It is the familiar story of Indian democracy. Parliament — where the sovereign right of the people of India is articulated — is not functioning. The opposition parties have disrupted the proceedings of both the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha. They want to focus on demonetisation and its implications, and have demanded that Prime Minister Narendra Modi be present and speak directly to the house. Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi has led the charge, and said that if Mr Modi can speak on TV, in concerts, why does he not come to Parliament. But whether this demand is enough to warrant complete disruption is questionable. A discussion on the issue was underway in the Rajya Sabha. There are other important, pending issues on the table — from the GST to the surrogacy Bill. We have consistently reiterated that blocking parliamentary business is an impediment to smooth democratic practice; it is a drain on the taxpayers’ money and State resources; it only polarises politics and does not heal the divide; it does little to address substantive issues; and, there must be no excuse to block debate.
But while the Opposition must bear its share of the blame, the onus lies on the government to improve its political management. It should have anticipated that the Opposition would seek to capitalise on the inconvenience across the country. What is a little inexplicable is Mr Modi’s reluctance to use Parliament to push his policy. The Opposition’s main demand is that the prime minister must speak up in the House. Mr Modi has been using various public platforms — from political rallies to more limited events — to explain the rationale of the demonetisation decision. He has defended it strongly. In public consciousness, the decision is identified as Mr Modi’s personal initiative even more than it is seen as that of the government. He has been happy to own what he sees as a transformative moment in his drive against corruption, black money and terrorism. He has claimed that the inconvenience will last for less than 50 days, he has promised more steps to address corruption as well as enhance welfare.
Now Mr Modi should speak directly to the people of India in their sovereign house to elaborate on precisely these themes, and address the concerns that have cropped up. This is the right thing to do. It is also the most sensible way to engineer a political breakthrough, which will enable Parliament to function.
(This is an editorial from HT’s Comment Page)