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Thursday, September 23, 2021

Why the Opposition holding Parliament hostage to political grandstanding denies people their rights

Vinay Sahasrabuddhe writes: Despite the fact that the government showed the willingness to discuss all issues — from Pegasus to the pandemic — as desired by the Opposition, ruckus continues to rule the roost.

Written by Vinay Sahasrabuddhe |
Updated: July 30, 2021 8:57:27 am
Congress leaders Anand Sharma and Deepender Hooda during the Monsoon Session of Parliament, in New Delhi, Wednesday, July 28, 2021. (PTI Photo)

While entering the 75th year of independence, a question worth pondering over is whether our judiciary, executive and Parliament have really discharged their constitutional duties well. Parliament is the most crucial instrument of representative democracy and hence, both the role as well as the contribution of Parliament need a closer look. Going by all that is happening — or rather not happening — in both Houses currently, one can infer that Parliament is being politicised to the hilt, preventing it from performing its duties.

Even in the second week of the ongoing Monsoon Session, Parliament continues to be stalled. Despite the fact that the Opposition had demanded a special session to discuss the Covid-19 situation and the government showed the willingness to discuss all issues — from Pegasus to the pandemic — as desired by the Opposition, ruckus continues to rule the roost. Sadly, most opposition parties seem to have converted Parliament into a plug-and-play instrument to achieve their partisan ends.

Undoubtedly, even a single day lost in the din costs the nation heavily. But more important than the financial losses is the democratic polity’s loss of popular aspirations. Democracy is also about redressing grievances, cultivating policies and floating new ideas. All this happens only when Parliament functions. In the ongoing lockdown of Parliament, dozens of MPs from both Houses wanting to raise issues during the Zero Hour lost their chance to speak, and give voice to the agonies and aspirations of the people they represent. For no fault of theirs, many MPs had to forego their chance of making observations, and giving suggestions while discussing a Bill. This was frustrating not just for the Parliament members but more importantly, for the voters who elected them. Democracy is all about deliberation, debates and discussion and the moment all these are pushed to the periphery, the damage to democracy becomes irreparable.

But the moot question is: Can we find a solution to this? The sense of helplessness gripping the minds of all rule-abiding MPs bodes ill for the health of democracy.

First, it is only theoretically correct to say that the Treasury alone is responsible for the smooth functioning of the House. In a situation where a group of just 10-20 members can easily hold the functioning of the House to ransom, it becomes the collective responsibility of all groups. Again, when it comes to the allotment of time to various groups participating in a debate, can’t we make a clear distinction between those creating ruckus and those tolerating the same helplessly? Unless our parliamentary procedures have some deterrents as well as incentives embedded in them, ruckus-mongering can’t be prevented effectively. Rule of law also means ensuring the complete rejection of the “do a wrong and get away with it” phenomenon. Again, when groups and parties indulge in the politics of pandemonium, the travesty of justice becomes more pronounced as it is not the trouble makers but those respecting rules and regulations who are punished, and that too for their civility!

Some out-of-the-box solutions could perhaps show the way. With the government rightly averse to the idea of passing bills in the din, two things become easy prey — Zero Hour and Question Hour. On average, this two-hour window provides an opportunity for at least 35-40 MPs to make a point, raise an issue or seek more information every day. When both these hours are washed out, as many MPs are deprived of their rightful opportunity, an injustice is done to their electors. All this can be — at least partly — prevented if the presiding officers go for an out-of-the-box solution by conducting both Zero Hour and Question Hour in-camera, within their chambers with relevant MPs and ministers mandatorily present.

In addition to this, the ending of parliamentary dis-functionality also calls for further incentivising the smooth functioning of both Houses. Unless this is done, the fears voiced in a research report by Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy a few years ago may come true. The report had talked of a “transformed Parliament” as its “nature has changed from being the apex legislative body in India to a forum for grandstanding on matters of public importance. Disruptions are an effective method for such grandstanding…”

Any discussion about parliamentary deadlock features an element of whataboutery. Digging into the past and claiming that practices of the bygone era are relevant even today is refusing to accept the demands of changing times. Ruckus, pandemonium and unending deadlock cause delays in law-making and at times, deprive the process of an element of essential quality control. This adds to the damage already done to democracy as a whole. A restive young population wanting to make a difference and the dynamics of a changing world demand early and effective delivery from democratic governance. As if unmindful of this, those stalling Parliament are preventing democracy from delivering and civility is being crucified, something which just can’t be defended.

This column first appeared in the print edition on July 30, 2021 under the title ‘House under siege’. The writer is MP, Rajya Sabha and former national vice-president of the BJP.

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