Thursday, 24 August 2017

Parliamentary processes diminished

  • What is our conception of Prime Minister Modi when he called parliament “the temple of democracy”? Is it merely a place to ratify decisions made elsewhere in party cabals or cabinet meetings? Or is it a chamber where the representatives of the Indian people assemble to express their considered opinions and thoughtful disagreements, before coming to an outcome in the interests not of a party but of the country as a whole? I guess for Modi it is the former.
  • In parliament, the Government will propose. The opposition will oppose. If matters come to a head and a vote is called, the Government’s brute majority will dispose. Merits of the matter hardly matters. This is how our parliament works these days.
  • Parliamentary debates have become a ritual. On most issues whip is cracked and MP's duly vote on party lines.
  • Even sensible suggestions by the opposition are never adopted.
  • With overwhelming majority the Government simply chooses not to listen.
  • The Anti-Defection law was passed with good intentions and with which the road to hell is paved. It was intended to stop the aaya Ram-gaya Ram practice of legislators crossing the floor in pursuit of power and pelf. The idea was noble, and rested on sound principles: governmental stability matters; people must stay loyal to the party on whose platform they contested; the intent of voters must not be betrayed by defections.
  • The Anti-Defection law 1985 enabled a practice of party whips on all issues, making receptivity to the ideas of the other side punishable with expulsion from the House. The ‘argumentative Indian’ is on display only when he is arguing strictly according to his party’s position.
  • The Anti-Defection law has not eliminated the defections, but dramatically reduced them. It only made defections a group affair, more costlier and at the mercy of Speaker, without fear of legal scrutiny.
  • Parliament is supposed to be a forum where individual MPs of ability and integrity met to discuss common problems and agree upon solutions.
  • MP's are supposed to advocate the wishes of their constituents, rather than themselves. MP betrays himself and his voters while surrendering his own better judgement to the dictates of his party leadership. This is a travesty of the parliamentary process.
  • In the UK no whip was issued on a vote for Brexit. No whip was issued for UK supporting the US in the Iraq war. Dissent was freely and honestly expressed on both sides of the aisle. Such freedom is unknown to the Indian MP with the Anti-Defection Law.
  • Government and legislation are matters of reason and judgment, and not of inclination. And what sort of reason is that, in which the determination precedes the discussion; in which one set of men deliberate, and another decide.
  • Parliament is a deliberative assembly of one nation, where not local purposes, not local prejudices ought to guide, but the general good of the nation. 
  • In the early days a prime minister could even be challenged by MPs from his own party -- think of Nehru being attacked by Feroze Gandhi, Finance Minister TT Krishnamachari being forced to resign by his own backbenchers, or Mahadev Mishra challenging his Prime Minister’s China policy. Today conformity rules the roost. So why give parliament an importance its performance does not warrant?
  • The first three Lok Sabhas saw as many as 140 days sittings a year. We are now at about half that number, and it is reducing every year. BJP Government clearly has very little time for the distractions of Parliament. State assemblies are even worse: many sit for fewer than 30 days a year, and in Haryana the average is 12 days.
  • In the last Lok Sabha, 25% of the bills were passed with scarcely any discussion. Barely 15% of the Union budget is discussed in detail. Our government is spending taxpayers’ money without the taxpayers’ representatives having a meaningful say in how it is spent. 
  • Once bills are passed they become Acts, and these are implemented through the promulgation of rules drafted by the Government and are supposed to be placed on the table of each House. The rules are subject to parliamentary scrutiny. Guess how many rules have been discussed in the current Lok Sabha? Precisely zero.
  • Our Prime Minister Modi spoke of introducing ‘minimum government, maximum governance’. Instead, we are heading to a system of ‘minimum parliament, maximum government’. The judiciary is stepping into the breach, taking initiatives that should have been done by Parliament. Unelected judges substituting themselves for the people’s representatives. It’s nobody’s fault but our own, but it’s not the democracy.
  • It is time to look at our institutions and ask if they are really providing the foundations on which our democratic freedoms must be built. The crisis assailing our legislative representation in Parliament makes this task imperative and urgent.

Beware of ministers who can do nothing without money, 
and those who want to do everything with money

Thrift should be the guiding principle

It is essential that a democracy must function with transparency & accountability and rule of the law must be followed. No expenditure should be allowed without prior approval of parliament or legislature except while dealing with specified emergencies. Ordinances must be discouraged and must be subjected to detailed scrutiny. No Act shall be passed without detailed discussion and rules framed for implementation must be ratified or modified by Parliament or Assembly with in 60 days. Discretion must be eliminated and replaced with well defined processes. Executive decisions must have either cabinet and/or legislature ratification. Projects must be granted by a 'Planning Commission' or 'Niti Aayog' type expert bodies but never by any individual office bearer. Government must focus more on Governance rather than money matters. Nothing should be done unless it benefits larger masses. Extravagance should be despised. 

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