In the last few days of the (now extended) first session of the 17th Lok Sabha, the Opposition’s demand in Rajya Sabha that seven key bills should be sent to parliamentary panels is a call for attention. It points to a disquieting trend: The government is using its overwhelming majority in Lok Sabha to push legislation through Parliament without adequate discussion and debate. Of the several bills that have already been passed in this session, not one has been referred to a select or standing committee — on Thursday, Rajya Sabha passed the Right to Information (Amendment) Bill, 2019, which has widely sparked apprehensions of a dilution of the RTI, after voting against sending it to a select panel, and Lok Sabha passed the triple talaq bill. This should be seen as alarming for several reasons. Because it denies important and consequential bills their due scrutiny, which can happen only in the parliamentary committee. Because it suggests that the government is turning a deaf ear to the voice of an already diminished Opposition. And because this could be an omen of things to come. After all, if the first session of the new Lok Sabha is so inhospitable to the Opposition, despite all the government’s promises of winning “sabka vishwas”, can the sessions to come be far behind?
In a Lok Sabha such as this one, where the numbers are so steeply tilted against the Opposition, it means that it must fight for every inch of its space. But in a parliamentary democracy which goes not just by the bare-knuckled rule book, but is also guided by unwritten grace, convention and norm, it is the responsibility of the government to reach out across the aisle, be generous and accommodating to those on the other side of the political fence. The government must hear out the Opposition, and not be quick to label it as obstructionist. It must ensure that the law-making exercise does not become reduced to a brutish numbers game, but strives, instead, to be the deliberative process that the people of India deserve, which draws in a plurality of vantage points and views. The government, even one that has a large majority, and especially one that has a large majority, must be open to the questions, suggestions and checks of the Opposition in Parliament.
It is important for the NDA government to review its stance and to strike the right note vis a vis the Opposition in this session of Parliament. It would be gravely misreading the mandate if it uses it as a weapon against the Opposition. The trust of the people enables it to be more self-assured. It would be letting them down if it makes it more intolerant.
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