Halfway House

This is a moment for Parliament to focus on its own reinvention. After all,there is no alternative

Written by The Indian Express | Published:May 14, 2012 3:48 am

This is a moment for Parliament to focus on its own reinvention. After all,there is no alternative

In 60 years,the Indian Parliament has endured. It survives as the one true arena of representation and deliberation,holding together this complex country. And yet,it is also hard to deny that some of Parliament’s majesty has rubbed off over the years,and its effectiveness as an institution of accountability has also been questioned. Last year,the Anna Hazare-led mobilisation suggested that “civil society” was a truer expression of popular will,but there have been,over the decades,several legitimate critiques of Parliament. There are those who believe that it is little more than a club of powerful interests,that its legislative performance and monitoring of government have been underwhelming.

As a forum of representation,Parliament has reflected the churn in Indian democracy,its membership and composition reflect the variegated interests of those who vote it in. Just look at the special sitting to commemorate its 60th anniversary — L.K Advani spoke of tolerance for other views,the DMK emphasised state rights,Sharad Yadav said that parliamentary democracy would remain incomplete as long as caste was a factor,the TMC seized the occasion to make its own political point,saying it wanted Parliament to last its full term. Each constituent brought its own perspective,and together they spoke for the nation.

As a site of deliberation,Parliament is meant to air and reconcile diverse views and,ideally,the stronger argument wins out. However,debate without disruption has not been easy to sustain in Parliament. With more value to be wrung out of grandstanding for TV cameras and for sparring rather than advancing an idea,Parliament is not really the model of public reasoning it is idealised as. The other question is that of Parliament’s careful balance with other institutions — as more critical decisions are outsourced to regulators or non-elected bodies,bypassing Parliament. What’s more,our courts have often taken on tasks of governance,coming into conflict with Parliament. In the years to come,Parliament must consider how best to manage this difficult division of labour as well as exert due authority. But the self-evaluation and reinvention can only come from within Parliament. It needs to consider how best to give individual MPs greater consequence,or to strengthen parliamentary committees,how to hold the executive to account,how to cleanse itself — as it did,for instance,after the cash-for-votes scandal. Regardless of the challenges,however,this is a moment to celebrate our Parliament. There is no better alternative.

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