The Opposition needs to introspect and play a constructive role in Parliament. The recently concluded monsoon session was the capture of democracy by a few Opposition members. Parliament is meant for debates and discussions, with decisions based on majority. The government has a comfortable majority in both the Houses, yet all parliamentary work, except on selected subjects, was stalled, putting at risk the well-established parliamentary ethos and etiquette.
Throughout the session, the government approached the Opposition through the business advisory committees (BACs) of both Houses, the Chairperson of the Rajya Sabha, Speaker of the Lok Sabha and different ministers, including the Minister of Parliamentary Affairs. The government agreed to discuss all the issues suggested by the leaders of various political parties, including the state of the economy, rising prices of essential goods, farmers’ issues, Covid-19 and vaccination management, etc. But the Opposition did not allow discussion on any issue, except Covid-19 and vaccination.
The BACs of both Houses allocated time to discuss and pass more than 25 Bills. However, due to the irreconcilable attitude of the Opposition parties, 22 Bills were passed by both Houses without the expected and desired debate, except the 105th Constitution Amendment Bill. The leader who orchestrated all this is blaming the Prime Minister for not building consensus and for denying the Opposition the opportunity to raise issues of national importance.
Complaining about the use of military-grade software to hack into devices while not allowing the Minister of Information and Technology to make a statement on the subject on the floor of the Rajya Sabha on July 22 is equally unfortunate. The situation was further aggravated when a copy of the statement was snatched from the minister and was torn and thrown at the chair.
On August 4, due to the deplorable conduct of some Opposition members, the Rajya Sabha chairman was left with no option but to direct six MPs to withdraw from the services of the House for the rest of the day. On that very day, one Opposition MP broke the glass of the Rajya Sabha chamber’s locked door, thereby injuring a security officer. On August 10, the Opposition created complete chaos in the Rajya Sabha. Some members jumped on a table and shouted slogans, disregarding parliamentary norms.
The unelected working president of a national party, who has ignored repeated internal demands for the election of a full-time president, is talking about the promotion of democratic values. The public can tell who makes issues out of non-issues and turns Parliament into a museum by not allowing fruitful debate. Let the working president of the Indian National Congress herself introspect and decide who is undermining democratic values.
There have been instances in the past when Bills were passed with little debate or no debate during the UPA government, but at least the Opposition members never danced on tables and snatched papers from ministers. There were protests in Parliament regarding corruption allegations but they never went to the extent of the manhandling of security personnel.
The party which claimed to follow the ideals of B R Ambedkar never gave him his due. This party ensured his defeat in the first Lok Sabha elections in 1952 and was not able to get him elected as one of the 296 initial members of the Constituent Assembly. Everyone knows how much importance Subhas Chandra Bose and Sardar Patel were given by INC and its governments.
A party which has used religion and caste for political benefit is talking about inclusive growth and equity-based justice, when, for the
sake of votes, they nullified a progressive equity-based judgement in the Shah Bano case, which gave the right to alimony to Muslim women.
The country has not forgotten how INC and its leaders even put the judiciary in jeopardy by ensuring the supersession of three justices of the Supreme Court — J M Shelat, A N Grover and K S Hegde. A N Ray was made CJI on April 25, 1973, a day after the Supreme Court judgement in the Kesavananda Bharati case outlining the basic structure doctrine of the Constitution. All three judges who were superseded were part of the majority judgement.
India has administered more than 55 crore vaccine doses to its citizens so far — the highest in the world — despite misinformation about the vaccine and its efficacy being spread by the principal opposition party. The party contributed to the creation of vaccine hesitancy among the people.
In 2014, when NDA took over from UPA, the Indian economy was ranked 10th in the world and now it is the sixth-largest economy in the world. But, according to the INC working president, the Indian economy is not expanding and developing.
The government of the day has so far transferred more than Rs 1.50 lakh crore, as part of the Kisan Samman Nidhi initiative, directly to the bank accounts of small farmers and is still being called “anti-annadata” by the INC. They allege that the farm laws are draconian, but without pointing out a single flaw in them.
Highways are being constructed in India at the rate of 37 km per day now as against 9 km per day during the UPA tenure, but the government is still being criticised for having hollow slogans instead of tangible achievements. It is clear who believes in hollow slogans and who delivers tangible results.
Autocratic people themselves are disrespecting the majority view in Parliament and not allowing the government to discharge its functions as per the mandate bestowed on it by the people. Is it not autocratic to bring the majority opinion to a standstill?
This column first appeared in the print edition on August 18, 2021 under the title ‘Opposition needs to look within’. The writer is Union Minister of Parliamentary Affairs, Coal and Mines, Government of India