There is no question that India’s biggest achievement since the country became independent has been the practice and maturing of democracy, reflecting true people representation in the India growth story. Yes, we have built a strong foundation of democracy but a deeper look reveals cracks that could threaten the very purpose democracy was meant to serve: people’s voice and representation.
Objective of Parliamentary Democracy
People vote for candidates of their choice with the mandate of representing them in Parliament. The elected members are meant to discuss and debate various proposed legislations. For a legislation to pass scrutiny of people’s representatives, a healthy debate on the merits, demerits and implication of each proposed legislation, is a prerequisite to safeguard people’s interests.
Debate and dissent are cornerstones of a vibrant democracy and a strong opposition is meant to represent the necessary check and balance on government functioning. India’s parliament has been home to some of the most vibrant and thoughtful debate, with many eager and enthusiastic voices contributing to the shape and direction of India’s policy and development.
Disruption is the new norm
What used to be healthy discussion and debate in the first two decades since independence, has now turned into a contest of high decibel cacophony, where the loudest vocal chords dominate the softer ones, not on account of content but sheer decibel.
This, added to frequent disruption to the normal working of parliament, has held back Indian democracy from functioning as the starting point of India’s policy on growth and development. This is contrary to the purpose of democracy and the nation is paying the price.
Disruption is not restricted to the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha, at the centre, but the states too are witnessing frequent disruption, accompanied by unparliamentary language and unruly behaviour by people’s representatives. This certainly does not augur well for India that prides itself on being the largest practicing democracy in the world. It’s not just democracy but the quality of democracy that defines a nation.
Types of disruptions in Parliament
Simultaneous shouting leading to adjournment: This is the most common of disruptions, witnessed virtually on a daily basis. A distinction has to be made between vociferous debate and shouting with the objective of forcing an adjournment.
Rushing to the well of the house: This is an extension of the above and on many occasions this has been resorted to by various members and political parties, trying to make a point in parliament.
Bringing in placards and other objects to protest: This again has been widely seen, along with vociferous protests, which sometimes extends into the well of the House.
Sit-ins as form of protest: Members have resorted to coordinated sit-ins, with the objective of disrupting the normal functioning of the House.
Coordinated Walk-outs from the house: Opposition parties by themselves or collectively, stage walk-outs to register their protests. A point of view has been raised that this form of protest is better than disrupting the proceedings in the House. However, non-functioning of parliament cannot be the price of protest.
Boycott of individuals or specific meetings/sessions: This has been resorted to when specific individuals or meetings based on specific issues, have been made the target of boycott by MPs.
Infamous disruptions in Parliament and State Assemblies
In July 2014, an ugly scuffle broke out between MPs of Trinamool Congress and BJP, leading to MPs virtually running out of the Parliament building. The incident got triggered when TMC MP Kakoli Ghosh Dastidar accused an MP from the BJP of being drunk and having abused her and her fellow MPs. This led to a scuffle with MPs running out of the Parliament building.
In August 2014, no less a persona than Rahul Gandhi came out of hibernation, post the General Elections rout, to make his presence felt in parliament, by rushing into the well of the house along with his party MPs, to force the Speaker to discuss communal violence, by calling an Adjournment Motion and suspending the Question hour. He subsequently walked out of the House and addressed a press conference to register his protest.
In February 2014, during a heated debate on the creation of Telangana, one MP from Vijaywada, L.Rajagopal, used pepper spray on fellow parliamentarians, to protest the tabling of the ‘Andhra Pradesh Reorganisational Bill’, marking a new low in parliamentary behaviour.
A few days later, the government was forced to ‘black out’ the proceedings in the House, on account of unparliamentary behaviour on part of protesting MPs, on the same issue. The government called it a ‘technical error’.
In July 2011, the UP State Assembly saw violent scenes break out amongst the legislators, with mikes being pulled out and flung at each other. The violence was unprecedented and was indeed a new low and a shame on Indian democracy.
These are only a few instances amongst many. Speaker after Speaker, in both Houses, have been demanding that all political parties rein in their respective MPs and allow the Parliament to function. However, there has been a common lack of political will amongst all parties, to follow the laid down norms of Parliamentary behaviour.
Facts lay it bare
According to statistics available with the Lok Sabha Secretariat, the comparison between the performance of the 1st Lok Sabha (1952-1957) and the 15th Lok Sabha (2009-2014) reveals the following:
The total number of Sittings (Days): 1st Lok Sabha: 677 ; 15th Lok Sabha: 357
Total time taken (in hours): 1st Lok Sabha: 3,784 ; 15th Lok Sabha: 1,344
Average hours per day: 1st Lok Sabha: 5 hours 35 mins ; 15th Lok Sabha: 3 hours 46 mins
The data above shows the time spent on legislation by our parliamentarians have almost halved from the 1st Lok Sabha and the statistics in the ongoing 16th Lok Sabha thus far, is no better.
During the 15th Lok Sabha (2009-2014), the total time lost on account of disruptions and adjournments was 891 hours and 51 mins, which represents 40% of the total time lost!
The question is, can India afford the luxury of disruptions in parliament when there is so much backlog of legislation that needs to be passed? It is the people who vote in the Parliamentarians, with the hope and assumption that they will do justice to the faith and trust, the common man has placed on them and utilize responsibly, the precious time in parliament, in debating and legislating on issues that matter to the nation.
Unfortunately, politics has become a profession more than a responsibility and all parties have been guilty in failing the people by not adhering to norms of parliamentary behaviour and disrupting parliamentary proceedings, in pursuit of their own political agendas.
It’s time for the people to reclaim their right and authority by demanding from all political parties that they realize their responsibility to the people and do justice to the mandate given to them.
It’s time the political parties took notice.