Her Majesty’s Alternative Government─The Opposition

Liberal Democracies have proven to be one of the most just and popular formats of structuring political life in modern States. The efficiency of the check and balance mechanism feeds into the democratic essence of the government institutions like the executive, the legislative and the judiciary. In this regard, India is one of the largest democracies in the world, having retained its faith of democratic ideals despite the cultural heterogeneity embedded in the Indian traditional society. The Indian Constitution is a detailed manifestation, drawing inspiration from frameworks around the world. The British ideals have played a significant role in this regard, as the Indian Constitution takes heavily from the British polity.

One of the foundation principles in this regard has been the Parliamentary system. As in Britain, India also follows a Parliamentary form of Democracy, with an overlap of the Legislative and Executive branches. This overlap brings to the fore a major issue with regard to the potential dominance of the government due to its overpowering presence and influence in the conduct of the legislature. What becomes important at this point is the Role of the Opposition. In Britain, the nomenclature itself provides for the pivotal position that the Opposition commands, as it is known as ‘Her Majesty’s Alternative Government’. The Indian Constitution does not attach such a name to the Opposition; nevertheless, the functions remain similar and equally consequential.

To state it simply, the Opposition is entrusted with the responsibility of preventing the government from becoming authoritative and unaccountable. The democratic Constitution outlines several instruments that the Opposition can use in ensuring transparency such as the Question Hour, No-confidence Motion, etc. Of late, however, the Indian polity has undergone a change that has diluted and in fact, even contaminated the gravity of most of the political institutions operating in the country. The dilution has been worse in case of the institutions involving direct elections. The nature of the Opposition has particularly been affected, with a constantly deteriorating quality of its functioning.

It can be observed that over the years, successive oppositions have made a mockery of their position by indulging in recurrent walk-outs, dharnas, bandhs, use of deplorable language, etc. Parliamentary proceedings have seldom been utilised to express discontent in a dignified manner. A constant resort to unparliamentary or extra-parliamentary manners has considerably degraded the stature of the Parliament. The conduct has also been undignified during public interactions, political campaigns, comments made by official spokespersons etc. The lack of quality is distinctly visible in the telecasts of the parliamentary proceedings.

The Opposition today seems to be obsessed with obstructionist manners, while the underlying objective behind the tasks of the Opposition seems to have been long forgotten. To trace back time to the Congress era of 1950-60s, and make a comparison, the contrast seems to be agonizing. The faith that the Constituent Assembly had placed on its successors to uphold the sanctity of the Indian polity unfortunately seems to have been lost in time and competitive politics. Certainly, the growth of coalition politics has tarnished the quality of the opposition to a great extent. This has happened as a result of the lack of clarity that governments and Oppositions could have had earlier which now gets compromised.

In course of the accommodation and mediation that characterise coalition of diverse political parties and ideologies, the opposition gets diluted and is not able to function effectively. Trends like these have resulted in ineffective checks on governmental functioning, giving it a free-hand in adopting hasty policies that are not well comprehended. The general masses are helpless in losing their faith on the democratic framework in the country, depicted in the increasing shares of votes cast for ‘None of the above’ or NOTA. Low voter turnout during elections also demonstrates a disillusionment that people are generally going through. For the smooth conduct of democratic politics in India, it is time the Opposition realises its responsibilities that are as vital as those of the government.

Picture Courtesy- India TV

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