The suboptimal functioning of Parliament because of deliberate measures by the government to undermine it is a worrying trend. The claim of Prime Minister Narendra Modi that he would be guided by the ideals of maximum governance and minimum government, in fact, has adversely impacted the functioning of Parliament. The present government seems keen on minimum Parliament: It has encouraged the disruption of the functioning of Parliament so that the Opposition cannot hold the government accountable.
As early as 1917, Mahatma Gandhi envisioned swaraj for India and wanted a Parliament for the people of India to remove poverty. It became a reality when the framers of the Constitution gave us the architecture of parliamentary democracy. Parliamentary democracy is the bedrock of political democracy, which aims to establish social democracy and provide social, political and economic justice.
Babasaheb Ambedkar, the prime architect of the Constitution, rejected theocratic form of government. He also rejected a two party-system and presidential form of government. He emphasised the need to cultivate constitutional morality and uphold democracy against authoritarianism and demagogy. He underlined that the government of the day must be answerable to Parliament. He underlined accountability of the executive to the legislature by opting for parliamentary form of government in contrast to the stability of the executive, the defining feature of presidential system. In diminishing the role of Parliament, the present rulers are endangering parliamentary democracy, which is a part of the basic structure of India’s Constitution.
Parliament represents the supreme will of the people and their sovereign authority. Any attempt to diminish its importance and derail its functioning is tantamount to undermining the people of India. The undermining of Parliament is an attempt to pave the way for authoritarian rule. If it happens, democracy will die. Former President K R Narayanan described Parliament as the head and front of India’s body polity and hailed it as the mighty substitute for a violent and bloody revolution.
The making of laws is a deliberative and consultative process that has to be subjected to intense deliberation and consultation so that the Republic’s laws can withstand rigorous public and judicial scrutiny. The government’s conduct with regard to department-related parliamentary standing committees indicates the lack of dedication and desire to subject bills to close scrutiny and examination on a bipartisan basis. Such an approach impairs the law-making process.
While legislation suffers in the absence of adequate scrutiny and examination of legislative proposals, Parliament suffers immeasurably when the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha are not given due respect and importance. In the last four years, the government has bypassed the Rajya Sabha on numerous issues. The money bill route is followed and the Council of States is deprived of opportunities to apply its collective mind to the bills. The money bill route has never been so brazenly used to undermine the Rajya Sabha. The role and function of the Rajya Sabha to play its legitimate role has been ridiculed even by senior ministers.
We need to salvage the situation and restore the primacy of Parliament to hold the government to account. After all, as Ambedkar said, Parliament belongs to the Opposition. In undermining the role of Parliament and diminishing its importance, the space and role of the Opposition is being curtailed. As the monsoon session of Parliament begins, we need to be mindful of our national duty and responsibility to safeguard Parliament so that the functioning of the government is intensely scrutinised on the floor of both the houses of Parliament and their committees.