Judiciary, Legislature and Executive constitute the three pillars of any democracy while media as the watchdog is generally considered as the fourth estate. However, there is a fifth element, which inarguably defines the health of a nation and is also a symbol of peaceful co-dwelling.
On the face of it, the Executive, or the government of the day, is accountable to Parliament and State Legislatures while the latter are accountable to the people of the country. It is not for nothing that it is the people who make or mar governments. Such is the power they wield over nation-building exercises. People play a very important role in any democracy and hence are the key factors for survival of the democratic system,What goes without saying is that the way the leaders perform on the floor of the august houses goes a long way in establishing individual credibility as also stand testimony to the intention of the Treasury and the Opposition benches.
The floor of the legislatures has become a political ground to settle scores instead of discussing and debating about the people’s issues. Searching for solutions that could be implemented in order to make the life of the common man qualitatively better has ceased to be on the agenda during any session.
The Question Hour has become customary. The opposition parties lack focus and do not do any homework to nail the government and make the ministers accountable. The government, on the other hand, tries to bulldoze the opposition on every issue. As a consequence, there are deadlocks and stalemates, one too many. Unless this crisis-like situation is better handled, it would not be possible to make people holding the highest offices accountable for governance and financial setbacks.
Certain decisions are taken at the Business Advisory Committee (BAC) meetings but they are never followed leading to ruckus. With consensus eluding every issue, the House has become political battle ground. A time has come when there is an urgent need for far-reaching Parliamentary reforms, as a means, to ensure that positive changes occur in the working styles of Parliament and legislatures. As of now, they are more like tea joints where a no-holds-barred antagonism is the order of the day.
In the recent times it has been noticed that once the ruling party gets absolute majority, it tries to decimate the opposition parties. We have seen this in the two Telugu-speaking States. During the good old days both Parliament and parliamentarians were working with dignity and authority. Records also indicate that the then members used to attend parliamentary sessions after doing serious homework and arming themselves with facts and figures to either take on the government or blunt opposition tirades, as the case could be.
Many commanded reverence with their steadfast performances. When they spoke there would be hushed silence in the House. Outstanding debates were common, and functioning of the executive was criticised and debated by the ruling party itself. To put it simply, from being a place where serious business used to take place, the legislatures are undergoing transition that does not bode well for any functional democracy. There is an alarming insensitivity towards the parliamentary system.
There is also substantial change in the vocabulary of parliamentary politics in contemporary India. The frequency of disruptions through walkouts has become the norm and not an exception. Quality time is wasted on trivial political controversies, disorder and theatrics. The then Chairman of Rajya Sabha, Hamid Ansari, once said that, “it has been observed that members tend to raise issues concerning them at the expense of Question Hour.” There is a gospel-like truth in this erudite man’s observation.
Our parliamentarians seem to be missing opportunities to strengthen the legislature. Non-participation in parliamentary sittings and debates, question hours, budget-related discussions, and what not, has become a bane and makes for a mockery of established norms. The latest example of this attitude is the YSRCP, which happens to be the only opposition party in Andhra Assembly. They not only boycotted the monsoon session but also announced that it would be likewise in every session till the next elections.
People elect their representatives so that they work for them and develop the constituency. Sadly, the parliamentarians are failing to imbibe values and are failing to live up to the expectations of their voters. If no corrective measures are taken, people would lose faith in parliamentary system and politicians. A general impression is going around among the people that even a non-serious candidate can become a legislator if he has economic and muscle power. Perhaps, they are not wrong.
May be that is the reason why most of the time we do not find civilised behaviour on the floor of the house. They appear to be playing more to the gallery by resorting to disruptions, walkouts and protests even on inconsequential issues. The decision to have live telecast of the proceedings has also triggered this attitude to great extent. The original idea of having live telecast was to enable the people to know what exactly was being discussed and debated on the floor of the House. There is also a steady decline in the number of days the sessions are held.
Even the bills are being passed in a routine manner. No serious discussion takes place and the opposition recommendations are never accepted. The amendments are defeated by voice vote. The parliamentarians have stopped competing with each other and this has resulted in a decline in quality of debates. Matters of public importance are being ignored while those requiring least attention are discussed for long hours. The Parliament and the Assemblies are being used as grounds to test the power of their vocal chords.
As a result, discussions on important issues like social welfare, civil rights and national security are almost ignored. A situation is arising where the law makers on one hand make laws and on the other they themselves break them. Debates are the soul of Parliament. That soul is under serious assault. Torn between the polarity of no work – caused by a hostile, tit-for-tat opposition – and the speedy passage of bills to make up for lost time, there’s virtually no time or inclination for discourse that richens a democracy.
The duration of serious discussion has come down and even a serious issue is taken up under the rule of short discussion rather than take it up in the form of a calling attention motion. Everything is becoming mechanically mundane. At the end of the session the ruling party blames the opposition for derailing the proceedings and quotes statistics pertaining to the questions answered, which includes un-starred questions for which the government only gives written replies and no discussion takes place. The questioner cannot even ask a supplementary. They also roll out figures of issues discussed but all of them would be under short duration discussion. Even bills are being passed without serious discussion.
In such a scenario, there is an urgent need to draw lessons from their own records or try to emulate the best practices prevalent all over the world. Only ringing in positive change in the working style of Parliament and Legislatures can help India take pride in its largest democracy tag.