Unlike the monsoon session, which was a complete washout, the winter session of Parliament started on a promising note. There was an engaging discussion on what makes up the constitutional spirit and legacy, and a more contentious one on what many see as a climate of rising intolerance in the country. Prime Minister Narendra Modi invited senior Congress leaders to tea to iron out differences over the GST bill, signalling the government’s resolve to build bridges with the opposition. But the mellowness and the commitment to debate didn’t last. When the winter session concluded on Wednesday, Parliament had little to show in terms of business conducted. Most of the bills passed by the Lok Sabha, which the NDA dominates, are stuck in the Rajya Sabha, dominated by the Opposition. The Opposition turned the Upper House into an arena of confrontation and the government could not summon the requisite political skill and savvy to reach out and persuade. The House sat in session for less than half the hours it was scheduled to and its exasperated chairman, Vice President Hamid Ansari, even wondered if the chair needed stricter powers — similar to those of the Lok Sabha speaker — for smooth conduct.
To be sure, business in the Rajya Sabha cannot be immune to or insulated from party politics, especially when an Opposition that is in no position to influence the Lok Sabha agenda is seeking to assert itself. Moreover, the ruling party contributed to the hardening of positions by opening new fronts with the Opposition while Parliament was in session. The political crisis in Arunachal Pradesh and the governor’s dubious role rocked the House. The CBI raid on Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal’s principal secretary triggered acrimonious exchanges in Parliament. From the other side of the fence, the Congress turned the legal challenge to its handling of National Herald assets into a spectacle and dragged the issue into the House, a place it did not belong to, at all.
Yet, as the session concluded, parties did come together in rare unanimity in the Upper House — to pass an illiberal law, the Juvenile Justice (Amendment) Bill, 2015, without due diligence. Despite pleas from the Left parties to refer the bill to a select committee for more deliberation, MPs, influenced more by the perceived emotion on the street than by informed judgment, voted for the bill. The Constitution’s founding fathers had envisioned that the House of Elders would refuse to “fall prey to passionate rhetoric” and “instil calm” to the legislative process. In the case of a law that called for reasoned and rigorous debate, the Rajya Sabha showed undue urgency and failed its mandate.