Parliament may be one of the foremost institutions of our democratic framework, but its members will do well to recall that under the Indian Constitution, sovereignty rests with “We the people” described in the Preamble. In the ultimate analysis, people matter much more than the politicians who claim their representation. No politician, however powerful, has the right to make it any less so by his or her actions inside the parliamentary chamber to which he been elected as the people’s representative.
The record of the 15th Lok Sabha in this backdrop is far from enthusing and its last session is turning out to be the worst. Turmoil in Parliament over Telangana and other issues has taken a toll on the proceedings ever since the extended Winter Session began on February 5. With unruly members trooping into the well of the two Houses all through, Parliament has turned out to be a battleground. This was perhaps the first occasion when the railway minister was forced to lay on the table his Budget speech which was taken as read.
Question Hour, the crucial first hour in both Houses when MPs get to ask questions on various issues, has been the worst casualty. In many sessions not even 1 per cent of time could be given to Question Hour. Take the case of Winter Session of 2010 when only 0.78 per cent of time was devoted to questions or Monsoon Session of 2012 when 1.23 per cent of time could be given to questions. The best performance so far was in the budget session of 2009 when 19.75 per cent of time was spent on Question Hour.
How seriously this Lok Sabha performed its job of lawmaking is evident by the fact that it passed nearly one out of every five of the 165 bills after discussions for less than five minutes. It is clear that even in whatever time was left free from disruptions, the members spent far more time on non-legislative business than on legislative debate.
People of India would naturally react with scepticism and a sense of hurt at such expediency, reasons for which have never been honestly spelt out by their representatives.
Unfortunately, there is so much turmoil in political domains of today that the credibility levels of established institutions like the US Senate or Indian Lok Sabha is being questioned and there seems to be no light at the end of the long and arduous “political tunnel”. Governance deficit is the logical outcome of such an institutional failure in the world’s largest democracies, be it a case of the US, Japan or India.
In contrast, countries like the People’s Republic of China, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, United Arab Emirates and Brunei have no transparent representative political culture to boast of but are scoring high on development and governance.
The President of China or the king of Saudi Arabia do not ever have to traverse such a path of helpless self-admission because if they have a health plan that benefits the people, they just issue a ‘diktat’ and execute the same. The only non-dictatorial or non-monarchic elective democracy where such a seamless transition takes place is Singapore, where unlike in India, transparency in processes scores.
This should not be construed as advocacy for dictatorship as against democracy. But it underlines the urgent need for a slew of effective measures to ensure that the people’s faith in the institutions of representative democracy is not eroded.
This will call for a rigorous ‘code of conduct’ for members of the elective bodies before the 16th Lok Sabha is elected and it is the task of the political parties to build a consensus on it and ensure that their members comply with it. None of its members should be allowed to agitate inside the House, shout slogans, and carry partisan flags, wasting the time of the House and the country. Moreover, each of the member of over 540 Lok Sabha constituencies should be obliged to make “constituency presentations” at least twice during the five-year term. The proposed reforms should also define the concept of “minimal legislative time” compulsory for each session of the Lok Sabha. If any sitting is disturbed through member indiscipline, which would be clearly defined in the internal clauses, the Speaker should have the authority to order a compensatory sitting to make up for the loss.
Some of these proposals might appear radical at this juncture, but as the world’s largest democracy India needs to explore such options to make Indian Parliament more transparent and process-driven. The burden to achieve this lies with the parties that participate in the parliamentary democracy. They must train and guide their members to behave in a manner that improves the image of Parliament and does not lead to its erosion.