Dysfunctional Parliament

| Updated on January 16, 2018

Cynical protestations will only contribute to declining public faith in the highest institution of democracy

After BJP veteran LK Advani and President Pranab Mukherjee, it was the turn of Rajya Sabha Chairman Hamid Ansari to speak up of institutional damage once again inflicted on Parliament as it concluded its least productive session in the last 15 years on Friday. The scholarly presiding officer of the House of Elders seems entirely justified when he censures and reminds “all sections” of the House of the critical need to “introspect”. Even a cursory perusal of facts is indicative of the criticality of the reasons for veteran parliamentarians to be so perturbed. Of the eight Bills introduced in this session, only two were passed. Such was the indifference to discuss matters of vital public interest that a critical legislation such as the Taxation Laws (Second Amendment) Bill, 2016 was passed within an hour of it being introduced. The Opposition, which has the solemn task of being the people’s watchdog in Parliament, was apparently content that only two of the total 330 listed questions in the Rajya Sabha were answered orally.

Protestations from the Treasury as well as the Opposition, who routinely blamed each other for the near washout of this session, reflect a dangerous cynicism towards safeguarding the integrity of Parliament. The sound-tracks from both sides are devoid of any concern for declining public trust in the highest people’s forum. Even more disquieting is the structural nature of this cynicism. If the assertions from the Congress that it is the Government that bears the primary responsibility of running the House sounds facetious, just dial back to the last few years of the UPA’s tenure and the then Leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha can be heard arguing that “disruption can sometimes produce results that discussion cannot”.

The political class can hardly complain of the people losing confidence in the institution of Parliament, if it is not allowed to discharge its Constitutional duties. In his condemnation of the Congress, Prime Minister Narendra Modi may want to recall the moment when he touched his forehead to the ground in symbolic salutation when he entered Parliament. The Congress will do well to remember an ailing Jawaharlal Nehru as he braced and made an effort to stand every time he spoke in Parliament as a mark of respect. And to what he said much earlier to the Constituent Assembly in his stirring ‘Tryst with Destiny’ speech: “Freedom and power bring responsibility. That responsibility rests upon this assembly, a sovereign body representing the sovereign people of India”.

Published on December 16, 2016

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