Chief Justice of India N V Ramana made some very pertinent points while speaking at a function in the presence of union law minister Kiren Rijiju and Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot recently.
He said that the space for opposition is shrinking in the country and that political hostility was not a sign of a healthy democracy.
Stating that a strong parliamentary democracy “demands strengthening the opposition as well”, the Chief Justice said that while there used to be mutual respect between the government and the opposition, there was open hostility between the two now.
While both the ruling party as well as the opposition parties are to share the blame for the current state of affairs, the Bhartiya Janata Party must accept more blame due to its disdain for any kind of criticism and opposition.
The genesis of the attitude was the slogan given by the BJP for a “Congress Mukt Bharat” in which the party did succeed to a large extent. Of course a significant contributory factor also was the inefficient and ineptitude leadership of the Congress.
Yet the Bharatiya Janata Party, even when it enjoys overwhelming majority, has never reached out to the opposition parties while taking any major decision or even for better coordination in Parliament to ensure smooth conduct of sessions.
BJP has shown no inclination for a debate or discussion on issue of national importance or briefing opposition leaders on sensitive issues as was the norm earlier.
What happened in 1994 involving former prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee is now almost unthinkable. The then Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao appointed him the leader of India’s delegation to the UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva.
Just imagine an opposition leader representing the country abroad! No doubt Vajpayee was a highly articulate leader with high intellectual level and he did India proud at the international level.
The opposition does have some leaders who are exceptionally intelligent like Shashi Tharoor and P Chidambaram, whose services can be utilised for the country, but the current level of hostility makes that an impossible preposition.
It is also a fact that top leaders of the BJP had been lampooning leaders of the congress and other opposition parties by using derogatory and insulting words.
In turn these party leaders have been using harsh words against the top leaders of the ruling party. This has also led to an absence of dialogue between the government and the opposition parties.
Justice Ramana made another significant point when he underlined that “India was meant to be a Parliamentary democracy and not a Parliamentary government” because the core idea of democracy is representation.
Quoting the father of our constitution, Dr B R Ambedkar, Justice Ramana said parliamentary democracy does not mean ‘rule by majority’. He said majority rule is “untenable in theory and unjustifiable in practice”.
He further said that “political opposition should not translate into hostility, which we are sadly witnessing these days. These are not signs of a healthy democracy”.
Indeed strengthening of parliamentary democracy also demands strengthening of opposition by involving it in taking major decisions and by extending all due courtesies.
The opposition should be allowed enough time to have their say in Parliament and Assemblies and more members of the opposition should be involved on parliamentary committees and for giving their inputs for framing laws.
A fallout of the current deficit of trust between the government and the opposition is the lack of deliberations on various bills due to the tendency of the government to rush through the bills without any debate or discussion.
At times this is due to an aggressive opposition wanting time to discuss important issues and speaker disallowing the demand leading to chaos and repeated adjournments and consequently no time left for any discussion on the bills.
This, is turn, leads to challenging the legislation in the courts which could have been avoided if some debatable sections were modified after a discussion on the floor of the house.
The government as well as the opposition must pay heed to the Chief Justice of India’s remarks and find ways to work unitedly for the betterment of the country.
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