A Block On The Parliament: What”s Left Of Indian Democracy?

Posted on September 10, 2012

By Karmanye Thadani:

The simple civics lesson is forgotten by far too many Indians. When we vote for Members of Parliament, we seem to be more bothered about their work for the constituency per se, which should squarely fall within the executive domain, rather than their legislative competency or in case the person isn’t contesting the first time, his/her record of contribution to the legislative process. However, there’s more to this conflation of legislative and executive responsibilities, as we are seeing recently.

The Parliament is basically a body meant to draft laws, and a secondary, though important, function is for it to serve as a forum for the Opposition to question the Ministers on their executive actions and hold them accountable. Today, we are seeing the BJP block the Parliament and not debate crucial legislations, like a crucial one on sexual harassment at workplaces that came into being without any inputs from the most important Opposition party, on account of its insistence that the Prime Minister must resign over the Coal Gate issue. The BJP very well knows that the Prime Minister is not going to resign by way of their making noise in the Parliament. And in any case, all the corruption cases, whether related to coal mines or not, are for the judiciary to pronounce its verdict on.

The way the Parliament is functioning poses a serious threat to the efficacy of our democratic framework. There was a time when men of the stature of Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru, Maulana Azad, C. Rajagopalachari, Jayaprakash Narayan, Ram Manohar Lohia and Shyama Prasad Mookerjee graced the benches of the Parliament House, but today, the condition is such that even debates on bills are not so much about working together for effective and fair legislations but rather, opportunities for mudslinging matches. I recall watching the debates in both houses of the Parliament on the Lokpal Bill, in which there were MPs busy criticizing Anna Hazare and members of the two national parties accusing the other party of being corrupt.

A BJP MP in the Rajya Sabha argued that corruption was in the “genes of the Congress” and that there had been allegations of corruption against all Congress PMs except Lal Bahadur Shastri, and he was clearly going on to talk more about the history of corruption and alleged corruption in the Congress (turning a blind eye to the scenario in his own). The Vice President told him to stick to the bill, but he went on with his agenda of Congress-bashing and when he was cut short, he started accusing the Vice President of being biased!

Coming back to the current scenario of the BJP blocking the Parliament putting up a holier-than-thou pretence in its frequent altercations with the Congress on the issue of corruption, at the cost of legislative debates, for what they know is a lost cause of getting Manmohan to resign, indeed reflects very poorly of their party. I hope that the ordinary Indian citizen is not so naive and so very emotionally swayed by the issue of corruption (and the false propaganda that corruption is more of a Congress monopoly) and not so lacking in his/her understanding of our democratic machinery to not understand that the basic function of a legislature is to legislate, for him/her to appreciate these cheap and harmful tactics currently being deployed by the BJP to earn political brownie points.

Even the Congress has employed these methods in the past, though, and I mention this to affirm my commitment to impartiality. Moreover, the recent scuffle between two MPs from the SP and BSP in the Rajya Sabha, whether pre-planned or not, has volumes to speak about the erosion of the dignity of the Parliament over the decades, and I do feel that there is a greater role the civil society at large would have to play in pushing for better legislations. The Right to Information Act or Forest Rights Act wouldn’t have seen the light of the day had it not been for activism, and people with bookish assertions of MPs being our genuine representatives whose discretion must be respected at all costs (in spite of our democratic rights to express ourselves and even peacefully agitate) need to tune themselves to the harsh reality.
[box bg=”#fdf78c” color=”#000″]About the author: The author is a freelance writer based in New Delhi and has co-authored two short books, namely ‘Onslaughts on Free Speech in India by Means of Unwarranted Film Bans’ and ‘Women and Sport in India and the World: A Socio-Legal Perspective’. To read his other posts, click here.[/box]


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