New politics for a new Parliament
Frequent disruptions render the House dysfunctional. A synchronous vibration between politics and Parliament is the need of the hour
The dawn of a new year is a customary and solemn occasion for reflecting on the time gone by and resolving on the way forward, with a difference based on experience and lessons learned. Such reflection and new resolution are more apt and timely for making a difference to the functioning of Parliament. More so, when the apex legislature of the country gets relocated in a new building in the new year — 100 years after the present one began to take shape. Also, independent India will complete 75 years in 2022. This occasion can’t be missed in our collective quest for a new normal for the functioning of our Parliament, the temple of democracy.
A case for reflection
A new building per se doesn’t add much value to the functioning of Parliament, unless it is accompanied by a new work ethic to restore its stature. Unfortunately, the virus of disruption that infected the apex legislature about 20 years back has remained endemic and has become more virulent in the last few years. It is afflicting both the Houses in varying degrees, given the differences in composition.
The last two sessions of the Rajya Sabha have left a bitter taste with productivity of only 28% and 47%, respectively. With annual productivity of 58.9%, 2021 is the second-worst for the Upper House, which hit the nadir with productivity of 36% in 2018. Two of its worst-performing years came during the last four years. It is, hence, a matter of serious concern, warranting equally grave reflection and introspection so that a new normal of working is found to justify a new Parliament complex.
Subversion of democracy
Parliament functions in a certain political milieu and is hence a political institution. Political motives play out influencing the functioning of different sections of the Houses of Parliament. Protests are a part of political contestation that is integral to the functioning of legislatures. But persistent disruptions, disregarding the sanctity of the rules and the authority of the Chair, derailing the functioning of the House, subvert democracy that the people of India opted for as a vehicle of transformation of their lives, as stated in the Preamble of the Constitution.
Persistent disruptions and forced adjournments compromise the quality of legislation besides resulting in the abdication of the important “oversight” function of the House. Under the Constitution, the executive is accountable to the legislature. This oversight function is ensured through Question Hour, Short Duration Discussions (SDD), Calling Attention Notices (CAN), and debates on legislative proposals.
Disruptions render the House dysfunctional, with a substantial share of the scheduled available time lost as forfeited. With legislative business conventionally getting priority, enough time is not left for SDD and CAN. The winter session din prevented discussion on price rise, and the Omicron outbreak was debated only in passing. The Rajya Sabha lost over 60% of the Question Hour time during the winter session and even more during the monsoon session.
Parliamentary democracy enables the participation of the people in governance through their elected representatives. Swaraj, for which a long-drawn freedom struggle was waged, is all about people so governing themselves. This is the representative function of legislatures. Quality debates constitute the deliberative function.
Dereliction of these four functions by legislatures — representative, deliberative, oversight, and law-making — amounts to a certain negation of the spirit and provisions of the Constitution. It is time this worrisome parliamentary deficit is addressed when independent India is set to enter its 76th year, and Parliament is to move into a new building. This should not be difficult if only the legislators remind themselves of their oath of allegiance to the Constitution.
Democratic functioning is all about debates and deliberations. A functional democracy enables the presentation of different perspectives and even the hottest political contestation on the floor of the House. A disruptive and noisy alternative, on show at present, is its negation. No one wins in the din.
The root cause of disruptions appears to be the rising discord between the political mission and the parliamentary project. All political parties need to remind themselves that they are also bound by the Constitution. Parties winning the people’s mandate govern, while others don the mantle of a responsible and constructive Opposition. Both sides have a responsibility towards the people who decide the composition of law-making bodies. It is this realisation of collective responsibility that makes Parliament functional.
Parliament should not be viewed as a mere extension of politics. Politics should further the cause of the parliamentary project. This new politics is the need of the hour.
Politics and Parliament, each with a specific mission, are integral to democracy. The mission of politics is to win the mandate of the people with promises of improving the quality of their lives. The mission of Parliament is to delineate the path for realising such promises. In essence, these two missions are complementary to each other and not mutually exclusive. So then why the discord and disruptions? The problem lies in drawing a line between protests and obstructive disruptions.
It then logically follows that what is needed is a synchronic vibration between the political mission and Parliament. It is this resonance with which we need to enter the new year with a resolve that this concord marks the functioning of our Parliament in the new grand structure so that our parliamentary democracy shines in a new grandeur. Hopefully, we will find a New Parliament. A spirit of accommodation among various sections of Parliament, guided by new politics to subserve the national mission, is the key to this much- desired resonance. Debate and decide. Don’t disrupt democracy.
M Venkaiah Naidu is the Vice-President of India
The views expressed are personal