President Pranab Mukherjee’s words of caution to the legislators on the frequent recourse to ordinances as well as disruptions in Parliament point to several requirements at the same time.
First, they underscore the point that an ordinance, while it is co-extensive with any law of Parliament, is more like legislation by executive fiat and not emblematic of the collective will of the people. Hence the constitutional safeguard that the ordinance concerned has to be ratified, with changes if required, by both the Houses within six weeks of Parliament convening.
And since every norm of parliamentary conduct cannot be written into the Constitution, the President rightly said the temptation to convene a joint sitting of the two Houses to get round the problem of not having enough numbers in a House should be avoided. It amounts to disregarding the view of a particular House. If the ruling formation does not have enough numbers in a particular House — in the case of the NDA, it is the Rajya Sabha — there should be some attempt at forming a consensus among parties to clear legislation in the best spirit of democracy. The Rajya Sabha should not be given short shrift just because it has no say in government formation. Unless such procedures are followed, there are possibilities of the emergence of dictatorial tendencies.
The President’s strong disapproval of disruptions, usually resorted to by the Opposition, is laudatory. In the past many an Opposition has adopted tactics that won it prime-time coverage on news channels or front-page display in newspapers but more than that they achieved little. The Opposition has every right to ‘expose, oppose or even depose’ but not block the work of Parliament. If it does so it brings discredit to itself alone. The ruction of street politics can under no circumstances be transferred to Parliament. The people’s mandate does not include that.
Unlike Britain, democracy in India has come more from above though there had been a progressive devolution of power under British rule. It is mainly for this reason that democratic values have not sunk in sufficiently and legislators are often prone to be more led by their followers instead of it being the other way round. Differences exist at every layer of society but merely extending them in an amplified form at successive levels means perpetuating them. Here all concerned should heed Rabindranath Tagore who stressed that the purpose of civilisation was finally to unite, not to fragment. As a person with an impeccable parliamentary record, the President has shown the path.