Herald View: The public shaming of Parliament
We now convene special sessions of Parliament without giving notice to the Opposition, with no Question Hour or Zero Hour, denying the Opposition any space or time to raise issues in public interest
The recently concluded special session of Parliament will be remembered for many reasons. It showed up the intentions of this government and the party that supposedly runs it. It showed up, yet again, the man who effectively runs it—by decree. It brought home to us the pitiable state of our democracy, in a way that beggars description.
India is still officially a ‘parliamentary democracy’, which is beginning to sound like a quaint idea from another era of history as we witness the violent overthrow of this institution and the ideas it encapsulates.
Weighty tomes have been written already on the retreating footsteps of democracy from the world, so we may have seen it coming. But now that the fire rages in our own backyards and public squares, now that our own country is like a volcanic laboratory of this sad transformation, we possibly see it better.
Not a day passes when you might escape the news of another crushing blow to the once-loved idea of democracy. The ideas of dissent and opposition, which sit at the heart of a democracy, are anathema to autocrats, and a nuisance in a world view that valorises Ek Vidhan, Ek Nishan, Ek Pradhan (One Law, One Symbol, One Leader).
This idea, propounded by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s patron saint M.S. Golwalkar—also discussed in a recent edition of Herald View (One Nation, Many States, 10 September)—militates against the messy multiplicity that democracies inevitably are.
The adherents of this monistic idea cannot think of citizens as individuals with equal rights—for them, citizens are better as supplicant subjects. That’s your place in the India they want.
The five-day special session of Parliament was held in the grand new premises, which itself bears testimony to this grand dictatorial design. Enough has been said already on why the new Parliament building is no ‘temple of democracy’, but re-engage, if you care, with the salient differences in the architectural features of the new and the old.
Not the embellishments or the surface-design features but the functional-design elements—architectural details that made the old Parliament building a melting pot of people and ideas, a confluence of differences we must aspire to harmonise in a democracy.
The Central Hall, nestling between the two Houses of Parliament, for example, where the seating arrangement was free, unlike inside the chambers of the Houses.
In a recently released compilation of his reflections titled Who Cares about Parliament, Trinamool Congress MP Derek O’Brien describes the Central Hall as the ‘most sociable space’ inside Parliament. ‘It has been a place for fellowship, socialising, sharing thoughts and even breaking barriers, overcoming ideological differences, off-the-record chats, sharing perspectives and of course gossip.’
It’s not that we always lived up to this aspiration, but it was embedded nevertheless in the structural and spiritual design of our democratic institutions, in our Constitution, in our social mores and graces. Do you think it’s just coincidence that the new building is missing these features, or does it reflect the new mindset?
As it turns out, we have come a long way from caring about those niceties. When even the law and lawmakers and law enforcement become means to crush dissent, what’s left of democratic conventions and standard procedures and parliamentary decorum and language and suchlike?
We now convene special sessions of Parliament without giving notice to the Opposition, we declare beforehand that there’ll be no Question Hour or Zero Hour, denying the Opposition any space or time to raise issues in public interest, we laugh uproariously when one lawmaker openly slurs another, we let him get away without any consequences even though the site of his brazen verbal assault is the so-called ‘temple of democracy’.
Yes, we’re talking about the BJP’s South Delhi MP Ramesh Bidhuri and you’ve all heard what he said. You may even have heard that for this performance in the Lok Sabha— when he let loose a volley of insults at the BSP’s Danish Ali, in defence of the Great Leader—the party has rewarded him with a prestige assignment in election-bound Rajasthan.