In Bihar, a blot on democracy | HT Editorial
In theory, a legislature is the most sacred space in a democracy. It is the ultimate body of the expression of popular will. It is a space for deliberation, for debate, for careful scrutiny of laws, and for law-making. And despite being on different sides, it is a space for the government and the Opposition to fight each other — on issues, but within the norms of parliamentary conduct.
It was this idea of the legislature, and by extension, the idea of democracy and democratic processes that received a severe jolt in the Bihar assembly on Tuesday. As the government tabled, and sought to pass, the Bihar Special Armed Police Bill, 2021 — based on the rationale that the state’s growing security needs, including protection of vital installations, required a special empowered force — the opposition demanded its withdrawal, based on what it saw as draconian provisions giving this force the power to search and arrest without warrant. Given the track record of the Bihar Police, especially during prohibition, this concern was legitimate.
The opposition, however, then turned aggressive — gheraoing the Speaker’s chamber, obstructing house proceedings when other presiding officers took the chair, and crowding the well of the House. This was wrong. But what was even more wrong was the government’s failure to politically resolve the issue — either by engaging with the opposition or sending the bill to a legislative committee — and instead calling on security forces to clear the House; the police engaged in a scuffle with legislators, including women leaders. The opposition walked out, the government passed the bill, but Bihar, and Indian democracy, were left poorer.