Manifesto promises to make Parliament work - Hindustan Times
close_game
close_game

Manifesto promises to make Parliament work

Apr 13, 2024 09:50 PM IST

What the Congress has promised needs to be delivered. For the good of our Parliament, our democracy and, beyond that, good governance.

Normally I would not write about political manifestos. Most of the time neither the party nor the voter takes them seriously. But there’s a clause in the Congress’s manifesto concerning the functioning of Parliament that merits attention.

The Congress party released its manifesto for the 2024 Lok Sabha elections at the All India Congress Committee (AICC) headquarters in Delhi on April 5. (ANI) PREMIUM
The Congress party released its manifesto for the 2024 Lok Sabha elections at the All India Congress Committee (AICC) headquarters in Delhi on April 5. (ANI)

Under “Defending the Constitution”, clause 9 makes three specific and important promises. First, it says: “We promise that the two Houses of Parliament will each meet for 100 days in a year.” This would give real substance to the functioning of our democracy. To explain, let me cite examples from earlier and not the last Lok Sabha, which was affected by Covid-19.

The 16th Lok Sabha worked for only 1,615 hours, 40% lower than the average of all full-term Lok Sabhas. In the 15th House, as much as 26% of legislation was passed in under 30 minutes. That figure may have gone up in the next, but only 25% of bills were referred to committees, compared to 71% and 60% in the 14th and 15th Lok Sabhas. Clearly, legislation was not getting the scrutiny it deserves. Sitting for 100 days a year should go a long way to remedy that.

The second promise is: “We promise that one day in a week will be devoted to discussing the agenda suggested by the Opposition benches in each House.” This would mean subjects like GST and price rise, Pegasus and Rafale, Chinese incursions and electoral bonds, which the government has declined to discuss, will be debated. This is a badly needed route around the government’s obstinate reluctance. It will make parliamentary debates both complete and meaningful.

The third promise reads: “We promise that the presiding officers of the two Houses will be required to sever their connection with any political party.” At present, the Speaker of the Lok Sabha remains a member of his party even after assuming the Chair. That has to be unacceptable. It makes him partisan and his decisions questionable. If that applies to the Chairman of the Rajya Sabha, it’s equally intolerable.

I would add one further measure. If a sitting Speaker stands for re-election he should be uncontested. That is the practice in Britain and it guarantees the incumbent’s neutrality. Why on earth did the Congress not think of this?

However, I wish the Congress manifesto had gone one critical step further. It should have promised to institute the House of Commons’s practice of Prime Minister (PM)'s Question Time, a dedicated half hour, on a fixed day, when the PM answers questions from the opposite benches including, at least, half a dozen put by the Leader of the Opposition (LoP). This not only ensures accountability at the highest level but it also gives the Opposition a chance to question the most important person in the land.

PMQs, as it’s called in the UK, are often a moment of drama. It reveals both the PM and the LoP at their best. But it can also show them up. It’s, therefore, a window for the country to see their leaders perform, judge them, acknowledge their weaknesses and praise their strengths. In short, it’s democracy at work. It’s badly needed in the world’s largest.

So why did Congress shy away from promising this? Could it be because neither Mallikarjun Kharge nor Rahul Gandhi can stand up to an onslaught by Narendra Modi? I suspect this has something to do with the answer because I can’t believe they never thought of it or they dismissed it as impractical.

But even what the Congress has promised needs to be delivered. For the good of our Parliament, our democracy and, beyond that, good governance. This is, therefore, a test for Narendra Modi and the BJP. If they really believe India is the mother of democracy how can they possibly say no? In fact, I would hope every thoughtful serious political party would endorse these proposals.

Alas, there’s a sad and deeper truth. If questioned, I’m sure every party will say aye. But if elected and in a position to act, will they? That’s where doubts creep in.

Karan Thapar is the author of Devil’s Advocate: The Untold Story. The views expressed are personal

Tell us what your First Vote will stand for in a short video & get a chance to be featured on HT’s social media handles. Click here to know more!

Get Current Updates on India News, Elections 2024, Lok sabha election 2024 voting live , Karnataka election 2024 live in Bengaluru , Election 2024 Date along with Latest News and Top Headlines from India and around the world.

Continue reading with HT Premium Subscription

Daily E Paper I Premium Articles I Brunch E Magazine I Daily Infographics
freemium
SHARE THIS ARTICLE ON
Share this article
  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR
    author-default-90x90

    Karan Thapar is a super-looking genius who’s young, friendly, chatty and great fun to be with. He’s also very enjoyable to read.

SHARE
Story Saved
Live Score
OPEN APP
Saved Articles
Following
My Reads
Sign out
New Delhi 0C
Tuesday, May 28, 2024
Start 14 Days Free Trial Subscribe Now
Follow Us On