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Parliament gridlock: Is obstruction in ‘favour of democracy’? BJP once believed so

Sushma Swaraj in 2012 said that ‘not allowing Parliament to function is a form of democracy like any other form’, and Arun Jaitley held that ‘parliamentary obstruction is not undemocratic’.

Members protest in well of the Rajya Sabha during ongoing Monsoon Session of Parliament, in New Delhi, Thursday, July 28, 2022. (Photo: SANSAD TV/PTI Photo)

Parliament has been in gridlock for the past one week, with the Opposition and the government trading barbs over the suspension of Opposition MPs in both the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha, and a lack of discussion on issues as demanded by anti-BJP parties. As of Thursday, 23 Opposition MPs from the Rajya Sabha have been suspended till the end of the week and four Congress members of the Lok Sabha have been suspended for the rest of the Monsoon session.

The government has accused the Opposition of disrupting proceedings repeatedly over the years. But, not long ago, the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) was in power and it was the BJP, then in the Opposition, that justified the disruption of Parliament. At the time, senior BJP leader Arun Jaitley, who was Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, said that when Parliament “is used to ignore issues” then “obstruction of Parliament is in the favour of democracy”. He later claimed that there were “occasions when obstruction in Parliament brings greater benefits to the country”.

While Jaitley led the BJP’s charge in the Upper House, it was Sushma Swaraj in the Lok Sabha. When the oil-for-food scandal broke during UPA-I, Jaswant Singh headed the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha but Jaitley and Swaraj were the BJP faces who led the offensive, resulting in the disruption of Parliament in the winter of 2005 and then External Affairs Minister Natwar Singh’s eventual resignation.

The multiple ministerial resignations during UPA-II — from A Raja to Dayanidhi Maran and Shashi Tharoor to PK Bansal and Ashwani Kumar — followed vociferous demands led again by Jaitley and Sushma, leaders of the opposition in the two Houses. The BJP also brought Parliament to a standstill over the 2G scam in 2010, the Central Vigilance Commissioner’s (CVC) appointment in 2011, and coal block allocation in 2012. The entire Winter session of 2010 was washed out when the BJP set the constitution of a joint parliamentary committee as a precondition for allowing Parliament to function.

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Sushma Swaraj on record

November 4, 2005 (outside Parliament): “It was only due to the pressure mounted by the Opposition that the government yesterday talked about probing the issue… But no probe can be impartial without Natwar Singh quitting office.”

September 7, 2012 (at end of Monsoon session, disrupted over coal allocations): “Not allowing Parliament to function is a form of democracy like any other form … They asked us to hold a debate either under an adjournment motion, Rule 184, or Rule 93. Under adjournment motion, debate is taken up after adjourning question hour, followed by voting by voice vote… Debate under 193 would mean a ‘talkout’ by the government and walkout by Opposition. If we had taken debate under 184, they would have won because they have numbers. Numbers do not give a licence to loot the country.”

What Arun Jaitley said

January 30, 2011 (quoted by ANI as having said in Ranchi): “Parliament’s job is to conduct discussions. But many a time, Parliament is used to ignore issues and in such situations, obstruction of Parliament is in the favour of democracy. Therefore, parliamentary obstruction is not undemocratic.”

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August 22, 2012 (interview to Times Now): “We are not interested in a debate. What is there to debate? We have had bad experiences on these discussions in the past with the 2G scam.”

August 26, 2012 (outside Parliament): “There are occasions when obstruction in Parliament brings greater benefits to the country… Our strategy does not permit us to allow the government to use Parliament (for debate) without being held accountable … we do not want to give government an escape route through debate.”

August 28, 2012 (article in The Hindu): “Parliamentary obstructionism should be avoided. It is a weapon to be used in the rarest of the rare cases. Parliamentary accountability is as important as parliamentary debate. Both must coexist. If parliamentary accountability is subverted and a debate is intended to be used merely to put a lid on parliamentary accountability, it is then a legitimate tactic for the Opposition to expose the government through parliamentary instruments available at its command.”

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August 26, 2012 (article issued by BJP): “Suggestions that the issue should be debated only in Parliament will put a lid on one of the greatest scandals in Indian history (coal blocks allocation). We, in the Opposition, are not interested in merely the issue being talked out through a one-day debate in Parliament… Parliamentary obstructionism should ordinarily be avoided. However, in the rarest of rare cases, obstructionism also brings its dividends.”

September 7, 2012 (after a disrupted session): “One session of Parliament has earlier been lost on account of corruption in allotment of 2G spectrum. That helped this country cleanse the telecom sector. Hopefully, the long-term gains of this session may enable future governments to clean up the process of allocation of natural resources.”

First published on: 28-07-2022 at 05:37:52 pm
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