Parliament: No more ‘Temple of Democracy’?

Vipin Pubby

Vipin Pubby

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It is important that Parliament retains its stature as the place where the representatives of the people can have their say.

The ongoing monsoon session of the parliament also appears to be going the same way as the previous sessions with government not allowing discussion on issues of public interest and the opposition making desperate efforts to get heard. This is highly unfortunate and against the basic principles of parliamentary democracy.

In the latest instance, the suspension of 19 Rajya Sabha members from the House a day after four Lok Sabha members suspended for the rest of the monsoon session is unfortunate and a disproportionately high ‘punishment’.

The opposition members were trying to raise issues of high inflation, sharp price rise, growing unemployment and imposition of GST on consumption of basic food items.

The presiding officers of Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha took a lame excuse to deny opposition an opportunity to raise their concerns.

They said they would allow the discussion only after the finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman recovers from Covid and gets back to the Parliament. Surely they could have allowed the opposition to have its say and their concerns could have been conveyed to the minister.

To describe the demand made by the opposition as “unruly behaviour” and to silence their voice in the temple of democracy is not justifiable.

The government would have anticipated such a situation where the opposition would be raising issues and should have kept enough provision for a larger debate on the issues directly affecting the common man.

This also speaks volumes about the poor floor management by the ruling party. Its parliamentary affairs minister should have taken the initiative to speak to the floor leaders of the opposition parties to ensure smooth conduct of the proceedings.

The opposition’s space for voicing its concerns has been shrinking in the country. Besides losing various state assemblies, it is also being deprived of such a space in the media, especially the electronic media, which has a large reach.

Barring a few honourable exceptions, the rest of the news channels openly back the government and never touch issues of public concern. The opposition parties have limited options to raise their voice and Parliament is one such platform.

Yet, the government, despite its comfortable majority, has not been showing large heartedness to allow the opposition to have its say since the BJP led NDA government first came to power in 2014.

Ironically when Mr Modi first entered the Parliament after becoming the prime minster, he had bowed down to the “Temple of Democracy” and had assured that it would be his sacred duty to nurture democratic traditions.

Narendra Modi bows as he enters Parliament for first time

In his maiden speech in Lok Sabha on June 11, 2014, he had declared that he believed that “we should not move on the basis of numbers (in Parliament). We should move on the basis of collective approach (samoohikta). We want to move forward with the feeling of collective approach”.

Very encouraging words again but the facts reflect that the current government has proved to be one of the most autocratic government which has always attempted to stream roll its way through Parliament.

The statistics relating to the time spent on debating issues has fallen drastically during the last eight years. This despite the fact that the splintered opposition is in a bad shape and doesn’t have any leader of the stature of Mr Modi.

It was a given tradition in the past that the Parliamentary Affairs minister would coordinate with the leader of the opposition and other floor leaders of various parties to allocate time for discussion on important issues.

The current government, however, thinks it below its dignity to reach out to the opposition and to provide it ample opportunities to have its say.

This lack of communication, even while bringing out ordinances like those related to agriculture and other important national issues, has led to less productivity of Parliament.

With almost all institutions losing their lustre and dignity, including those protected under the constitution, it is important that Parliament retains its stature as the place where the representatives of the people can have their say.

The presiding officers must reach out and find ways for the smooth conduct of sessions through consultations and discussions with all the political parties rather than resort to silencing the voices of public representatives.


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Vipin Pubby

Vipin Pubby

The author, a freelance journalist, is a former Resident Editor of Indian Express, Chandigarh, and reported on the political developments in Jammu and Kashmir, North-Eastern India, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Haryana and Punjab in his long, illustrious career.

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