The public brouhaha over the government recall of two high-value banknotes is echoing in Parliament. There is a threat that the political discourse during the winter session might be drowned out by bickering between the government and Opposition. The demonetisation of ₹500 and ₹1,000 banknotes was a decision that touched off an emotional response from the people. So it is only fair to expect the debate over the move to inform discussions in Parliament. But it will be a disservice to the people if the opposition seeks to use the moment to put up roadblocks to planned legislative business.
We have seen the limits of political intransigence. Despite a raucous run of events leading up to the last two parliamentary sessions, legislative business remained brisk. In the budget session, the Lok Sabha’s productivity was at 121% and that of the Rajya Sabha at 91%. The monsoon session saw the two Houses ratify seven pieces of legislation, including the constitution amendment Bill to help trigger a new Goods and Services Tax (GST), as well as adopt a unanimous resolution on Kashmir reaffirming the unity, integrity and sovereignty of our borders.
This was a welcome break from a growing popular perception that our lawmakers spend more time in political grandstanding than legislating. Indeed, such behaviour has a cost to the exchequer — ₹2 crore a day to run Parliament. But the opportunity cost, perhaps, is greater. For one, India may be the world’s fastest growing large economy, but it is far from replicating the decades of double-digit economic expansion that made China the engine of global growth.
A crucial cog in India’s gearwheel of growth is the proposed GST, which will help create a single, unified market. But the proposed tax has missed many deadlines. The Centre wants to pass the GST Bill to roll out the new tax regime from April 1. But for the Opposition, the priority appears to be to corner the BJP-led NDA government over demonetisation, among other issues. A united Opposition might delay the passage of the Bill by disrupting the House, although the government has the option of turning the legislation into a money Bill and avoid a vote in the Rajya Sabha where it does not have a majority. That would be unfortunate because what is won by consensus is credible and durable.
But the government too must realise that the challenge requires political arrangements that enable consensual action. It has to go the extra mile to accommodate the Opposition to ensure that a single issue does not hold up legislative business.