Modi has evolved into maharaja in Parliament: Gaurav Gogoi

The PM wants the Opposition to introspect on their ‘irresponsible’ statements and ‘unruly behaviour’; can he introspect on 7 aspects of our parliamentary democracy too?

Prime Minister Narendra Modi (photo: @narendramodi/X)
Prime Minister Narendra Modi (photo: @narendramodi/X)

A.J. Prabal

In his book Constitutional Questions and Citizens' Rights (OUP 2006), A.G. Noorani quotes Ivor Jennings writing in his seminal book on a cabinet government:

The function of Parliament is not to govern but to criticise… the government governs and the opposition criticises… the failure to understand this simple principle… is one of the causes of the supersession of parliamentary government by dictatorships.
Ivor Jennings

In Parliament on 2 February—the day after finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman presented the interim budget and Prime Minister Narendra Modi again advised the opposition to introspect on their "unruly behaviour"—Congress MP Gaurav Gogoi held up the mirror for the ruling party and its leader to reflect.

What the 17th Lok Sabha has seen, he said, is the evolution of the Prime Minister into a "maharaja". He enters the House amidst chants of his name and slogans in his support, said Gogoi, and retreats after making a brief appearance. Unlike his predecessors, Gogoi added, Modi does not bother to listen to his MPs or the opposition, nor to reply to their questions.

The Prime Minister certainly has a lot to introspect on, especially when it comes to state of parliamentary democracy in the nation. Here are some pointers:

1.    While the Prime Minister boasts of getting a record number of Bills passed through Parliament (179 in his first term and 297 in his second), the fact is that the UPA-1 and UPA-2 governments passed as many as 297 and 248 Bills respectively, despite interruptions by the BJP—which was the principal Opposition party between 2009 and 2014.

2.    As many as 64 Bills in the Lok Sabha and 61 in the Rajya Sabha were passed in Parliament during the last five years, with less than an hour of discussions

3.    In the winter session of Parliament 2023, as many as 14 Bills were passed in just three days, giving no one—Opposition or otherwise—time to study and intervene.

4.    A record number of Bills were passed during this period without any scrutiny by parliamentary standing committees.

5.    Members on the treasury benches have often been guilty of raising slogans and disrupting proceedings but no action was taken against them, whereas 146 MPs were suspended from both the Houses during the winter session alone.

6.    Questions raised by the 146 suspended MPs, over 200 of them, were deleted after their suspension, which has never happened before and which the rules do not apparently provide for.

7.    The 17th Lok Sabha, expected to be adjourned sine die on 9 February, is the only Lok Sabha which has failed to elect a Deputy Speaker during its entire tenure.

The Constitution says:

The House of the People shall, as soon as may be, choose two members of the House to be respectively Speaker and Deputy Speaker thereof and, so often as the office of Speaker or Deputy Speaker becomes vacant, the House shall choose another member to be Speaker or Deputy Speaker, as the case may be.

'The deputy Speaker is vested with the same powers as the Speaker when presiding over a sitting of the house. The deputy Speaker, on being the member of a Parliamentary Committee, is appointed as the Chairman of that Committee. He, unlike the Speaker, can speak in the house, take part in its deliberations and vote as a member on any question before the house, but he can do so only when the Speaker is presiding,' saus the book The Indian Parliament (Oxford University Press, 2010).

Per parliamentary convention, the Deputy Speaker’s position, a constitutional post, goes to the Opposition. The BJP and the Prime Minister had the option of settling for a MP from a ‘friendly’ opposition party too, but instead decided to defy the Constitution entirely and have left the position vacant.

So, will the Prime Minister himself introspect? Ever?

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