Another important point is that the Budget proposals contains the statement of the expenditure as well as details of the taxation proposals. This year it was passed without any discussion due to constant disruptions caused by the opposition parties; the members perhaps don’t realize that by ignoring Budget, they are also missing the opportunity of giving any constructive input or stopping any harsh measures by opposing it.
Attendance of MPs:
Absence and poor attendance is another serious issue which Parliament is seiged with these days. What to talk of the opposition, even the MPs of the treasury benches suffer with this disease. In fact, there have been occasions when the government had to face embarrassment at the hands of the opposition members while passing bills despite having an overwhelming majority in the house. Then there have been occasions, when the Parliament had to postpone or wait for the legislative business in the absence of the minimum quorum required for the transaction of business. Recently, there was a raging controversy about the non-participation and contribution of the nominated MPs from the distinguished walks of life in the Rajya Sabha. Prominent names of such MPs are the noted cricketer Sachin Tendulkar and Actress Rekha. Absenteeism of the MPs during the parliamentary sessions is a major problem that this highest democratic institution is facing today.
Contribution of MPs in Parliamentary Debates:
In author’s opinion, the quality contribution of MPs during the parliamentary debates is far more important issue than the number of days of sittings or presence during the business hours. Unfortunately, this is the biggest causality because the available trends indicate that instead of highlighting or focusing on the issues of national importance or greater reach, members are increasingly spending their energy on trivial issues, individual incidents and matters of local or regional interests. The another cause of concern is that members are increasingly being selective in approach. In other words, while picking up a case they tend to see how it will benefit or further their own political cause. Members are not coming well prepared and well informed, that leads to poor quality of debate in the house reflecting adversely on the intellectual quotient and political maturity of the parliamentarians.
Passing of Bills without Debate:
While members spend plethora of time on non-issues and trivial issues, they are so often found reluctant or non-serious about the important legislative agenda points and finance bills. A case in point could be the recent passing of the Finance Bill containing important taxation proposals for the ensuing year without any debate or spending even a minute on discussion. Although the Parliament was constantly stalled by the unruly members yet an outrageous amendment to the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act, ensuring that foreign donations to parties cannot be scrutinised with retrospective effect stretching all the way back to 1976 was put through unanimously besides MPs’ salary hike in the same session.
Utilisation of Question Hour:
It is an age old parliamentary convention that the first hour of sitting in both the houses of Parliament is assigned as the ‘Question Hour’ followed by the ‘Zero Hour’. While the Question Hour serves as an important mechanism to scrutinise and grill the Executives (Ministers) about the functioning and performance of the respective Ministries/Departments, the Zero Hour is important as it gives opportunity to the members to raise urgent and important issues of national relevance that require the government’s immediate attention.
If the records of the recent years are checked, one would find that the Question Hour has so often been disrupted by the impatient members pressing for their own agenda for discussion which to their understanding is more urgent and important. In fact, instances and intensity of disruptions have been of such order in the recent year, that the Chairman, Rajya Sabha had to take decision to reschedule the Question Hour allowing the Zero Hour to precede to satisfy the urge of the impatient and unruly parliamentarians. The point is that the MPs instead of honouring the sanctity of parliamentary traditions are found to merrily violate it at will. Though question hour as such is disrupted most often, many a time a question is asked for the sake of asking by repeating the ones already answered recently.
Current Parliament under Lens
As per data published in a leading daily having widest circulation across the country, during the just concluded parliamentary session as many as 250 crucial business hours were wasted, the worst position in the last 18 years. Of the available time, only about 1% (19 minutes) in the 16th Lok Sabha and 6% (2.5 hours) in the Rajya Sabha was utilized on the legislative business. Further for the benefit of those who are fond of statistics, according to the provisional statement of work, the Lok Sabha functioned for 34 hours, lost a time of 127.7 hours in 29 sittings passing only 5 bills; similarly, the Rajya Sabha functioned for 44 hours, lost a time of 121 hours in 30 sittings passing just one bill.
According to the PRS legislative research, this was the least productive budget session since the year 2000. In Rajya Sabha, out of about two and a-half hour devoted to the legislative business, only three minutes were spent on the government bills. In the Lok Sabha, of the nineteen minutes spent on the legislative business, some fourteen minutes were utilized for passing two government bills. The Budget session was held in two parts, while the first half was little bit productive, the second half mostly remained non-functional as few regional parties MPs (TRS, YSR Congress, TDP and AIADMK) actively supported by the Congress blocked both the Houses from functioning. The no-confidence motions submitted by some of these parties and Congress further widened the fissure and logjam.
