You don’t have to catch up on the statistics to know how dismal this, the 15th, Lok Sabha was. Certainly not when it left us with the question, however much different political parties choose to stress plausible deniability, how corrosive or beneficial is the effect of live telecast on the conduct of MPs? It will be a matter of more than just academic interest to determine how there was a sudden “glitch” in the routine broadcast from the Lok Sabha, not least because it facilitates a line of inquiry on whether we are asking the wrong question when we take stock of the deadlock gripping Parliament. That is, how sound is the routine excuse that live telecast of Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha sessions brings out the most partisan instincts of MPs? Or, how much of the crisis gripping Parliament — and even more severely, state assemblies — can be explained away by their presumed temptation to play to the gallery?
Partisan deadlocks are rampant across the democratic world. In the life of the 15th Lok Sabha (2009-14), they have appeared in diverse ways. And the exercise of comparatively considering how different countries have reformed (or not) to get past deadlocks may yield the realisation that India cannot afford to keep postponing a necessary reform of its legislative processes. Especially not when the UPA government was expected to push through its last bunch of marquee legislations by the ordinance route, just days before the announcement of the election schedule.
Cast your gaze around the globe. In the United States, hit by a debilitating deadlock, with the Republicans using the filibuster reflexively to contest, delay and even deny routine executive appointments, the Democrats voted last year to simply disallow their opponents — and potentially themselves, should they lose the White House — the option. It is a telling measure of the breakdown of once common legislative courtesies that though it requires a supermajority (60 in the 100-member Senate) to avert a filibuster, the Democrats could, with a 52-48 vote, rule to protect judicial and executive nominations (other than to the Supreme Court) from filibuster.
In the subcontinent, Pakistan and Bangladesh hit different tracks on reassuring opposition parties on the credibility of election mechanisms. In Pakistan, an elected government finally completed its full term and handed over power directly to another in May 2013, in part by firewalling the process by forging bipartisan agreement on the extraordinary measure of a caretaker government during the election period.
In Bangladesh, on the other hand, the ruling Awami League used its majority to abandon the mandated caretaker …continued »