Time to evoke esma

Diminshing Parliament

By Poonam I Kaushish

Yawn! We have been through this before. Of how India’s temple of democracy Parliament is increasingly being called a mockery, tamasha and circus wherein crores of tax payers’ money is being swept away by the verbal torrent of tu-tu-mein-mein leading to muscling-muzzling, walk-outs and pandemonium without even the slightest tinge of remorse. All spewing sheer contempt!
With ruthless politics taking over Sansad’s winter session is back to ‘business as usual’. Whereby, it took just four minutes for Lok Sabha to repeal three contentious farm laws which saw farmers gather at Delhi’s border for over a year, refusing to heed Opposition’s demand for debate.
In Rajya Sabha everything continues to be in a state of constant disarray thanks to Chairman Venkaiah Naidu suspending 12 MPs, six Congress, two each from TMC and Shiv Sena, one each from CPI and CPM for committing “sacrilege through their unprecedented acts of misconduct, contemptuous, flinging papers at Chair, unruly, violent behaviour and intentional attacks on security personnel last session.” Justifying it as “to protect democracy” despite Opposition chorusing, “murder of democracy.”
Recall, not only was the monsoon session abruptly adjourned two days ahead of schedule 11 August amid unrelenting Opposition protests over Pegasus snooping row and controversial farm laws. Worse, our MPs shamed democracy by creating mayhem, tearing Bills, standing on Secretary General’s tables, physically attacked each other in Rajya Sabha while Government brazened it to score political points.
Scandalously it was the least productive session in Modi Sarkar’s second term and third in the last two decades, 15 Bills were passed in less than 10 minutes and 26 in less than 30 minutes. In the Rajya Sabha 19 Bills were passed, an average of 1.1 Bills per day. While the total time lost due to interruptions and adjournments was 76 hours 26 minutes compared to 4 hours 30 minutes in Rajya Sabha’s 231st session 2014.
Undeniably, this is not the first nor will be the last time MPs have been suspended. The first was in 1963 when few Lok Sabha MPs interrupted President Radhakrishnan’s joint address to both Houses and then walked out. In 1989, 63 for disrupting Lok Sabha discussion on Thakar Commission report. In 2010, 7 Rajya Sabha MPs for snatching Women’s Reservation Bill from the Minister.
Indeed, a sorry state of affairs as there’s no clarity on laws being notified without proper debate among lawmakers, leaving many gaps and ambiguity in legislations as one does not know what is the purpose for a enacted law.
Three examples: This session the three contentious farm laws were repealed without debate as in monsoon sittings. The General Insurance Business (Nationalisation) Amendment Bill, 2021 which enables privatization of general insurance companies was approved in 8 minutes, Taxation Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2021 in just 5 minutes despite Opposition demanding they be sent to a select committee to scrutinize each legislation with a fine tooth comb and ensure a good law.
Alas, over the years Parliament instead of being a place for reasoned debate and legislative business continues to be trivialised and denigrated. More disgusting and perturbing is not that politics of dadagiri and obstructionism is becoming more the rule rather than exception, but that our polity largely continues to drift along smugly without any shame or desire to turn a new page and prevent Parliament’s crumble.
Bringing things to such a pass that pursuit of power, pelf and patronage is replacing law making. The figures tell all. Parliament spends less than 10% of time on legislative matters and the most on trivialities. Never mind, our MPs go blue in the face about upholding the best tenets of Parliamentary democracy! Sic.
Many members have made it a habit of rushing into the Well of the House. Worse, the Treasury Benches brandish their numerical power and the Opposition flaunt their lung and muscle power by creating bedlam instead of concentrating on content. Whereby, Parliament’s supremacy has been replaced with the ‘to the streets’ bugle. Thus, in this deteriorating political culture and ethos, Parliamentary proceedings have little material bearing on the course of politics.
Underscoring that Parliament is in crisis and the system is breaking down as it neither fulfills its function of deliberative lawmaking nor holds the Executive responsible. Time now to give serious thought to rectifying the flaws in our system and urgently overhauling it. Rules have to be drastically changed to put Parliament back on the rails and establish supremacy of the House.
True, there is no magic remedy. The process has to be slow and long to rectify the flaws. Rules have to be drastically changed to put Parliament back on track and ensure no one can hold the House to ransom. We have to be clear: Are we for democracy as a civilized form of Government or have we degenerated into a “democracy” of devils and fixers? Remember, there can be no place in a 21st-century Parliament for people upholding19th-century prejudices.
The onus lies across the board. Today it the Congress, NCP, TMC etc, yesterday it was the BJP which did not let Congress-led UPA I and II function asserting “Parliamentary obstruction is not undemocratic and not allowing it to function is also a form of democracy.” The 15th Lok Sabha’s productivity was only 61%.
Time our MPs redeem themselves. One way is to build consensus between Government and Opposition whereby they rise above sectarian political loyalties, heed voices of reason and be guided by what the country needs. But therein lies the rub. With sharp battle lines between Treasury and Opposition this distrust will only further devalue Parliament and lower its image.
Our leaders need to understand Parliamentary democracy provides for a civilized form of Government based on discussion, debate and consensus which are its lifeline. In fact Prime Minister Modi recently suggested a via media by taking out two hours, half a day or one day for healthy and quality debate which adds valuable inputs free from everyday politics.
If Parliament has to be put back on rails our netas should collectively heed voices of reason, change rules to ensure accountability. Perhaps, bring Parliament under ESMA (Essential Services Management Act) wherein disrupting its functioning will become an offence, specially, as challenges confronting the nation within and without have increased manifold.
As India celebrates 75 years of independence, Parliament is a bulwark of our democracy with a heavy task of keeping an image which will gain it the faith and respect of people. Because, if that is lost, then one does not know what could happen later. This faith and respect requires to be restored. Will our netagan oblige? — INFA