Narendra Modi-led BJP's nationwide fast to protest against the washout of Parliament session. The BJP had earlier announced that the National Democratic Alliance MPs would forego salaries along with allowances for 23 days due to the washout of the second-half of the Budget Session. Such symbolic gestures cannot absolve the government and the ruling party of their responsibility in ensuring that parliament functions productively.
Act, not fast, Mr Modi!
According to PRS Legislative, a research initiative that tracks the work of Parliament, the Budget Session was least productive since 2000. The two houses also spent the least amount of time spent on debating the Budget since 2000.
M N Kaul and S L Shakdher in 'Practice and Procedure of Parliament,' said, "It is the responsibility of the Speaker to maintain order in house and for this purpose, he or she exercises all powers necessary for enforcing his/her decision." This book is considered as the Bible for Parliamentary procedures and even the presiding officers of legislatures consult this.
Are the Prime minister and the BJP president and leaders protesting against the Speaker's failure to discharge this constitutional responsibility despite having all the powers to regulate the proceedings of the house and maintain order in the house?
As per the Indian Constitution, even the court has no jurisdiction to interfere in any way with the control of the house over its internal proceedings or call in question the validity of its proceedings on the ground of any alleged irregularity or procedure.
The Supreme court in Raja Ram Pal vs. The Hon'ble Speaker, Lok Sabha, and others, 2007, has even upheld the power of Parliament to expel a member to maintain order in the house. The NDA which has the majority in the house failed miserably in ensuring the smooth functioning of the house.
The Prime Minister being the leader of the house has the foremost responsibility to ensure that the Parliament functions properly. Precisely for this reason, the Parliament is vested with unassailable powers to regulate itself. The NDA government had no problem in getting the budget passed in Parliament without any debate or discussion. The same initiative was amiss in regard to no-confidence motion.
Thus, subject to the provisions of the Constitution, Parliament and state legislatures can regulate their own procedures (M N Kaul and S L Shakdher, et al ). In Shrikishen vs. state of Hyderabad, 1956, Hyderabad High Court said that the presiding officer of Parliament is not subject to the jurisdiction of the courts in exercise of those powers. Similarly, the Allahabad High Court in Raj Narain Singh vs. Govind Kher, 1954, said that the courts have no jurisdiction to issue a writ, direction or order relating to a matter in respect of what is done in the house or which affects the internal affairs of the house.
The no-confidence motion is the most important of the Parliamentary motions as the survival of the government depends upon the outcome of the motion. Therefore, it is the responsibility of the house to ensure that the motion is taken up. There is a clearly laid down Parliamentary procedure to deal with the grave obstruction in the house.
The Rule 374A of Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business in Lok Sabha which came into effect from December 5, 2001 states that in the event of grave disorder occasioned by a member coming into the well of the house or abusing the rules of the house persistently and wilfully obstructing its business by shouting slogans or otherwise, such members shall, on being named by the Speaker, stand automatically suspended from the service of the house for five consecutive sittings or the reminder of the session whichever is less.
This rule primarily aims at doing away with the requirement of moving a motion and its adoption for securing suspension of a member from the service of the house. Under this rule, merely naming of the member by the Speaker is enough to secure his suspension for five consecutive sittings or reminder of the session, whichever is less.
Interestingly, this rule was incorporated in the rules of procedure of parliament during the first NDA regime. But, now there is no effort to enforce this rule.
The question now is why this rule was not invoked to ensure that the no-confidence motion is taken up. Should we blame only the erring members when the rules of the Parliament allow for remedial action to deal with such errant behaviour. If a law is violated not just the one who did so, even the law enforcement authority that fails to take action on those who violated the law is also accountable.
Thus, the Prime Minister's fast is not just an indictment of the opposition responsible for the din in the house but also of the presiding officer for not enforcing the rules of procedure of the house.
Normally, the government takes the initiative to resolve the impasse in the house. The leaders of government who refused to take any worthwhile initiative to resolve the deadlock would like to sit on fast to divert the attention of the nation from the manner in which no-confidence motion was not taken up despite clear support from more than 10% of MPs.
The central government's failure to accord special status to Andhra Pradesh as per its own promise and the intransigence of the Modi government in implementing the apex court order to setup Cauvery Management Board were the reasons for trouble in the house. The effect was the disorder in the house. The cause was the government's apathy. Thus, the leaders of the government have no moral right to go on fast for something for which they too are equally responsible if not more.
Besides, a political novice can also infer that AIADMK was acting at the behest of BJP. The AIADMK refused to support the no-confidence motion revealing their solidarity with the BJP. Thus, the disorder was an orchestrated attempt of the ruling NDA to escape from parliamentary scrutiny through the no-trust motion. This is much more appalling as the there is no threat to the government that enjoys a comfortable majority in the house.