The Federal webinar: ‘Slow death of parliamentary democracy in India’

In recent years the BJP government at the Centre has been accused of reducing Parliament to a ‘rubber stamp’. The Federal asks: Are Parliamentary practices getting eroded?

Parliament of India – a 'rubber stamp'? | File Photo

We are witnessing the slow death of parliamentary democracy in India.

That was the stark conclusion of one of the participants of Saturday’s (January 8) webinar organised by The Federal to ask: Are Parliamentary practices getting eroded?

 

In recent years the BJP government at the Centre has been accused of reducing Parliament to a “rubber stamp”. Opposition leaders, journalists and civil society activists have bemoaned the lack of debate in Parliament on issues of national importance. Whether it was Article 370, or the three farm laws, the government has been accused of ramming through laws in the Houses.

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The situation has deteriorated to such an extent that Chief Justice of India N.V. Ramana has felt compelled to speak up. At an event to mark Independence Day last August, Ramana said: “It seems that there is a lack of quality debate in Parliament while enacting laws. This leads to a lot of litigation and the courts, in the absence of quality debate, are unable to fathom the intent and object behind the new law.”

“Now it is a sorry state of affairs. The laws have a lot of ambiguity and the courts do not know the object and intent behind enacting of law,” the CJI said.

Saturday’s webinar was moderated by S Srinivasan, editor-in-chief, The Federal, and attended by Prof Manoj Jha, member of the Rajya Sabha and spokesperson of the Rashtriya Janata Dal; Syed Zafar Islam, member of the Rajya Sabha and national spokesperson of the Bharatiya Janata Party; and Abid Shah, a journalist who has covered Parliament for a number of years.

Prof Jha, in his opening remarks, said Parliament was perceived as an institutions that would have continuous deliberations.

“I see a gradual decline, particularly in the last 15-20 years,” Prof Jha, who is known for his muscular interventions in the Upper House, said.

In 1962, when India was at war with China, then prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru had the “guts” to call Parliament and face tough questioning, he said.

“We are losing the fundamental features which make us unique. The Idea of India is nothing if you take away democratic ethos,” Prof Jha said.

Having a majority is not a licence to practice “majoritarian ethos”, he said.

“What people are seeing is the slow death of parliamentary democracy.”

Prof Jha also said Parliament runs on the “largeheartednens” of the ruling party, adding “that plot has been lost” by the government.

“There is a total communication lapse between the Treasury and the Opposition.”

Zafar Islam, a first-time MP, said: “For Parliament to function, you need everyone’s co-operation.

“You cannot clap with one hands. There are many politicians who do not know their responsibility. Everyone has to behave constructively,” he said.

“Very often I have been obstructed. I didn’t get the opportunity to speak.”

Abid Shah, a long-time Parliament journalist, said the BJP was a very good opposition in the 1990s, when the Narasimha Rao government was in power.

He agreed with Prof Jha that responsibility for smooth running of the House rests with the Treasury benches. “The two sides [Tresury and Opposition] change, their roles change,” but that remains the basic principle, he said.

In a multiparty democracy, Parliament should reflect the collective will of the people, he said. “This used to be the case in the first few decades. There were bitter debates but in the end everyone came together.”

“Today bills are hurriedly passed. Marshals are called. There are daily dharnas outside the Houses, within the precincts of parliament. People sit in front of Gandhi ji’s statue.”

Watch the full webinar above.

 

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