Can India Afford The Luxury Of An Entire Parliament Session Being Washed Away?

05/08/2015 8:21 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST
India’s opposition Congress party president Sonia Gandhi, centre, and other Congress party lawmakers shout slogans against the government during a protest in the parliament premises, in New Delhi, India, Tuesday, Aug. 4, 2015. Tuesday’s protest followed after the speaker of India's Parliament on Monday barred 25 opposition legislators from its sessions for the rest of the week for causing "grave disorder" after they created noisy scenes. The opposition has been demanding that two leaders of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party resign for allegedly helping a former Indian cricket official facing investigation for financial irregularities. (AP Photo/ Manish Swarup)

Let me admit at the outset that the analogy is perhaps crude and insufficient. But think of a corporation where the board of directors don't see eye to eye and squabble with each other over every issue. The shareholders of such a corporation are perhaps left with no option but to muster up the requisite quorum and call for an extraordinary general meeting to replace the existing board of directors; alas no such provision exists for the Indian voters. In May 2014, we voted for what we thought was a decisive mandate only to be filibustered by the standoff between government and the opposition.

In hindsight, perhaps such a standoff was inevitable with the opposition waiting to pay back the government of the day in the same disruptive coin that the government of the day deployed during its opposition heydays. But by that perverse notion of equality and fair play, parliamentary democracy would be reduced to a charade.

"Debate, discuss, argue but don't disrupt."

Personally, whenever I see our elected representatives squabble over petty issues and lose track of issues of national importance, I am conflicted. Conflicted because of two core personal beliefs. I genuinely believe that we as a country are perhaps the most over regulated regime with superfluous and redundant laws hampering ease of business and individual freedoms. So to that extent, any non-addition resulting out of non-functioning of parliament is a welcome development in a cynical way. But another part of me is unable to come to terms with the fact that a nation of a billion plus is unable to find in itself the civility and decency to enter into a dialogue to resolve issues of national importance.

"Surely no single issue-perhaps with the exception of national security can be important enough to suspend parliamentary discourse."

Perhaps it is a matter of small mercies that governance of our country is not dependent solely on a functional parliament otherwise our tryst with destiny would have been over long ago. I believe that governance is a process evolved out of accommodation of multiple power structures in a pluralistic society. To borrow the clichéd Chinese proverb - we are living in interesting times. Very shortly we shall see the first definitive salvo fired in the struggle between the executive and the judiciary - with the Hon'ble Supreme Court giving its ruling over the constitutional validity of National Judicial Appointments Commission. If the horizontal constitutional stand off wasn't enough to keep the nation on tenterhooks, we have the frequent vertical skirmishes between the central and state governments (Delhi, Bihar, Bengal etc.) to disrupt constitutional processes. Last but not the least, the parliament of India is doing itself no favours in this horizontal and vertical power matrix by presenting a divided house. In such a fragmented and divisive scenario governance takes place by omission and not by commission.

It is obvious to an ordinary citizen like me that politics is means to an end not end in itself; perhaps our parliamentarians would do well to be reminded of this simple home truth. They carry with themselves the responsibility, hopes and aspirations of billion plus humans. Surely no single issue-perhaps with the exception of national security can be important enough to suspend parliamentary discourse. It is a sad reflection on our state of affairs that even in face of a terrorist attack in Punjab we failed to put forward a united front.

"It is obvious to an ordinary citizen like me that politics is means to an end not end in itself..."

My respect for the Opposition of the day would have increased manifold if instead of placards, posters and black bands they had resorted to facts, figures and arguments to corner the Government. The two malaises highlighted by them - one involving Foreign Affairs Minister's alleged assistance to Lalit Modi and the conduct of Chief Ministers of Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh are pale in face of the real issues facing the country.

A nation facing developmental challenges of economic growth, health, poverty eradication, infrastructure deficit can ill afford the luxury of an entire parliament session being washed away on account of travel documents awarded to an ex-cricket administrator. Secondly, discussion over conduct of state government in the parliament is inherently fraught with risk. Would the opposition be equally accommodative if tomorrow the conduct of state governments, where they are in power, is made subject matter of debate in parliament? State governments must be put to the most stringent scrutiny - but in their respective state legislatures, any argument to the contrary runs against the constitutional grain of this country.

I end this piece with a humble appeal to the parliamentarians of this great nation. You embody the spirit of this country. You carry with you the voice of the voiceless. With every disruption, with every run to the well of the house, you are eroding the legitimacy of the great institution that you represent. Debate, discuss, argue but don't disrupt. You denote our Highest Common Factor; I pray that it is not reduced to the Lowest Common Denominator...

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