A code for members of the new Lok Sabha - Hindustan Times
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A code for members of the new Lok Sabha

Jun 23, 2024 11:04 PM IST

Dialogue between the government and the Opposition is essential for the smooth running of the House.

The new Parliament, meeting today, will see a coalition government headed by the same team that wielded untrammelled powers during the past two terms because of having a formidable majority in the Lok Sabha. That situation has changed. A political party that does not have a majority of its own, will face serious challenges from the Opposition, and in exceptional situations, from its own allies. At times there may be a snap vote in the House, which can take the treasury benches by surprise.

The Opposition Members of Parliament (MPs) who have been returned may harbour unpleasant memories: Mass suspensions, privilege cases, expulsions, and the denial of opportunities were common threads in the last House(File Photo)(HT_PRINT) PREMIUM
The Opposition Members of Parliament (MPs) who have been returned may harbour unpleasant memories: Mass suspensions, privilege cases, expulsions, and the denial of opportunities were common threads in the last House(File Photo)(HT_PRINT)

The Opposition Members of Parliament (MPs) who have been returned may harbour unpleasant memories: Mass suspensions, privilege cases, expulsions, and the denial of opportunities were common threads in the last House. With a formidable number on their side, the Opposition in the 18th Lok Sabha is likely to pose a major challenge to the government, and, in particular, the Speaker. The government will have to change the way it deals with the Opposition. With over 234 members arrayed against the treasury benches, disciplinary methods followed in the past can be counterproductive. The Speaker will have an unenviable task.

Parliament works with greater efficiency when there is consensus on major issues. In competitive politics, it is very difficult to always build a consensus. A formidable majority often breeds arrogance and an insatiable desire to rub the adversaries up the wrong way. The parliamentary system will shrink in such an environment, like plants in an extreme summer.

The millions who voted have conveyed an unmistakable message to the political class that crossing some lines has its perils. Winston Churchill famously said, “At the bottom of all tributes paid to democracy is the little man walking into a little booth with a little pencil making a little cross on a little bit of paper – no amount of rhetoric or voluminous discussion can, possibly, diminish the overwhelming importance of the point”. The overwhelming importance that Churchill referred to for the decision of those little men should not be lost on the leaders.

The question on everyone’s mind today is how the new Lok Sabha will be run. This House is almost evenly divided between the treasury benches and the Opposition. People who have enjoyed the comfort of a stable, huge majority may find this situation uncomfortable. But they will benefit if they look at the past.

The Indian Parliament owes much to Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister (PM), who nurtured the institution with care and passion. He would be present in the House during question hour on all days and intervene in debates whenever necessary, thereby creating a very healthy tradition. He sometimes supplemented the replies given by the ministers when he felt the House should be given more information and sometimes, corrected the ministers when he felt the correct angle of the issue was not being highlighted by them. He attended Parliament when important issues were discussed and, in fact, he requested the Speaker to give more time to the Opposition because he believed his party members only praised him and it was the Opposition that told him what was happening on the ground.

An interesting incident involving the first Speaker of the Lok Sabha, GV Mavalankar, is part of the institutional memory of the Lok Sabha and is discussed as a measure of the highest esteem in which Nehru held the office of the Speaker. Once, Mavalankar sent Nehru a slip of paper saying he would like to meet Nehru in his office. Instead, Nehru rushed to the Speaker’s chamber and told him that the Speaker, being the highest authority in Parliament, should never visit the PM. Nehru would meet the Speaker in his chamber whenever the latter sought his presence. This was his way of establishing good parliamentary traditions.

The smooth running of Parliament, at any time, is more likely if the House elects a wise Speaker and the government appoints a seasoned parliamentary affairs minister. While the Speaker has to ensure the timely completion of government business in the House, he is also supposed to protect the interests of the Opposition. A wise Speaker will conduct the House to the satisfaction of both sides of the House. The members of the Opposition benches should be able to leave the House feeling that the Speaker was fair to them.

The parliamentary affairs minister is the bridge between the government and the Opposition. In this context, old timers may remember K Raghuramaiah, the parliamentary affairs minister under PM Indira Gandhi (1969-76). Although she had a two-thirds majority in the Lok Sabha, Raghuramaiah would always be seen in the Opposition benches coaxing and cajoling the MPs to gain their support for running the House smoothly. Stalwarts such as AK Gopalan, Atal Behari Vajpayee, Hiren Mukerjee, Shyamnandan Mishra, Indrajit Gupta, Piloo Modi, Madhu Dandavate and Madhu Limaye, adorned the Opposition benches in those days. These great and often difficult men used to be brought around by a tactful Raghuramaiah

Dialogue between the government and the Opposition is essential for the smooth running of the House. Such dialogue smoothens the wrinkles in the relationship between the two sides. To listen to others and to try and convince them is the surest way to promote the democratic culture. Parliament is the most powerful platform, where this exercise is conducted. From the rough and tumble world of India’s electoral politics, the people’s representatives need to move into the realm of mutual respect.

Vajpayee, an outstanding parliamentarian for all times, used to say "vichaaron ka sangharsh” (clash of ideas) is the essence of parliamentary democracy. All members of the House should keep this thought as the 18th Lok Sabha begins work.

PDT Achary is a former secretary general, Lok Sabha. The views expressed are personal

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