A Necessary Thaw

Necessary Thaw

Something highly unexpected rather rare happened in the Indian Parliament on Wednesday (28th Dec,2017). In what seems to many a result of back-channel dialogue between the government and the Congress-led opposition, both-sides decided to take a step back and allow the Parliament to function. Representatives from both sides stood up in Parliament and as matured actors in a robust democracy took back some of the statements that were made in recent election atmosphere. It was due to these issues that the Winter session till today had been non-functional.

Here, it is also important to highlight that since 2000, it is this year that the Parliament had worked for the least duration – by the end of this year it will have met for only 57 days as against the annual average of 70 days since 2000. Although the budget session this year went relatively smoothly, but almost the entire Monsoon and now the Winter session has been rendered dysfunctional by continuous disruptions. In this backdrop, the lowering of guards from both the sides for the sake of Parliamentary democracy to function is a welcome step.

What really happened on Wednesday ?

Earlier in the day, it was the Union Finance Minister, Arun Jaitley, who made a bold statement on the ridiculous remarks made by Prime Minister Narendra Modi against former PM Mammohan Singh and former Vice President Hamid Ansari in the course of Gujarat election campaign. He said that, ” the PM in his speeches did not question, nor meant to question, the commitment to this nation, of either Singh or Ansari”. It is imperative to mark here that earlier during his campaign in Gujarat, PM Modi in his rhetorical style, had made a very disturbing statement where he labelled a meeting held at the dinner party hosted by senior Congress leader, where Pakistan’s ambassador and former Army officials were also present, as a conspiracy against the BJP and himself personally.

It was shocking because for the first time a sitting PM had from a public platform made such offensive and derogatory remarks about a former Prime Minister. As expected, his remarks may have fetched BJP some extra seats in Gujarat by further polarising the electorate, but it brought humiliation and disrespect to the Office of the Prime Minister. Thankfully, however in what may be a result of a compromise with the opposition, Arun Jaitley took back the PM’s statement. This was then followed by the Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha and the senior congressmen, Ghulam Nabi Azad dissociating Congress Party from the remarks made by Shri Mani Shankar Aiyar. Azad clarified that the Congress distances itself from any statement made by its member that “may have hurt the dignity of the prime ministerial office”.

Implications of the thaw

A democracy is made functional through political parties. It is the political parties who win or lose in elections and subsequently either become a part of the government or the opposition. Both these roles are equally significant. What is important is that a fine balance is maintained between constructive criticism of the government and standing shoulder to shoulder with it where national interests are at stake. In a polity, which is highly antagonistic the chances of them (the government and the opposition) of standing together on critical national issues become less in compared to a principled polity.

A degree of antagonism is always desirable and valuable too, because it keeps the executive in check and the opposition vigilant. However, the line between constructive criticism and disruption is often very thin and blurry. Where one ends and the other begin might not be crystal clear always. In such situations, a healthy behind the stage dialogue becomes important. If the leaders share mutual respect for each other and have a common objective of achieving what is best for the nation, then such mechanisms become easy to institute.

In this case, as it looks, both the government and the opposition have acted in a mature manner as they must have held backdoor conversations and finally come to the conclusion of making this compromise. No one has lost here. Only the Indian democracy has won. Finally, seeing the rate of acceleration of decline of public discourse in India, this thaw has come at an appropriate time and must now compel them both to further introspect.

-Contributed by Kunwar Suryansh

Picture Credits: financialexpress.com

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