Bulldozing Rajya Sabha – Prognosis for Democracy

What does Sunday’s blatant violations of Rajya Sabha House procedures forebode for democracy in India?
Punjab Today

Punjab Today

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THE FARM BILLS – now passed by Lok Sabha and through a specious voice vote in Rajya Sabha – are now set to go to the President for a nod. Most likely, since the President is installed by the ruling party, the nod will come. Thus, the incumbent government will unleash the gravest ‘reforms’ in the farm sector – unprecedented in the history of India.

These laws will affect more than 50 per cent of India’s population, engaged in agriculture, and its domino effect will be on all sectors of economy and all sections of society. As is usual in India, implementation of any law is always slow and contentious but the pro-trader and crony capitalist Laws will certainly spell greater chaos in the already fragile and multi-layer agrarian sector.

Opposition to the Bills is growing. Not only are farmers and labourers from Punjab and Haryana on the road protesting, various other political outfits and unions are up in arms. Political experts are predicting these laws as the tipping point for this government. It is usual for a people who suffer at the hands of a selfish, uncaring and apathetic government to raise their hopes for change in the status quo. Vote out this government in 2024.

However, hope is also a mirage. As of now, our hope might be premature. Let us consider the past few times such hope has risen in the country.

• 2019 Elections: Everyone, including the incumbent BJP was quite sure they would take a drubbing. Not in terms of losing hold on government but their tally will come down. What happened is in front of us – they increased their seats in Lok Sabha.

• Mechanism of Elections: the act of voting. For years now there are issues raised on whether the electronic voting machine can be tampered. We all know about booth-capturing when voting was by paper ballot. In fact, when BJP was out of power, they had issues with electronic voting. However, now they defend the process and do not make it open to study.

Even the Election Commission is complicit. Yet, while there has been a lot of song and drama, even some evidence to show Electronic Voting Machines tampering, the fact is no one has pursued the study to its logical conclusion. That is why we do not even know if everything is already fixed and elections are an empty ritual in which we all foolishly participate.

• Opposition: In terms of dictatorial attitude of government and upturning democratic institutions, even without declaring Emergency, the incumbent government has massively curtailed democracy. Yet, while Congress is perennially in conflict with itself, smaller regional parties are routinely harassed through government agencies like the Central Bureau of Investigation and National Investigation Agency and the Income Tax and Enforcement Directorate, the fact is there in no cohesive opposition to the BJP.

Until now the ruling party supporters used to shove There Is No Alternative in the face of all discussions. Looking at how smaller political parties continue to squabble with each other, the nation has moved beyond the TINA factor to There Is No United Opposition. In this the major blame is on the oldest party and the longest ruling party in independent India – the Congress. If it could rule two terms in this century by putting together the United Progressive Alliance, what stops it from going into the background and putting up a United Opposition?

With the above being our reality, what is the basis of hope or optimism that political pundits give to the people about 2024 elections?

Last Sunday, the specious manner in which the incumbent party, through the deputy chairman, passed the Bills in Rajya Sabha where they have not more than 1/3rd numbers and even their allies were taking contrarian positions is of most grave concern for what it augurs for our democracy. The session started well: the time allotted to discussion was three and a half hours in which members of the Rajya Sabha from all parties spoke and put their points forward.

The House was supposed to adjourn at 1 pm. Opposition’s understanding was the debate will continue the next day. They had demanded the Bill be sent to a Parliamentary Select Committee when suddenly the deputy chairman announced a voice vote. The process is when even one person in the house is doubtful about the results of a voice vote, the division of votes – paper ballot in this case – must take place.

The deputy chairman did not agree to any demands from Opposition: select committee, division of votes, and bulldozed the Bills even though the voice vote was ambiguous. Even more so, live telecast of the proceedings of the house were first muted then suspended. The august Rajya Sabha turned into a lowly Resident Welfare Organisation proceeding where chicanery and deception inverted the protocols of the House.

Also Read: The Trust Deficit in Harsimrat Badal’s Resignation

Next day, all eights protesting MPs were suspended from the House for this session. One of the suspended MPs is leading the Select Committee on Labour laws to be introduced in the House. His recommendations have not been acknowledged. The Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act, 2010 is also set to be amended with vast changes affecting the Non-Government Sector.

In India, we are hardly left with a democracy. Now that the BJP has shown us this face, what guarantee is left that the 2024 elections will be not only clear and transparent but even be conducted?

Also Read: A Century later We are Going Back to Square One


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Punjab Today

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