Let Parliament not become a casualty of politics

On Monday, December 13, the last day of the winter session, parliamentarians thought of paying floral tributes at a chosen spot alongside   Parliament House to the intrepid men of the watch and ward staff who nine years ago this day  laid down their lives fighting a vicious militants’ attack on the complex.  Inside the two Houses, members later stood in silence.

Gratefulness and solemnity of the occasion lasted barely two minutes, however.  Hardly had the members sat down and the two Houses called to order when the trouble —by now a habit – erupted. Slogan-shouting   began from the opposition benches, and many members, some of them with placards, trooped into the well of the House to block the proceedings as they had been doing everyday during the session.

The Chairman of the Rajya Sabha, Mr Hamid Ansari, noted somberly at the end of what had become a daily drill,  that peace prevailed in the session only when obituaries were read. The Speaker of the Lok Sabha also expressed similar anxiety about the way Parliament proceedings were being disrupted.

A strange kind of sullen mood  descended  as the members came out into the lobbies and then moved to the Central Hall. There was, however, little evidence of guilt about what they were doing to Parliament.

If those who think that they have scored a great victory by not letting Parliament function even for a single day in the winter session ought to introspect on what they are trying to achieve. Disruption can be self-satisfying, possibly a good visual on the TV channels, but sober people among the opposition parties must know that such victories may at best turn out to be pyrrhic in nature and not worth their while for the effort.

Whatever, the seriousness of the issues, no political party, — ruling or in the opposition — will stand to gain if Parliament is wrecked from within.  The way things are going there is a danger to Parliament and the form of democracy it has come to represent.  Political parties themselves, whichever side of the House they sit, will themselves stand to lose. Who gains, if everyone loses?

No one can underestimate the seriousness of the issue of corruption and the  2G scam. They need to be fully probed and the guilty severely punished.  The government owes it to the nation that it will do so at the earliest.

But by using the scam for making   Parliament  dysfunctional, the opposition,  led by the BJP and AIADMK and joined by the CPM,  is not serving the cause. Whatever they do outside protest in Parliament has its limits.

Parliament has provided for ways allowing   the opposition to  force the government give all the information it wants on the 2G scam. The Public Accounts Committee, which is headed by a BJP leader Dr Murli Manohar Joshi, is already at work following the CAG’s  report  on the 2G licences.  The scope of the PAC”s inquiry can be easily widened. And now we find  senior BJP leaders faulting Dr Joshi for not going slow when the party is agitating for a Joint Parliamentary Committee.

Previous experiments with JPCs  have not been fruitful. They consume time.  May be the BJP wants to stretch the exercise for a couple of years to place the entire UPA government in the dock and whip up a pre-election campaign.  To the BJP the process is perhaps more important than the outcome.

The Opposition could easily move a no-confidence motion in the Lok Sabha  to challenge the government’s continuance in office on the 2G   scam,  but apparently it does not suit its political convenience.

The Supreme Court is also seized of the question, and so has been the CBI.  As the CBI’s credibility has often been questioned its investigation of the 2G scam placed under the supervision by the Supreme Court as also the  PAC’s probe, should have satisfied the Opposition.

How Parliament is being prevented from doing its duty to the people for whom it is meant will not  help it retain the respect of the electors. It is the respect of the people which ultimately lends legitimacy to a constitutional institution.

As the Chairman,  Mr Hamid Ansari, in his valedictory remarks noted with  anguish that no discussion on a matter of public interest took place, no special mention about the problems of the people was made, and not a single question was allowed to be answered in the question hour, which makes the ministers more accountable.

In a way, Parliament’s   authority flows  from its power to sanction money to the government and monitor how it is spent.  In the winter session it passed four Appropriation Bills sanctioning money worth thousands of crore of rupees amidst the ruckus and without a wee bit of scrutiny.  This is a serious lapse on the part of Parliament as an institution and decidedly a disservice to the people.

We project our democracy as India’s unique selling proposition and disruptions in the past as also the stalemate in the winter session, , are not going to be a great advertisement for our brand of democracy.

Successful running of Parliament will require patience, tolerance of the opponents’ view, a give-and-take approach , readiness to look for a way-out of the serious situations that are natural to a vibrant democracy.

It would also require readiness on the part of the leaders of all parties to reach a consensus on issues and the working of the institutions vital for the survival of the country’s democratic dispensation. Parliament is certainly one of them. Let the leaders of the parties sit together and come to an agreement that whatever the seriousness of the issues that may come to the fore, they will not let Parliament become a casualty of politics.

Another Republic Day is coming close. Let it not be said that our decision to opt for parliamentary democracy 61 years ago was  flawed.  Our Constitution was conceived in hope, but if we are not able to work it the fault will lie with men, not with the Constitution and all it encompasses – its values, principles and the democratic spirit. Let’s not fail the Constitution or the country.

– The Asian Age, December 31st, 2010