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Sunday, September 26, 2021

How the government is failing Parliament

By refusing to engage the Opposition in the House and by rushing important legislations without scrutiny, the BJP is subverting the institution

Written by Binoy Viswam |
August 30, 2021 5:53:26 pm
Prime Minister Narendra Modi. (Express file photo by Prem Nath Pandey)

The history of fascism says that the appropriators and their government would not hesitate to suppress even Parliament. In India, the BJP has taken that route. The BJP may display allegiance to the system, but in reality their intention is to undermine the institutions of democracy, including Parliament. Even as they deliberate about parliamentary discussions and debates, they attempt to sabotage it from within. The RSS-BJP government has excelled in implementing a strategy with its pseudo adherence to Parliament and parliamentary debates. The incidents during the recently concluded monsoon session revealed these very intentions of the BJP and its government.

The Parliament session was scheduled to be held from July 19 to August 13. After a stormy session that lasted 17 days, both the Houses of Parliament were adjourned sine die. Within this limited time, they managed to hastily pass 19 bills in the Rajya Sabha and 14 in the Lok Sabha. Despite the severe socio economic consequences posed by these bills, they were passed within 85 minutes on an average. The absurdity being that 14 of the bills were discussed and passed in the Lok Sabha in less than 10 minutes.

In his Independence Day speech, the Chief Justice of India addressed this state of affairs. He pointed out that the bills were passed with no clarity or sense of purpose. The government in its frenzy to pass a substantial number of bills has forgotten the essential morals and features of law-making. A government’s duty is to provide a platform for meaningful debates. However, the Narendra Modi government has no regard for such parliamentary functioning. While the Centre pinpoints the productivity level of Parliament, it ignores the truth that its undemocratic stance is the main hindrance to productivity. On the eve of the session, in his brief speech to the floor leaders of the house, the Prime Minister assured that any issue can be raised and the government is prepared to answer them. The monsoon session proved that those assurances were only part of Modi’s style of rhetoric, hollow and meaningless!

When the House loses precious time and there is a lack of constructive debate, it is a concern for every citizen. But who should be held responsible for these circumstances? The simple answer is the government in power. Their adamant position steering clear of the word Pegasus unleashed all the unfortunate happenings in the house. The Opposition members attempted to use all the opportunities entitled to them through the rules of procedure to raise burning issues confronting the country such as state snooping using the Israeli spyware, farmers struggle, price rise, unemployment, atrocities on weaker sections, etc. Questions pertaining to Pegasus were suppressed even before they could be properly raised. Every word was met with arrogance and cowardice from the ruling party ministers.

The RSS-BJP combine unleashed a vicious propaganda campaign accusing the Opposition of creating ruckus in Parliament. It is true that the Opposition tried its best to oppose the ruling party’s move to bulldoze through anti-people bills. The MPs tried to reflect the anger and anguish of the peasants and workers, the Dalits, and the youth. The Opposition was trying to fulfil its duty by vehemently opposing the draconian bills related to general insurance, essential defence services, tribunal reforms, marine fisheries, and the insolvency and bankruptcy code. At the same time, the opposition parties cooperated with the government in passing the OBC reservation bill unanimously and also participated in meaningful discussion on navigating the current pandemic. This political maturity and sense of responsibility was not shared by the government even for a minute during the monsoon session.

The united plea from the Opposition to refer important bills like the GIC amendment to the select committee fell on deaf ears. Reference of bills to select or standing committees is a tested measure of parliamentary scrutiny. During the UPA period, 71 per cent of the bills went for such scrutiny whereas BJP has brought it down to a mere 11 per cent. The country can only laugh when the BJP makes extensive sermons on parliamentary ethics and productivity. Back in the day, when the BJP was the main opposition party, the late minister Arun Jaitley had stated: “Parliament’s job is to conduct discussions. But many times, Parliament is used (by the government) to ignore issues and in such situations, obstruction of Parliament is in the favour of democracy. Therefore, parliamentary obstruction is not undemocratic”. Now the very same party is looking to malign the Opposition for their just attempt to uphold democratic principles of dissent and discussion.

In the monsoon session, the BJP government tried to convert Parliament, the sanctum sanctorum of democracy, into a “military barrack”.

Irrespective of the government’s high handedness, the monsoon session provided a broad platform for opposition parties to come together for a united resistance. Through better floor coordination and a joint march in solidarity with the farmer’s agitation, 14 opposition parties communicated a new message to the masses. Their struggle inside Parliament was to uphold the Constitution and Article 107, which states that a bill shall not be deemed to have been passed by the Houses of Parliament, unless it has been agreed to by both Houses.

While the Opposition is doing its best to represent the voices of the struggling masses, the government and the sangh parivar are tirelessly working towards tarnishing this image of the Opposition. Parliament simply cannot sit idle and chant songs in praise of the government when the exploiters take away the rights of the people. Hence, the time has come for citizens, the defenders of democracy, to rally together to protect our parliamentary democracy and constitutional principles.

The writer is secretary, CPI National Council and Leader of the Party in Parliament

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