Sad Epitaph Of Session
By Poonam I Kaushish
New Delhi, December 14, 2010
How does one begin an epitaph of the just-concluded winter
session of Parliament? That it passed into history by being
adjourned daily since it began on 9 November, thanks to a
united Opposition demanding a Joint Parliamentary Committee on
the Rs 1.76 lakh crore telecom scam. That its tenure witnessed
a sharp decline reducing Parliament virtually to zero.
Recklessly assaulted from within and without. That it affixed
its seal of approval on political harlotry of the worst kind.
Tragically, it suffered this ignominy and more with none
willing to pause and ponder, and prevent its crumble.
Notwithstanding, many MPs individually felt strongly that
something must be done. But collectively connived and
concluded that nothing could or should be done. Perhaps, they
believe that Parliamentary proceedings have little material
bearing on the course of politics in this deterioration of
political culture and ethos. Whither Parliament?
Why only telecom, ghotala after ghotala is making a mockery of
India’s democratic Parliamentary pretensions of focusing on
the issue of probity in public life. A piece of raucous
political theater played in the majestic circular building
decade after decade. Whereby Government accountability to
Parliament is blatantly trampled upon by the Treasury Benches.
Stoking concerns of how powerless Parliament is to stem the
The contempt of the powers-that-be for this high temple of
democracy can be gauged from the fact that even as the
Opposition and UPA II slugged it out over the losses caused to
the national exchequer due to the 2G spectrum scam, none cared
that their stand-off resulted in wastage of over Rs. 200 crore
(each minute costs over Rs26,000) on account of Parliament not
functioning for the entire 25-day session. The Government’s
plans to introduce 24 new Bills this session including those
on land acquisitions, reforming accounting standards, amending
labour laws all came to naught. Scandalous was how
supplementary grants of Rs1024.61 crore were passed amid din
by voice vote, without debate.
True, the Congress can crow over how it used its brute numbers
and intellectual ability to rationalize the irrational. Of how
it got the better of a united and tenacious Opposition’s
endevour to constitute a JPC. But it cannot shun its
responsibility to ensure that the Opposition's legitimate
concerns are addressed and Parliament doesn't suffer.
Shockingly, not only did the Prime Minister choose to remain
silent during the entire fracas but left on a foreign visit
prior to the curtain ringing down on the ‘aborted’ session.
Over the years, Parliament has been disrupted for some very
trivial reasons--all parties have been guilty of it some time
or the other--but that does not negate the occasions when the
Opposition was seen to be on the right track. By ensuring that
the Opposition does not have its say the treasury benches are
willy-nilly only fast-tracking the breakdown of Parliament,
which serves nobody’s interest, neither people’s nor MPs,
leaving a widening chasm that may take years to bridge, if at
What is further disgusting and, indeed, most unfortunate is
that our polity largely continues to drift along smugly
without any sense of shame or a desire to turn a new page.
Exemplified by how despite the turmoil, our Right Honourables
gathered in their fineries for their traditional group photo.
All forgetting that Parliament is a forum for discussion and
for any Government to shut out debate simply because of its
own vulnerability amounts to authoritarianism. The very spirit
of parliamentary democracy would be in danger if the
Opposition is sought to be silenced by taking recourse to mere
technicalities or judicial interventions.
Yet, after every session, both sides bemoan the loss of
working days because of frequent interruptions and
adjournments. Statistics also show that legislative business
done in each Lok Sabha has progressively declined over the
years, and increasingly more time is spent on
“non-Parliamentary or extra-Parliamentary'' means used by MPs
to be heard.
It's not just the declining number of hours that MPs put in
for debating questions that is worrying, but also the quality
of debates has plummeted. “Legislation has become more complex
and we need intelligent, threadbare discussion of the issues
but all we get is shouting and abuse. People want to know what
MPs think about the Kashmir crisis, terrorism, inflation et
al. Sadly, the link between MPs and the aam aadmi is
weakening,” bemoaned a 9-term MP.
In this milieu any wonder that the centre of politics has
moved from Parliament to the judiciary and civil society. Our
Right Honourables must introspect about what kind of legacy
they are going to leave behind. Will they allow Parliament to
sink under the weight of its increasing decadence?
Can we expect Prime Minister Manmohan Singh who, as Finance
Minister in the 90s, initiated bold economic reforms and paved
way for progress, do the same and reform Parliament? Does his
Government have the courage to institute a JPC to get to the
bottom of this mega scam?
The time has come for all MPs to see how they can strengthen
Parliamentary democracy before people begin to mock at it in
sheer disgust? One way is that on certain issues both the
Government and the Opposition should rise above sectarian
political loyalties and be guided more by the sense of the
House than the rule book. Another is to make the Executive
accountable by taking a leaf out of Westminster. The House of
Commons has a convention of a “PM’s Hour” of 40 minutes a
week, wherein the MPs can question him on any issue and this
session is extempore.
Our netagan also need to implement one of the recommendations
made by a conference of Presiding officers held in Shimla in
1997. Namely, “strict system of time-use” be introduced and
implemented in all legislative bodies to avoid “wasteful
public expenditure.” Whereby, the Speaker or Chairman of their
respective legislatures should “calculate the cost of each
second of their House-time and give wide publicity for the
same to the public.”
In India’s coalition milieu our leadership must invest time
and money in ensuring that they pick the right legislators to
make Parliament a more effective forum. Else the increased
interventions and recent admonishments by the judiciary, may
well aid a process by which the Courts will eventually
Time for our polity to look within whether the system has
failed them or they have failed the system? They must grasp
that a rot which can be cured must never be endured. All those
perceived as corrupt and ugly should be thrown out or at best
sidelined. Parties should present new faces which are both
clean and credible. No neta, howsoever mighty is
indispensable. Remember what Gandhiji said: “In matters of
conscience, the law of majority has no place.” People devoid
of conscience have no right to stay in power ---- INFA
(Copyright India News & Feature Alliance)