Is a new trend being established in this country’s Parliamentary democracy with the government blocking the proceedings in the country’s highest legislature for the first time since independence. This has never happened before, claimed senior Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad.
Dissent is vital in a democratic system which is sought to be stifled, allege opposition leaders. Parliament is essentially meant for political parties to debate and discuss aimed at finding solutions to issues of urgent national importance rather wasting time on petty quibbling and indulging in one-upmanship.
The frustration of seasoned leaders particularly like former Deputy Prime Minister L K Advani says it all “”being saddened and feeling like resigning.”” Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi grabbed the opportunity thanking Advani fighting for democratic values. Union minister Venkaiah Naidu sought to underplay the issue maintaining the entire BJP was upset with repeated adjournments and disruptions in Parliament.
Having expressed disgust last week about the logjam in Parliament, Advani observed in a resigned manner that Parliament should at least discuss demonetisation for a day. That was not to be as both the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha adjourned sine die yesterday without a debate on demonetisation. He wanted the health of the Lok Sabha to be restored quickly so that important and pending business can be transacted.
In the prevailing confusion Advani wondered aloud if he should resign from the Lok Sabha. While the opposition pressed for a debate on demonetisation, the treasury benches carrying placards demanded a discussion on the Agusta Westland chopper deal. Be that as it may, Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley’s determination to introduce the GST from April Fools Day next year appears to be a non-starter.
This winter session was the worst of all since the BJP-led NDA came to power in May 2014. Last week President Pranab Mukherjee took strong exception to the continuing logjam in Parliament. Being critical of the MPs he appealed to them “”For God’s sake, do your job. You are meant to transact business in Parliament. Disruption of Parliament is not acceptable at all.”” Impartial observers believe the President should have advised the government that it was their duty to listen to Parliament and be its part. The government is a creature of Parliament and is accountable to the Head of State.
What is perturbing is that the Modi government remains nonchalant about the tremendous suffering of the people of this country since demonetisation last month which has so far claimed more than 70 lives. The President blamed the opposition for the deadlock. In all this the question doing the rounds in the country’s highest legislature is “”who is responsible for running Parliament”” as the Prime Minister claims he is not being allowed to speak in the House and is compelled to speak outside.
Rahul Gandhi countered he is also not being allowed to speak in Parliament where he wants to expose the Modi government. Agitation and disturbances by the opposition are not new to Parliament as they feel this is their legitimate right to attract the government’s attention to the problems being faced by the people.
Congress has learnt from the BJP the methods of agitation crippling the functioning of Parliament as evidenced during the winter session in 2013 and the budget session in 2014 before the April-May general elections. It is high time the BJP finds effective means of countering the disturbances and tries to bring order in the two Houses of Parliament.
It is apparent the failure to run Parliament smoothly must squarely lie at the door of the Modi government. The BJP-led NDA only wants to bash on regardless seeking to brush aside the opposition by blocking any meaningful discussions with them in Parliament. Congress leaders insist the Modi government considers the strength of the main opposition as inconsequential in their scheme of things. The trust deficit between the ruling party and the opposition is at an all time low and must be addressed especially after the demonetisation on the eighth of November.
On her part, the Speaker of the Lok Sabha Sumitra Mahajan has failed to bridge the gap. The damage has been considerable. Out of the ten bills listed for discussion and passage only four were approved. The critical GST legislation continues to remain in limbo and will inevitably get delayed though union Finance minister Arun Jaitley wanted it implemented from All Fools Day or Apirl first next year.
The Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha has also suffered because of the upcoming assembly in five states including the critical Uttar Pradesh. The government cannot afford disruptions continuously dealing a severe blow to the institution of Parliament. Debate is the only democratic way of making the government accountable for its actions. That is eluding the opposition and the ruling coalition at the centre which does not seem to be unduly worried with the reputation of Parliament being eroded systematically.
( T R Ramachandran is senior journalist and commentator. Views are personal.)”