In the dust storm of demagoguery, is the truth that our politicians are making Parliament an irrelevant institution, lost? Or is it the leadership’s lack of will which is paralysing parliamentary democracy? If the amount of business conducted in both Houses of Parliament during the past five years is any indication, it is evident that both the treasury benches and Opposition have ignored legislation in favour of filibustering and chaos. In a democracy, it is the ruling party’s right to govern. It is the Opposition’s fundamental right to be heard. But Indian Parliament has set new trends in democracy by replacing debate with cacophony and aggressive but absonous arguments. As the curtain falls on the current Lok Sabha, it will go down as the worst performing House in the history of independent India. It will earn the infamy as an institution that failed India by tow rowing over petty issues, scoring brownie points sans substance and converting the temple of democracy into an obstreperous laboratory to breed vote-banks. In the past five years, the House has sat for merely 350 days approximately during 15 sessions, as against the 500 days it was expected to assemble for the purpose of transacting business. Never before in its history has almost half of its time been lost on disruptions. The current Lok Sabha will also set the splenetic record of boasting the lowest rate of achieving legislative targets in five years. Perhaps it will be remembered as the House where the Prime Minister spoke the least, along with 100-odd MPs who were either politically aphonic or spoke rarely.
Parliament is expected to be a forum for healthy debates and discussions on issues of public interest. But can the government or the Opposition use its last sessions to merely push the individual electoral agendas of each? On the eve of the last session, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi and Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi made fervent appeals to the Opposition to cooperate with the government in pushing pending bills. Sure enough, the Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha, Sushma Swaraj, and other political paladins responded positively. But they forgot their promise the day the session began. While the Congress dissidents were determined to disrupt the House with the objective of preventing the creation of Telangana, other parties used the platform to push their own agendas. The bills on Communal Violence, Corruption and Women’s Reservation have been pending for the past few years and have been brought to the House in every session. Expectedly, Parliament’s first week was washed out without any significant business being carrying out. If one goes by the mood of the political parties, the Lok Sabha is unlikely to pass any important bill except vote for an interim budget. The UPA and opposing soapbox oraters will keep blaming each other for making lawmaking hors de combat.
The growing election-eve confrontation between the ruling party and Opposition raises another important question on the partisan profanation of Parliament. Should the last Lok Sabha session be allowed to become a theatre to do business, which will help the ruling party to reap a harvest at the hustings? Wouldn’t it be prudent and politically correct to let the last session of every Lok Sabha transact minimum business and legislate only on emergency laws? Historically, last sessions have always been politically volatile, never ending without acrimonious debates and confrontations between the ruling and opposition benches. In a parliamentary democracy, the government gets five years in office. It spends its first year understanding the system, its second in policy formulation, the third implementing its policies, the fourth on consolidation and the fifth year distributing doles to win the next election. It is this final year which leads to the total breakdown of the legislative process.
But degeneration of parliamentary democracy hasn’t been confined to the last session. Ever since the nation slipped into the coalition era, in which even a single-member party plays an important role in the government’s survival, Parliament has failed to stick to its agenda for governance and legislation. The current Lok Sabha has sat for over 2,000 hours in five years. But it has lost over 800 hours in disruptions, which means four out of 10 hours have been wasted in bobbery and attacking one another on the floor of the House. If the disruptions were based on real issues, they would have served the purpose of healthy democratic discussion. But most have been confined to insignificant issues. In an era of competitive politics, each party has been disrupting Parliament in order to address its own constituency. For example, the first week of the last session was lost because regional parties weren’t allowing the House to take up any national issue. With the Congress unwilling to rein its members, just half a dozen MPs in the 542-member House could force presiding officers to adjourn Parliament for a full day. As a result of frequent adjournments and bombilations, even the number of starred questions to be answered by ministers has shown a sharp decline from 87 in the third session to just 11 in the Winter Session. The number of unstarred questions fell from over 7,000 to just 3,500. According to Lok Sabha sources, the disruption is thanks to the deteriorating quality of questions submitted by various MPs to the secretariat. Indian Parliament has defied the natural biological law of maturity. Instead of turning into a wise and mature institution, it is being converted into an instrument of destroying faith in the parliamentary system. The fault lies not only with picayune leaders with mighty egos but also with the voters who elect its members. The erosion of Parliament’s credibility reflects the weakening control of an ineffective leadership. After all, people are getting the government they deserve.
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