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October 20, 2017

Parliamentarians of India: Democracy by Disruptions


Weekly Column – Thinking Beyond

Anoop Swarup

Parliamentarians of  India by Anoop SwaroopThe headlines on most media channels screamed. Yes, a black day for Indian democracy! No work no pay! Hypocrisy all around! Promise of a constructive opposition falls flat! Why no respect for the Parliament by the Parliamentarians themselves! A terrible crisis!

Where are the pillars : the parliamentary democracy and the right to protest! Congress broke the rules of the House! Will the Parliament of India function? A crude attempt at bullying by the party in opposition: what happens to the conscience of my country’s representatives? Wasting public resources and tax payers money, why – let me ask! The disruption bill is footed by the poor electorate of India. Why should not be a pay cut for the MPs. And the list goes on.

Where have the so-important pillars of governance vanished? What about the Democratic approach of the members of Parliament? And, what has been done to the Right to Protest? Congress defied its own stand and broke the rules of the House. How will the Indian Parliament function? What happens to the monsoon session? Congress wears the opposition-boots, does a deja vu and makes a disruptive attempt of bullying the ruling party! Where has the conscience of these dignified representatives of my country disappeared? Wasting public resources and tax payers’ hard earned money, WHY? Let me ask ! This disruption bill is levied upon the poor electorate of India, the tax paying citizens. Why then, should not be imposed, a Pay-cut for these MPs? This is just the tip of the iceberg,…the list goes on

Well, lest we forget ‘The Right to dissent is Democratic BUT the Right to disrupt is Obstruction’ and totally uncalled for in a democracy! At the heart of the matter is the confrontationist politics that ails India’s democratic fabric. Perhaps the Speaker of Lok Sabha Sumatra Mahajan had no other option but to suspend the 25 Congress members for five sittings of the House out of the total of 44 for causing ‘grave disorder’ and ‘wilfully obstructing’ the House for over almost a fortnight. The House was adjourned with no business as the Congress MPs displayed placards in the House on Monday. These 25 Congress members were carrying placards and shouting slogans in the well demanding for the resignation of External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj along with Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje over Lalit Modi row, and Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan over the Vyapam scam. Prime Minister Narendra Modi while expressing Government’s readiness to discuss issues and offer intervention made it clear that there would be “no resignation” as the NDA ministers have done nothing illegal or immoral.

The Congress Party President termed this as a black day for Indian democracy. Indeed a black day for disruption – considering the impasse and logjam despite repeated requests by the Speaker. The recourse under Rule 374(A), by the Speaker implies “Notwithstanding anything contained in rules 373 and 374, in the event of grave disorder occasioned by a member coming into the well of the House or abusing the Rules of the House persistently and wilfully obstructing its business by shouting slogans or otherwise, such member shall, on being named by the Speaker, stand automatically suspended from the service of the House for five consecutive sittings or the remainder of the session, whichever is less”

Though a number of regional parties, including Trinamool Congress and Biju Janata Dal did voice anguish over the persistent disruption of the Houses and had requested the two national parties to resolve the matter the JD(U) and Left parties, backed the Congress in the meeting. The Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha Ghulam Nabi Azad stated that ‘Democracy is “give and take’ perhaps forgetting the ultimate stakeholder in the democracy the common man who would have liked the Parliament to function. In contrast, the opposition insists that the ‘Government has not taken any initiative’. They want to pass Bills but do not want to take concerns raised by Opposition parties on board. There appears to be little doubt that the Congress would up the ante in the next few days and the main ruling party – the BJP is yet to make its mind to walk the extra mile for the sake of democracy. Parliamentary Affairs Minister M.Venkaiah Naidu insists that the government has always “walked the extra mile” to accommodate Opposition’s views and justifies the same with the example of the reference of the GST and Real Estate Bills to Select Committee on the demand of Congress.

In retrospect it may be said that indeed it was an unprecedented move by the Speaker who had no other resort. The question remains: with 25 MPs suspended will Parliament function with a responsible opposition any more ? Obstructionism has become the norm in our parliamentary democracy. The thought remains – is ours indeed a wonderful vibrant democracy? Is the political class in our country being driven more by narrow political rivalry than by the real concerns that confront our nation? From even the opposition’s point of view, it appears that the Congress may have lost a great opportunity by going all over the place. Perhaps they, though misconceived, felt that disruption was the only way out. The Congress Party in its mad rush to settle its past scores with the ruling BJP should heed to to the Gandhian adage ‘an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind’. Yet it keeps happening all the time with most parties even in the state legislatures! In the present imbroglio the nation has to bear a huge financial drainage, with 72 crore already lost, and simple math suggests that the loss for the whole session would be a stupendous 270 crore. Yet, once again our great democracy foots the disruption bill with many critical Bills pending such as – the Appropriation Acts (Repeal) Bill, the Commercial Courts, Commercial Division and Commercial Appellate Division of High Courts Bill, the National Waterways Bill, The Compensatory Afforestation Fund Bill, the Whistle Blowers Protection (Amendment) Bill,  the Repealing and Amending (Third) Bill, the Benami Transactions (Prohibition) (Amendment) Bill, the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement (Amendment) Bill and the list goes on.

When a prominent media channel argued ‘No work no pay’ should apply to MPs as well, most of my fellow countrymen, including me, for once would like to agree! For the disruption, for ruckus, for sloganeering, for a boycott, for placards, for protesting, storming of the well of Lok Sabha our parliamentarians have to be held responsible. As in the past, once again the Monsoon Session is becoming a national waste so why the charge be not put on the party in question ? Many countries have serious rules for penalising disruption and absenteeism. We have rule in the University for 75% attendance by our students, well why the same be not applied to our Parliamentarians. The integrity, the accountability and the credibility of not only the opposition is in question now but the functioning of our polity as such.  The shocking regularity of the disruptions through politicking within the Parliament and not outside as laid down in our democratic process put a question mark on our political masters and their ability to lead. Extraneous reasons for disruption should never be encouraged by the whips of the political parties as the country watches their unruly behaviour. Most of them may well find it difficult to understand that the Parliament is not for politicking, but for good governance, laying down of laws and good practices, and for legislation by both the opposition and the ruling party. Dereliction of this sacred cause is a very serious matter and should be dealt with as much of a seriousness and in any case should not be the last resort of scoundrels.

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