Has bitter politics made Parliament dysfunctional?

Has bitter politics made Parliament dysfunctional?

  • The Parliament ironically called the Temple of Democracy is anything but a Temple. It has been abused to filth and reduced to a street fighting arena.
  • Amidst all this furore, whatever little work is manageable filters through at the terrible cost of progress of the Nation.
  • What’s happening now, the Parliament logjam as is fondly called, is but of a different nature from earlier protests.
  • To be rather precise, this shows a rather poor picture of politics in India to all and sundry. Yet this is nothing new – a further affirmation of the traditionally sorry state that politics in India finds itself in.
  • The parliament is functional only for a few weeks in a year and instead of focusing on development and eradication of critical problems the members of the parliament are busy splattering mud at each other.
  • Even though at this stage, these are just allegations that do generate some apprehensions in the minds of the common people and they are always at a loss to choose their political representatives – ones who can be entrusted for the greater good.
  • The unabated continuation of such incidents also shows that there are still plenty of authority figures in India who consider themselves beyond reproach and it is their dubious actions that effectively nip in the bud any hopes of significant and progressive discussion and consequent action on important issues in the parliament.
  • People are always calling out for change, but the lure of power in India is such that the ones who are important find it really hard to control themselves.

The dangerous aspect of this all is that they are in a position to influence the lives of ones who have elected them to power – for better or worse.

  • India has had several All-India Whips Conferences. These have tried to identify the causes behind the disruption of legislatures. A common complaint has been that the Opposition rarely ever gets adequate time to raise issues it considers important.
  • They also think delay in taking prompt action against MPs for disrupting the House has aggravated the problem.
  • In the current Lok Sabha, nobody can fault Speaker Sumitra Mahajan on this count, though punitive measures, as the Congress has demonstrated, don’t always have a restraining influence.

This is precisely why some, including one of the Whips Conferences, offers–reserve a day in the week for the Opposition to set the agenda for Parliament.”

This is indeed the custom in the UK Parliament – 20 days of every session have the Opposition spell out the parliamentary agenda. Out of these 20 days, 17 are assigned to the principal Opposition party and the remaining three to the others. In Canada, the Opposition sets the parliamentary ball rolling on 22 days every calendar year.

 

The advantages of this mechanism are palpable –

  1. the government can’t shy away from discussing issues inconvenient to it;
  2. the Opposition won’t be smarting as it would get ample opportunities to vent its anger or put the government in the dock.
  3. At least, on all other days, the legislative work of Parliament won’t suffer, and bills won’t be passed in a hurry without adequate discussion, increasingly the feature of our Parliament.

 

But no mechanism can ever reverse the declining performance of Parliament as long as there is no consensus when a minister ought to resign, should she or he face charges of impropriety, financial or otherwise. Deadlocks are inevitable as long as MPs insist a minister must resign before they would allow Parliament to work – and the government, as obstinately, refuses to acquiesce. This was the single most important factor why the last Lok Sabha stalled regularly, which increasingly seems will become the fate of the present one as well.

 

Ultimately, resignation is a function of ideas of morality, and also whether the ruling party fears alienating the public by refusing to let go of a minister who is popularly perceived to have violated the law or norms of propriety.

 

In Britain, for instance, 18 ministers, including those who were junior or in the Cabinet, resigned from the last government of David Cameron, before he led his party to victory in this year’s election. A good many of them quit because of their financial and sexual improprieties, apart from personal reasons and policy differences with the Prime Minister. By comparison, 40 British ministers had resigned between 1970 and 1997. These resignations weren’t secured through prolonged boycott of British Parliament, which only sees suspension of work, at worst, for a few hours.

 

So what then explains their ouster from the government, voluntarily or otherwise? Perhaps the acute awareness among the political parties that perceived violation of the morality code could lead to their own destruction. There is a societal consensus on what constitutes the morality code.

 

In India, though, the morality code is often linked to caste-religion-linguistic-regional identities. Often, grassroots support renders irrelevant, say, the charge of corruption against a politician. The court of people triumphs over the verdict of the court. Count the number of ministers who win after having been accused of corruption. It is also true that ruling parties institute trumped up cases against their rivals.

Ultimately, the more equal a society the greater the chances of its Parliament functioning smoothly and efficiently. It is also about political outfits rising over their interests to maintain an ethical standard. Such idealism withered away decades ago, and a more equal society than we have today will take years to achieve. Till then, strengthening the institutional mechanism of Parliament will do

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