Herald View: Manipur didn’t happen. Or did it?
The cult of Narendra Modi and his disdain for democratic institutions have reduced Indian democracy to a pale shadow of its former self
India’s parliamentary system was instituted to hold the government to account on a daily basis through questions, motions and debates. Yet the Indian Parliament has seldom appeared so vulnerable, so divided and so partisan.
During the first two decades after Independence, the party in power enjoyed a brute majority in both houses of Parliament but the Opposition flourished. The government had its way, but the Opposition had its say. Even in 1984, when the Bharatiya Janata Party was reduced to just two members in the Lok Sabha, the Opposition was allowed to dictate the terms of discussion.
But the cult of Narendra Modi and his disdain for democratic institutions have reduced Indian democracy to a pale shadow of its former self.
While the BJP took exception to Rahul Gandhi’s statements in England that democracy was in decline in India, accusing him of seeking ‘foreign help’ to destabilise the country, its own actions only lend credence to his belief.
Not only did the ruling party not allow Gandhi to respond in Parliament to the lies the MPs on its treasury benches levelled against him, he was soon convicted by a Gujarat court to ensure his disqualification from the House.
The court sentenced him to the highest punishment for the infraction, the only one to receive it since 1860, in a dubious defamation case that tied the judiciary up in knots.
Even as the prime minister, known for his theatrical excesses, got a new parliament building built to his specifications and embraced an equally dubious sengol (sceptre) as a symbol of his divine right to do as he pleases, Parliament has been reduced to a mere rubber stamp.
A number of questionable laws have been passed by the brute majority the BJP enjoys in the Lok Sabha. Although in nine years the BJP has not secured a majority in the Rajya Sabha, it believes that its Lok Sabha majority grants it a mandate to steamroll objections and silence questions.
During the six years that Venkaiah Naidu presided over the Rajya Sabha, he apparently declined every Opposition notice for discussion under Rule 267. Yet the present Rajya Sabha chairman cited the record of his predecessor to observe that this rule had become a convenient tool to disrupt proceedings.
While the business of the House certainly cannot be suspended under Rule 267 every week, there are occasions when it is necessary, as the Opposition noted. It was also pointed out that Naidu’s predecessor in the chair, Hamid Ansari, allowed discussions under Rule 267 four times during his term.
The government’s abject failure to stabilise Manipur over three months is surely an issue that deserves a thorough discussion. Yet the presiding officer of the Rajya Sabha agreed only to a discussion under Rule 176, allowing a couple of hours at best. Further, to defocus attention, even in this narrow window of time, leader of the house Piyush Goyal insisted that the discussion cover assaults on women in Opposition-ruled states as well.
It was made to look like the discussion was meant to focus on the video gone viral. Horrendous as that footage was, there was much more the government had to account for on the question of Manipur—nearly 160 dead, 60,000 reportedly displaced, hundreds of churches allegedly torched—and, nearly three months into the crisis, not the first sign of hope that the crisis may be resolved.
In the midst of all this, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is busy drawing other pies in the sky—India, “Mitron”, will be among the “top three economies” if he is returned to power—while Manipur burns.
The collapse of law and order in the hill state and the ways in which various hues of nativist hatred are surfacing in adjoining states are making the entire North-East look unstable. But if you were to judge from the activity in Parliament, all this could be playing out in a parallel universe—while our very own Nero is busy playing another fiddle.