Herald View: When the Govt holds Parliament to ransom
This is the first time that the ruling party and the Government appear to be deliberately undermining Parliament
Amidst suspicion that the Government itself has been engineering disruptions in Parliament by its allies, the Lok Sabha last week passed the Finance Bill, which laid out the Government’s plan to spend Rupees 89.25 lakh crore next year, without any discussion in the House.
The lame defence put forward by the Government through the Speaker is that the House was not in order for the past one week and hence there was no option to the Speaker but to use the ‘guillotine’. This emergency measure, literally a last resort, has now been used thrice in this century, in 2004, in 2013 and now in 2018. The Opposition has, however, called the bluff by pointing out that although its regional allies or erstwhile allies, namely the Telugu Desam Party(TDP) and the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS), were disrupting the House on state-specific issues, the Government and the Parliamentary Affairs Minister failed to reach out to any one of them.
The Government clearly did not want to end the disruptions and settle the issues. The ‘disorder’ in the House, however, did not prevent the Speaker from allowing Government business to be conducted. Papers and reports have been laid in the House. The Union Finance Minister was allowed to move 21 amendments to the Finance Bill. Sushma Swaraj was allowed to make her statement on the 39 Indians killed in Iraq. But the ‘no confidence motion’ could not be taken up because, well, the House was not in order. Indeed, on Monday this week the Speaker adjourned the House barely one minute after she took the chair in the House. The din apparently would not allow her to conduct a head-count and ensure that the no-confidence motion had the support of 50 MPs. The Lok Sabha thus became possibly the first and the only elected chamber to admit its inability to count up to 50.
It was left to an Opposition MP to tweet, “Opposition wants Parliament to run. But it can’t run. Because a Govt on the run is running away. And deliberately not allowing the House to run. In fact, the only thing the Govt is running is circles around democracy.” To be fair, the Indian Parliament has been dysfunctional for the past several years. In 2014 itself, when the Modi Government took over, 94% of the budgetary grants were passed without discussion. A study done by PRS indicated that in the ten years preceding 2013 also, 85% of the Union Budget was passed without any deliberation in Parliament. Grants for the strategic Defence ministry, which traditionally receives one of the highest allocations, were also discussed in Parliament only once in those ten years. But this is the first time that the ruling party and the Government appear to be deliberately undermining Parliament.
Narendra Modi, it is worth recalling, had bowed and touched the stairs in Parliament with his forehead when he first entered the House in 2014 as Prime Minister. He had explained then that Parliament was the highest ‘temple of democracy’. His Government’s record since then however suggests a systematic attempt to bypass Parliament and gradually make it irrelevant
Last year the Government introduced 30 pages of amendments to the Finance Bill barely 48 hours before the Bill was passed and thus ensured that several contentious amendments were passed without much scrutiny. The Government’s penchant to push through controversial legislations like on ‘Aadhaar’ as money bill also undermined the role of the Rajya Sabha. Chairman of the Rajya Sabha Venkaiah Naidu was not far off the mark when he declared that the Indian Parliament was fast becoming a ‘laughing stock’ in the world.
Narendra Modi, it is worth recalling, had bowed and touched the stairs in Parliament with his forehead when he first entered the House in 2014 as Prime Minister. He had explained then that Parliament was the highest ‘temple of democracy’. His Government’s record since then however suggests a systematic attempt to bypass Parliament and gradually make it irrelevant. It would seem that the Government wants to run the country from Television studios rather than Parliament.
While the disconnect between Parliament and the people is pronounced and has been increasing over the years, it’s time for the Parliament to take itself seriously and catch the bull by its horns if it is to act as the watchdog of the people.