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BRP Bhaskar: Disruption of democracy
December 27, 2016
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Exclusive to The Gulf Today

The winter session of Parliament which concluded earlier this month was one of the least productive in India’s 67 years as a democratic republic. Obstructive tactics employed, mainly but not exclusively, by the Opposition stalled the proceedings, and the two houses could transact little business.

The session began on November 16, eight days after Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced demonetisation of notes of Rs 1,000 and Rs 500 in a television address. It ended 31 days later, without discussing the government’s action which threw important segments of the economy into disarray and imposed misery on millions of poor.

The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party and the opposition Congress party blamed each other for the disruption. Modi complained that the opposition did not allow him to address the house, and Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi claimed the BJP prevented him from speaking.

The cost of the short session to the taxpayer is estimated at Rs 33 million. On the basis of the limited legislative business the houses transacted, officials put the Lok Sabha’s productivity 17.39 per cent and the Rajya Sabha’s at 20.61 per cent.

The last time such low productivity was registered was in 2010. The United Progressive Alliance, led by the Congress, was in power at that time, and the BJP was the main opposition. Recent history testifies to the two parties’ readiness to disrupt the proceedings to make small and often illusory political gains.

The loss resulting from Parliament’s inability to transact business is actually much more than what the above-mentioned figures suggest. A law to usher in a goods and services tax (GST) regime was placed before Parliament by the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government in 2011. The BJP held it up. After the change of government, the BJP brought forward a revised bill and the Congress stalled it. Earlier this year the constitutional amendment required to bring GST into force was passed. However, the winter logjam prevented passage of some supporting measures. As a result, GST, which has the potential to boost the GDP by Rs 1,000 to 2,000 billion, may not become a reality for some more time.

Delay in passage of laws often entails social costs which cannot be expressed in monetary terms. Take the case of the Women’s Representation Bill, which seeks to set apart one-third of the seats in the Lok Sabha and the State Assemblies for women who constitute nearly half of the population. It was brought before the Lok Sabha first by the United Front government headed by HD Deva Gowda in 1996. Parties wishing to perpetuate patriarchal ways blocked its consideration by creating a ruckus.

In 2008 the UPA government moved an alternative bill in the Rajya Sabha and the house passed it in 2010 amid unruly scenes. The UPA went out of office without bringing the measure before the upper house. Although the BJP enjoys absolute majority in the Lok Sabha, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has evinced no interest in it so far.

While Parliament was in logjam, in sheer exasperation, President Pranab Mukherjee told the MPs: “For God’s sake, do your job.” For good measure, he reminded them that their job was “debate, dissension and decision”, and the fourth D, disruption, was unacceptable.

Parliamentary institutions are vital limbs of democracy. They are the forums where governments outline their programmes and elected representatives ventilate the grievances of the people. Their becoming dysfunctional is a sure sign of corruption of the democratic system. The President’s warning was, therefore, timely.

However, Democracy – with a capital D – involves much more than holding elections every five years and elected bodies meeting at regular intervals, which happen under other systems too. Thanks to the Constitution, change of government takes place at the Centre and in the states periodically, but the real test of the democratic system is whether the administrations are able to render social, economic and political justice to all citizens.

While farmers unable to repay small loans are taking their own lives, the government has been allowing banks to write off huge sums owed by big businessmen. How can a state which puts the interests of one per cent above those of 99 per cent be called democratic?

Governments are spending billions of rupees on erecting statues of heroes of the past, whose memory has come down to the present on the strength of what they did in their lifetime, while millions are going without food, shelter, medicine and education. That is not the way a democracy functions.

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 The author is a political analyst of reckoning

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