The second least-productive session of the 17th Lok Sabha was adjourned sine die this Monday, four days ahead of the schedule — with just six sittings more than the most-curtailed session at the peak of the Covid-19 wave in 2020. Compared to the last Budget Session, during which MPs had spent a considerable 178 hours debating various issues, the members this time decided to sit barely for about 45 hours and passed merely seven Bills. Crucial issues such as low rabi output, unemployment and the ramifications of the Russia-Ukraine war were not deliberated upon. The stature and role of Parliament has been run to the ground in recent years in an extraordinary display of irresponsibility and cynicism by our representatives. The regular suspension of Question Hour and Zero Hour, forums that are precisely meant for the Opposition to raise matters of importance, is regrettable. It suits any government if its policies and actions are not debated seriously in the House. But for the sheer mediocrity and routine bedlam in Parliament, legislators across the board are to blame.
To be sure, the government, with its 303 MPs in the Lok Sabha, does not need the Opposition to push through critical Bills. The Opposition can be ignored and important Bills be passed in the din, which helps avoid avoid scrutiny and criticism. Yet, precisely because of its thin strength in the House, the Opposition must make every question and intervention count, in terms of rigour and seriousness, instead of falling back on the lazy option of raising a din. Disruption can be a parliamentary strategy only when the government does not have the numbers in the House. With a majority government, a different strategy needs to be thought of for enforcing scrutiny and pushing debates. The Opposition has failed to act as a check on the actions of the executive by critically evaluating its decisions. The debate on price rise was marked by Opposition walkouts and notable absentees in both Houses, including former Finance Minister P Chidambaram. One has to only consider the miniscule number of 98 matters raised in this session, as compared to 696 issues of public importance raised during the Zero Hour in the eighth session and 563 during the Zero Hour in the seventh session to gauge the callous disregard for the legitimate platforms available for critiquing government actions. It is inexplicable that legislators, with the resources, financial and human, at their command cannot perform with diligence what is expected of them. Yet, if the primary responsibility for running the House lies with the government, acts that alienate the Opposition cannot serve that purpose — such as suspension of 23 MPs in the Rajya Sabha and four Members of the Lok Sabha. The suspended MPs, of course, provoked the presiding officers with their disorderly conduct, including waving placards in the well of the House, despite warnings.
During the debate on price rise both Rahul Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi were absent from the Lok Sabha. For the main opposition party, catching more eyeballs through street protests seemed a better option to sparring with the Finance Minister in Parliament. In the Upper House, star speakers on the economy were either absent or preferred to stay silent. Such indifference to the role of Parliament as a body that is meant to debate policies to ensure the best outcomes, does not bode well in a democracy.