Setting a record in disruptionhttps://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/setting-a-record-in-disruption/

Setting a record in disruption

In a role reversal,opposition,not ruling party,is unwilling to face Parliament

It took millions of sacrifices to build democratic institutions and the lives of thousands of martyrs to protect it. It’s only taking some thoughtless political gamesmanship to reduce India to something of a “ruckus in the House” democracy.

Governments are answerable to Parliament in a democratic process. But what happens when the principal opposition party is opposed to even holding a discussion in Parliament? Why is the BJP shy of facing a discussion when it feels that the prime minister should resign? Why is the BJP not willing to “face the Parliament” — a phrase normally reserved for the ruling party? The truth will come out in Parliament when the debate goes beyond 10-second sound bites. It is now clear that the meaning of the phrase “responsible opposition” is completely lost on the BJP. The party seems to have forgotten that it is accountable to the democratic process,and the country. Coinciding with the NDA’s term in opposition,the 14th and the 15th Lok Sabhas have recorded the highest disruption rates in the history of our Parliament.

In terms of the time lost due to disruption caused by the opposition,again the NDA has broken all records. From 5 per cent,10 per cent and 19 per cent of time lost due to disruptions in the 11th,12th and 13th Lok Sabhas respectively,we saw a whopping 38 per cent of time lost in the 14th Lok Sabha and are on our way to breaking that record in the current Lok Sabha.

The BJP appears to have created a world record in destroying an elected Parliament’s time. While it can congratulate itself on this “feat”,is this right in a country that needs legislative support to power its growth?

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A sub-culture is growing where “sound-bites” become debates and where “missed calls” become the barometer of public opinion. A “sub-culture” in which what MPs do on the floor of the House is telecast live to millions of homes by “live breaking news” media channels — breaking news,often based on half-baked information,where judgments are passed even before the legal trials begin.

Hardly surprising,then,that the opposition views the floor of the House as a glorified political stage. Why bother organising a rally at Ramlila Maidan to make their point,when they can get TV cameras to cover the ruckus they create in Lok Sabha?

This comes at a time when the country needs to bring all its positive energy together to bring the country back to 8 per cent-plus economic growth. As the opposition holds both Houses and a nation to ransom,important legislative business is pending — from the Land Acquisition and Rehabilitation Bill to a discussion on FDI in retail.

What about the issue at hand?

Obviously,the so-called “CAG-Coalgate” is very important and needs to be debated. The opposition has every right to have a different opinion that I or my colleagues may not like,but will have to hear and respect. Just as they have to hear and respect what I or my colleagues have to say. How I have come to hold my opinion is not important in this context.

My opinion may be based on the fact that it was the Congress-led UPA that brought in the concept of competitive bidding of captive coal mines for the first time and on its own. Before the UPA came to power,the NDA was busy allocating coal blocks without auction. It was only when the UPA came in that the secretary,coal wrote a comprehensive note on competitive bidding in July 2004.

It may also be based on the fact that the entire CAG report on the ministry of coal is based on one simple opinion: the ministry should have gone for competitive bidding in July 2006 and not gone to Parliament to seek an amendment in the MMDR Act.

The question is: can the CAG question the government’s decision to take an issue to Parliament? It is true that the ministry of law and justice had opined on July 28,2006 that the bidding was possible through an administrative order. It is equally true that the opinion was updated on August 30,2006 when the law ministry asked the government to move an amendment to the act to give it a “legal footing”.

The CAG has,however,overlooked the updated advice from the law ministry. The point is,can the CAG question the government’s right to move Parliament in the first place? Without this,the report has no basis and very little sanctity.

Is the BJP of the opinion that the word from the CAG should be taken as final and that we should disband the PAC? I wonder if the BJP’s faith in the CAG extends to anomalies worth thousands of crores of rupees that finds mention in reports related to the BJP-ruled states of Gujarat and Chhattisgarh.

Then again,the government could not have moved an administrative order because the BJP governments of Rajasthan,Chhattisgarh,Orissa and Left-ruled West Bengal had opposed the idea of competitive bidding in writing. These states control over 85 per cent of coal reserves in India.

Should the Central government have overruled these states’ wishes? Perhaps then,the opposition would have disrupted the House on the question of states’ rights.

My opinion may be based on another fact: the screening committee for facilitating allocations of coal blocks included the chief secretaries of opposition-ruled states. But the reasons behind my opinion are irrelevant. What is relevant is that I,like many of my colleagues in Parliament,do have an opinion that is different from the NDA’s opinion on this issue,and my voters have elected me to express that opinion freely on the floor of Lok Sabha.

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When there are differing opinions on the same issue,the only way the nation can choose the most convincing argument is through a debate in Parliament. While every political party is free to choose how seriously it wants to be taken by the people,the youth of India have only one request. Please don’t hold the nation to ransom. We are not a “ruckus in the House” democracy.

The writer is a Congress MP