The fifty years of Indian Parliament can be politically divided into three phases, single party rule where the Congress Party dominated both the Centre and the states, the interim years when the Congress continued to dominate at the Centre but regional parties started emerging in the states and the third phase, when regional parties are ruling the Centre as well the states.
It is in the third phase that coalition politics has overtaken Parliament and this was prompted by the failure of the national parties at the Centre. So far as the Congress was concerned, this decline may not have been intentional but was prompted by the sacrifice of inner party democracy, adhocism, and the supremacy of the High Command. What encouraged regionalism was also this same factor: the policy of exclusion. Not just economic exclusion but social exclusion, a feeling of neglect which gradually led to strong regional sentiment and in its extreme form, insurgency.
This is reflected by the fact that in the first Parliament in ‘52, there were 8 political parties and today, there are 45. Also between 89 and 99, there have been five general elections, eight Governments and no clear mandate. This goes to prove that the people are growing restless with their leaders and for this, I would blame the political parties themselves. See for yourself can the Congress think beyond Sonia Gandhi? Can the BJP think beyond Vajpayee? Where would the TDP be without Chandrababu Naidu? It is indeed because of personality-based politics that common people now want to elect only "ordinary" mortals to Parliament.
The emergence of coalition politics and the regionalisation of state politics has also led to the strengthening of the federal system which may be dangerous, since ours is a quasi-federal system unlike the US which is a conglomeration of states. A strong Government is important at the Centre and for this reason, it is important to cobble together a third national party which is non-Congress and non-NDA.
Another reason why the composition of the House has changed could be that the electorate has realised that there is no point in sending elite people to the House who can debate on foreign policy issues since they had no clue about the problems faced by the rural poor. This change is especially noticeable from the 6th and 7th House where increasing representation of the rural population has ensured that the concern areas remain health, roads, sanitation, electricity and water.
This has led to the deterioration of Parliamentary language to an extent. This is also because theParliament is overburdened with work. Look at a situation where the local Government doesn’t function at all. The panchayat can’t solve your problem, the police can’t solve your problem, the Assembly works only 30 days in 365 days a year!!!
So you have a situation where people’s grievances can be addressed only in the Lok Sabha. Also responsible for the boisterous nature of Parliamentary proceedings these days is probably the live telecast which I introduced as the Speaker. Everybody plays to the gallery as the voters get to see the live telecast on their TV sets!
You also have to admit that the Parliament these days has become the nerve center of vote-bank politics. Do you know that as much as 68 hours were devoted to discussion on the Bofors issue in the House where only 13 minutes was devoted to education and 3 minutes to unemployment?
Besides, parliamentary debates are fought more on national television than in Parliament these days. The onus lies on the MPs to do something about it.
My hero in the House:
Indrajit Gupta of the CPI. I never missed his speeches. Remember when the NTR Government was dismissed by Ram Lal, the Indira Gandhi, who was the Prime Minister, told the House, "honestly and frankly, I did not know what happened I came to know only from the teleprinter". Indrajit told the Speaker, "I do not mind if the Prime Minister is lying. But I mind if he is speaking the truth."
My most embarrassing moment:
In my very first stint as a parliamentarian, I stood on the benches to make myself seen and heard by the House. The issue was the exclusion of regional languages in the Civil service exams and I was debating passionately on the subject. Even today, Margaret Alva, uses this jokingly as an example of how I, the first tribal Speaker of India, actually flouted parliamentary laws in my maiden session!
(as told to Nandini Guha)