As government and Opposition confront each other outside the House, after the Monsoon Session of Parliament was brought to an early end, there is an unedifying war of accusations. The allegations from both sides that thicken the air are grave — about “lies” and physical violence. The Opposition has alleged that “outsiders”, who were not part of Parliament security, were brought in to manhandle their leaders and MPs, who were protesting the government’s “authoritarian attitude” and “high-handedness”. The government brought out a battery of ministers to accuse the Opposition of “anarchy”, a premeditated bid to derail proceedings. The ministers drew attention to a video in which a woman marshal appears surrounded by Opposition MPs, they called for punitive action against errant MPs. An investigation of the melee may well sift through the claims and assign blame at a later date. For now, this uncivil crossfire of words and images should embarrass both government as well as Opposition.
Notwithstanding its strenuous attempts to mount the podium and declaim on the sanctity of parliament and democracy, this moment indicts the government much more. Because the abortive Monsoon Session was not just made of the unruly scenes that finally brought the curtain down on it. It was also about the government’s refusal to yield any space at all to the Opposition, and its brutish use of a majority to push through important bills without even a modicum of discussion, much less a reference to a parliamentary committee. The government refused to talk at all about the Pegasus revelations of its alleged use of Israeli spyware to potentially target political opponents, dissenters and others for snooping. It only allowed a discussion on the broad theme of agriculture after sanitising it of any reference to the Centre’s three farm laws that continue to stoke farmers’ protests. In this session, too, the government’s effort has been to paint the entire Opposition as a band of disruptors who are still unreconciled to Narendra Modi’s popularity and the BJP’s electoral victories, and when it is not doing that, to resort to whataboutery. What about the parliament days lost when the Congress ruled the Centre, what about the abbreviated sessions of legislatures in Congress-ruled states, goes the government’s best defence of its own continuing inability to run the House. The writing on the Parliament wall is clear: This government seems to know how to engage the Opposition only as the enemy in electoral battle, it does not appear to possess — nor is willing to learn — the language to acknowledge it and talk to it in between elections.
It would be taking a terribly denuded view of parliamentary democracy to see the floor of the House as a place to pass Bills alone. It is also a space from which the Opposition parties — and the people they represent — demand accountability from the executive, apply the check on its power. This is so even and especially when the executive has a large majority — when the Opposition does not have the numbers, it must depend on the rules of the game to make itself seen and heard. From Modi’s iconic 2014 genuflection at the gates of the “temple” of democracy to his imprimatur on a state-of-the-art Parliament building and a futuristic Central vista — the legislature is the pivot of this government’s, any government’s, legitimacy. Its letter and spirit stand violated when the government stonewalls the Opposition.
This editorial first appeared in the print edition on August 13, 2021 under the title ‘Parliament lament’.
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