A writer-cum-journalist and well-known BJP-aka-Modi-baiter recently wrote a fanciful article citing four reasons for the parliamentary dysfunction i.e. a catastrophic breakdown of relations between government and opposition, the growing irrelevance of Parliament due to rampant populism, the disconnect between electability and parliamentary performance and the growing municipalisation or Vidhan Sabha-isation of Parliament. While the tenor and texture was as usual putting the maximum blame or onus on the Modi-led NDA government but, conceptually, the reasons put forth largely appear to be valid when read with in conjunction with what has already been explained in the preceding paragraphs as maladies of the parliamentary system of functioning in India.
The truth is when you try to synonymize the ideological differences and election campaigns with the epic war between the Kauravas and Pandavas, and choose to make personal attack all the time by declaring that the word ‘Modi’ is synonymous with corruption without any evidence, it no longer remains the usual opposition act of criticising the ruling party or government. But, unfortunately, this is what precisely the Congress under Rahul Gandhi is doing these days. The animosity between two major national parties and their leaders has become so acute and personal that at times the grand old party, in their zeal to embarrass and belittle the BJP and Mr Modi, appears to be compromising even the national interests.
Last but not the least, even the people of India are no less responsible for the deterioration of the parliamentary institutions. Firstly, these are the people of India who elect their representatives for the Parliament directly and indirectly. It’s obvious that the elected representative do not have the fear that they are being watched by the people for their conduct. Also there is a clear disconnect between the electability and performance in the Parliament largely due to indifference and apathy amongst people of India towards the working of the Indian Parliament. While wealth, political influence and crime have colluded in all ages to some extent, the apathy, indifference and pseudo-tolerance only further boost the evil practices in the system. Somehow Indian electorate largely appears to have accepted that the politicians are like that only. With their unparliamentary conduct remaining unchallenged, the parliamentarians certainly appear to take advantage of this helpless situation.
Is there a Silver Lining?
The rot in the system and maladies are such that the author does not see any silver lining in the horizon for an optimistic conclusion. It might be conventional to underline the need for more interfaces of elected members of Parliament with people in their own constituency and outside as also devising means to increase more transparency between them. Possibly this may restore the faith and confidence among the people about their representatives and Parliament but issue remains who will do it when the lawmakers themselves are responsible for rot. The periodical conference, workshops and training programmes could be the usual conventional methods of improving the lot of the parliamentarians by educating them on working of the Parliament, decency and decorum, matters of national and international relevance, importance of legislative business, and so on so forth. But then these tools and mechanism are possibly already in vogue without showing any perceptive change.
If the political parties and their heads could agree to be sincere and fair in choosing only deserving candidates with a clean background, instead of the considerations of caste, creed, religion, money and muscle power, this would be a milestone achievement in cleansing the political system ensuring the quality of Parliamentarians. But again the question is if they will ever agree to this arrangement. If the political parties are also brought to the purview of the Right to Information Act, this may encourage transparency in their functioning in terms of the raising of funds, selection of the candidates, election agenda setting, distribution of tickets and curtailing alleged nexus with the crime and corporate world. But again the million dollar question remains whether they will ever allow this to happen.
At some forums the issue of the Right to recall non-performing parliamentarians has been highlighted and discussed in the past. Again only law-makers can take a call on this preposition. There also seems to be a pressing need for strict codification of the parliamentary rules on the participation in debates, model code of conduct, decency and decorum, attendance, discipline, punishment on violation of conduct rules as in the case of the civil servants. Again the question arises when none of the political parties is keen for such discipline, who will take initiative to implement this?
In fact, the decline of political ethics and morality is the main cause of the parliamentary rot over a period of time. The loss of moral and ethical values are often justified or even ridiculed in private and public (by slips) on the ground of the political compulsions. The official withdrawal of the Ordinance on the tainted politicians during the UPA regime at the behest of then an extra-constitutional entity in the Congress party and governance is a classic example of the stated political compulsions. Even the recent zeal and priority shown by the government for the amendment to the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act when the Parliament was almost dysfunctional, is yet another classic and common cause of the stated political compulsions.
The Parliament is an apex institution of the Indian democracy and the parliamentarians are the law-makers of the country. They represent hope and aspiration of the people who crave for a better life and a better place for the nation in a global perspective. It is sinful and blasphemous if some of them choose to betray this faith owing to personal need, greed and considerations, and in turn constantly disrupt and demean parliamentary institutions. Unfortunately, the maladies and diseases referred to in the article could only be corrected and healed by none other than the institution itself i.e. law-makers and political parties. But then instead of doing this, they are merrily busy in creating paradigms from bad to worse. Rightly so, in the Indian belief system the incurable diseases are best left at the mercy of God; so long live our democracy and parliamentary institutions! :)