Parliament in Crisis?

We live in the world’s largest representative parliamentary democracy. While representative democracy demands that the representatives of the citizens handle legislation with expertise and skill, the parliamentary form of government ensures the functional responsibility and accountability of the executive to the legislature. It is the skeletal framework of the Indian Parliament that accommodates people’s representatives and provides them space to debate, discuss and deliberate on public matters, while politics is the blood and flesh that keeps it functioning.

However, the changing dynamics of Indian politics, socio-economic issues, representation and power-sharing arrangements have been affecting the functioning of the Indian Parliament. In recent years, the combined role of these factors evince crisis of the Indian Parliament and its decline.

The first issue is the criminalisation of politics, which poses both a question and a challenge. Data from the Association for Democratic Reforms indicates that with 179 out of the 543 elected MP’s, the current 16th Lok Sabha has the highest number of MP’s facing criminal cases. In the case of over 100 MP’s, there are allegations of heinous crimes against women, and kidnapping. Amongst the ruling party’s MP’s, as many as 107 have criminal cases pending against them, which suggests the simultaneous working of money and muscle power on one side and representation on the other. The Supreme Court, maintaining its “lakshman rekha”, suggested the Parliament to come up with a legislation to bar candidates confronting criminal charges.

Here, we must realise that these candidates maximize a party’s electoral gain, and that our representatives from these parties are our law-makers as well. This begs the question of why anyone would make a law against themselves, and whether it enables the availability of a meaningful choice for the people, who either choose to elect tainted candidates or are influenced by muscle power and money to finalize their representation. It is seen that well-established and wealthier candidates, along with candidates facing criminal cases, win elections, that too at a higher rate. So, the nature of our current electoral representation itself poses a question and challenge

Furthermore, there has been a decline in the productivity of the Parliament in the past few years, due to abrupt adjournments, walkouts, protests, and other disruptive activities, hailed as a way to get answers from the government. When in session, the Parliament works 6 hours a day. During this time, it has to pass bills undergoing discussions, criticism, debates, and amendments, for issues such as the vandalism of statues, agrarian crisis, Demonetisation, bank scams, review of the Supreme Court’s order on the SC/ST act, and the debate about a special status for the state of Andhra Pradesh. However, this time has mostly been spent on disruptions.

Additionally, there has been a deterioration in the quality of debates and criticisms by the opposition in particular. During the initial Nehru years, the Cabinet had five non-Congress ministers from the opposition. This is a testament to the level of tolerance not just within the Cabinet but within the Parliament. But now, Parliamentarians are using the Parliament as a platform for scathing attacks and mockery, with the opposition seemingly focusing only at denigrating the government.

The rule of quorum is another issue. It refers to the minimum number of members required to transact the business of a house. Constitutionally, it’s fixed at one-tenth of the total membership of the house. Occasionally, intentional or co-incidental absenteeism also becomes a hindrance and has, in the recent past, been responsible for adjournments. Even the Prime Minister is being questioned for his preoccupation with international visits, conducting rallies, and low attendance at the house. However, it is not mandatory for him to sign the attendance register. Though, whether Parliamentarians should have compulsory attendance like school students may be another matter of discussion.

All these issues have proven to be hindrances to the passing of bills and smooth discussions on policy matters. Plenty of bills don’t gain any attention, some lapse as per constitutional specifications, and only a few are enacted, due to the paucity of time. All this indicates the degree of ineffectiveness of the supreme law-making body of the country. People’s expectations, interests and demands would reach this forum and be adequately addressed if the representatives performed all their intended roles rather than fulfilling solely the principled criticism of the acts and policies of the government through protests and clamours. It is, of course, the job of representatives, but they must not forget that their legitimacy to act so is derived from elections and the voters, and that after elections their acts must evince their moral credibility– otherwise, the verdict may prove to be punitive.

Picture Credits : thebetterindia

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