60 Years Of Parliament
WHAT’S THERE TO CELEBRATE?
By Poonam I Kaushish
New Delhi, May 15 : Politicians are those who can circumvent even God. This truism rang true as the curtain rang down on the day-long celebrations of completing 60 years of Parliament Sunday last. Underscoring, that politics is the last refuge of scoundrels!
Sadly, if one looked forward to some introspection, a little bit of soul searching of how the Parliamentary legacy of our great leaders is today replete with criminals, scams and systems failure, one was mistaken. True, there were a plethora of syrupy speeches and tokenism interspersed with upholding Parliament’s legacy and making the red sandstone building truly the high temple of democracy (sic). Culminating in a chorus of Vande Matram and Jai Hind.
Questionably, none had the time to ponder and ask: What were they celebrating? That in their ‘collective wisdom’ all had desecrated and vandalized Parliament? Of how the very protectors continue to destroy and denigrate this temple day in and day out? Wherein myopic partisan politics recklessly paralyses both Houses, at a drop of a hat? Or how the aam aadmi’s aspirations have been reduced to perspiration and one-upmanship? Turning the voice of the masses into an invoice for themselves — money, power and kursi?
Indeed, Parliament has changed greatly since the Nehru era. The first Prime Minister’s respect for Parliament as an institution was as deep-rooted as his faith in the democratic process. Parliament symbolised for him the power of the people and he was zealous in guarding its dignity. In distressing contrast to the approach and outlook of many among the powers that-be at present, as well as during the past three decades.
Gone are the days when the sittings were orderly and members would pour over voluminous files before raising issues. When interventions were meticulously planned and clarifications sought. The fifties, the sixties and the early seventies. Then came Raj Narain in the late 70s and Kalpnath Rai as the Congress-I answer to him, not long thereafter. The shouting brigade in the 80’s zero hour. The era of no-holds barred politics. The practice of rushing to the well of the house and of browbeating the chair— with the party bosses sitting non-challantly and not intervening. A steady downhill.
Today, politically motivated bashing has become the raging cult — the new order. The sound and fury generated is largely for self gain which has replaced law making. Wherein legislative agenda is a luxury to be taken up when lung power is exhausted. Mockery is made of established conventions and procedures. Thus, Parliament has declined sadly and has come to mean less and less in national governance. Remaining sovereign only in name thereby spotlighting the basic contempt that our netagan have for this democratic temple.
The skeptics who harbour doubts have only to witness the ongoing Budget session, replete with lung-power, unabashed dadagiri and adjournments to score brownie points and catch the headlines. Last week, a cartoon on Ambedkar on a snail with Nehru holding a whip reflecting the slow Constituent Assembly deliberations on the Constitution featuring in NCERT school books by India’s renowned cartoonist Shanker along-with Home Minister Chidambaram Aircel Maxis scam led to repeated stalling of both Houses.
Symptomatic of the abysmal depths to which politics has sunk in our country. Nothing illustrates this better that the shenanigans on the Lokpal Bill. After 11 hours of debate at the stroke of midnight just when the Rajya Sabha was ready to vote on the Bill, a RJD MP rushed into the well raising slogans, thumped the Chairman’s table, snatched the Bill tore it into shreds and threw it into the air leading to scuffles and a free for all ending his siege only when the House was adjourned. Why so touchy on being called murderers and thugs?
Sadly drifting seems to be our Right Honourables new style and philosophy. Where principles are discarded like a bitch in heat. Where everything is game for personal gains. Screw the national interest. The popular passwords are “I”, “today”, “grab the opportunity” and “let the others go to hell”. Relegating to the background their primary task — enacting legislation and scrutinising the Government’s expenditure. By thumbing their nose at their greatest power over the treasury, the House simply guillotines demands for grants running into lakhs of crores due to “lack of time” year after year. Even Constitution Amendments are voted in less than a couple of hours! Sic.
The figures speak for themselves. The first Lok Sabha had the maximum number of 677 sittings; the 12th Lok Sabha (1998-99) had the lowest at 88. The fifth Lok Sabha (1971-77) met for the highest duration of 4071 hours while the 12th Lok Sabha (1998-99) for just 575 hours. In the 13th Lok Sabha (1999-2004), 455 hours were lost in disruptions; in the 14th Lok Sabha (2004-09) 423 hours were lost
While the first Lok Sabha spent 49.80 per cent of its time on enacting legislation, it came down sharply to 17.38 per cent in the Tenth to a miniscule in the Fifteenth House. Thanks to the maximum time being spent on “other matters” (only four per cent in the first House). The House sittings too have reduced from 100 to 75 every year. The tragedy becomes stark when one realizes that every minute lost in Parliament costs Rs. 2 lakhs.
If truth be told, we have not understood the basic concept of Parliamentary democracy which is Government by discussion in Parliament to serve the best interest of the nation, not any one Party. Whereby, both Government and Opposition have to compromise and accommodate. The Government’s prerogative is to bring legislation but the Opposition has the right to initiate discussions of its choice and forward bills. In UK, this right is conceded fully to the Opposition and exercised by it.
Where do we go from here? Clearly, it is time 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 ensure that none can hold the two Houses to ransom. We should do what was done by Britain almost two decades ago: set up a Select Committee on Procedure to suggest radical reforms to meet the present day needs.
The aam aadmi can no longer mortgage his conscience to unabashed gimmickry and goondaism? Stand as a mute spectator while Parliament gets vandalized by our jan sevaks. No. If the netagan are not willing to remedy matters, the public may feel constrained to take the law into its own hands.
As a Chinese saying goes in every crises lies an opportunity and as our netas celebrate 60 years they need to turn the wheel full circle, back to making Parliament relevant and authoritative. For that our Right Honourables need to answer just one question: Whose Parliament is it? Theirs or of the people’s? Else reconcile to what former President Giri once described India’s democracy: Of devils and fixers. What gives? —– INFA
(Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)