When party politics rule Parliament

Tags: Opinion
When party politics rule Parliament
TROUBLED TIMES: TDP members display placards for united Andhra Pradesh at Parliament House during the extended winter session in New Delhi on Friday
Ruling party members are not supposed to hold up Parliament. But during the rule of UPA II, we have seen it happen more than once. At present, another drama is unfolding in the last session of the 15th Lok Sabha before it is disbanded in the run-up to the general election.

But never before has the Indian Republic seen ruling party members steadfastly refuse on a sustained basis to let Parliament run. It has been interesting to watch from the press gallery members from the treasury benches, that is, the Congress, its allies and associates, stalling all official business in the Lok Sabha by any means. DMK is an estranged ally of the Congress but even that party has done its bit to make a mockery of Parliament.

This is symptomatic of how the ruling alliance has lost all will to govern or use Parliament to legislate. One has never seen in the past Lok Sabha leaders goading treasury bench members to disrupt parliamentary proceedings. In the last two sessions, those on the government side have actively egged members on not to let the Lok Sabha conduct its business. The excuses for the disruption have been varied.

Never before have ruling party members served a notice of no-confidence against their own government. The Congress has the dubious distinction of being the only ruling party that faced a no-confidence motion from its own members not once but twice.

In December last year, six Congress members served a no-confidence motion against the Manmohan Singh government. Wednesday saw an encore when two members moved another similar motion. Both were against the party and the government’s decision to bifurcate Andhra Pradesh to carve out Telangana.

On both occasions, timely adjournments by the chair gave the government a face-saver. These no-trust motions only reflect the disarray in the grand old party. Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh must be turning beetroot pink in embarrassment.

Another first for the Congress: its chief minister of Andhra Pradesh Kiran Kumar Reddy, has gone on a public dharna against his own government’s decision and the party line on Telangana.

States have been bifurcated earlier; Jharkhand, Uttarakhand and Chattisgarh were created from Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh, respectively. Those also faced opposition but none of the turbulence that Andhra Pradesh has seen for two years.

All this seems ominous for our democracy. The current Lok Sabha’s record of legislation is abysmal. As per publicly available data, the 15th Lok Sabha will end up ‘least productive’ with just 165 bills passed in five years; then there are 79 more that will likely lapse. Reports have it that 17 per cent of the bills were passed in less than 30 minutes without proper debate.

Several important bills may never see the light of day. They relate to disabled people, street vendors, time-bound delivery of public services, fighting corruption. Even the bill to replace the archaic Companies Act of 1956 is stuck.

One view is that this government has attempted to govern by legislating too many bills and not implementing them in letter and spirit. Arun Jaitley, in fact, spoke of too much legislation recently in a television interview. The ruling dispensation has very little to show for implementation of the many bills that it has brought.

Data show the US constitution was amended only 27 times in 238 years. Both US Congress and Senate have given decent direction to American citizens; the accountability of their elected members is not impaired.

In contrast, India’s Parliament has passed over 3,590 bills in 65 years. Whether these were necessary or not is a billion dollar question. Not many can even make sense of some of these bills.

Indira Gandhi’s rule during 1971-77, including two years of the Emergency, has the distinction of passing 487 bills during. Rajiv Gandhi, with a brute majority of over 400 members, followed his mother’s footsteps by coming up with a plethora of legislations.

Four lessons emerge from the way Parliament has been subjugated to politics of various parties. One, a ruling alliance or government cannot give up on governance whatever the limitations. Two, Parliament cannot be a place where a party’s internal affairs are managed. Three, legislations, or in their absence, accountability of our elected representatives, to ensure meaningful governance is what matters. And four, delivery of public services is what Indians most want.



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