All show and little substance

All show and little substance

The winter session of Parliament ended on Friday as a sham. If one expected positive proceedings during the time the two Houses were in session, then all such hopes were dashed. Though the Parliament is the country’s supreme legislative body

The winter session of Parliament ended on Friday as a sham. If one expected positive proceedings during the time the two Houses were in session, then all such hopes were dashed. Though the Parliament is the country’s supreme legislative body and is competent to legislate on all matters that are enumerated in the Union List and the Concurrent List of the Constitution and is supposed to keep a vigil on the way the Executive spends the money granted by the legislature, it is a tad unfortunate that people have been getting exasperated seeing the way the Parliament and the State Legislatures have been functioning in the last one-and-a-half decades. It also raises concern.

Since it is considered all is fair in love and war, all political parties resort to using all possible and available ammunition to run down the opponents in a no-holds-barred tirade during elections. Once in the driver’s seat, the Treasury Benchers are expected to put political considerations on the backburner and work for the overall development of the country or the state in the case of Legislative Assemblies.

The Parliament and State Assemblies are required to keep a day-to-day watch over the activities of the Executive, given that in the parliamentary system of government, the Executive is answerable to the Parliament or the Assembly, as the case may be, for all acts of omissions and commissions. The Parliament also possesses punitive powers to punish its members, and non-members, who have violated the privileges of the House. This power is not ordinarily subject to the review of the Court. But is it really happening? That is the million-dollar question.

Session after session, people of the country are left disappointed. It makes no difference to the members that part of the action is actually telecast live. The main consideration even in deciding the dates to convene the session, particularly in case of State Assemblies, veers around the accompanying advantages the ruling party would get and how to gain upper hand over the opposition.

Though legislatures are for a for deliberations on questions of public importance and serve as a ventilating chamber of public grievances and also as mirror of national life and are often described as “a nation in miniature,” it is almost always witnessed that the ruling party wants to push ahead its agenda while the Opposition wants to oppose whatever it proposes merely on political considerations, just for the heck it, so to say.

Invariably, almost all parties seem to base their calculations on the political benefits they may derive before finalising or dropping a proposal. The Parliament and the Assembly sessions are becoming extension of politics and a la party offices with the din that goes with it.

Even the Vice-President and the Chairman of Rajya Sabha, M Venkaiah Naidu, while delivering the valedictory remarks in the Upper House, said that though the Parliament is a political institution, it cannot be an extension of politics in a typical sense, which is marked by deep divisions and acrimony. He said that Parliament is an important institution for furthering the shared socio-economic goals of the nation, which are critical to fulfilling the aspirations of the citizens.

He noted that the instance of both the sides of the House reiterating their commitment to respect and uphold the high office of the Prime Minister and the former Prime Minister was the high point of the present session. The manner the House spoke in one voice and in a restrained way regarding Kulbhushan Jadhav meeting his family members in a Pakistan jail was a welcome display of political maturity.

He, however, regretted that despite discharging its responsibilities to a great extent, Rajya Sabha ends up losing some degree of the esteem of the people on account of disruptions and substantial loss of functional time. Intense and passionate submissions and debates are the order of democracy, but disruptions are certainly not, he added, and he urged the members to seriously introspect in this regard. These comments even apply to Lok Sabha.

The session concluded without passing the triple talaq Bill in Rajya Sabha. Earlier, reports said that both the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress have issued whips to their respective members, asking them to be present in both Houses. The controversial Bill, which criminalises the practice of instant divorce among Muslims, was tabled in the Rajya Sabha on Wednesday. The Congress and the opposition parties, which have numbers in their favour in the Upper House, want the proposed legislation to be referred to the Select Committee, but the BJP has rejected the demand fearing the political ramifications that come along.

Terming it ‘a historic bill,’ union Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said the Supreme Court on August 22, "called triple talaq as unconstitutional... The judges appealed to Parliament to come out with a law. Until then, it stopped the practice for six months. Even after Lok Sabha passing it, triple talaq bill is being opposed." Appealing for its expeditious passage, the Minister also said that the Congress had supported the Bill in the Lower House and asked it to clear its position here.

The ruling BJP strongly sought its expeditious passage to stop the unlawful practice. Amid noisy scenes, Prasad introduced the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill 2017 for discussion and passage, but pandemonium broke out in the Upper House with the opposition creating an uproar and the BJP countering it vociferously.

However, the opposition remained adamant on its demand for setting up of a select committee, with Congress Deputy Leader Anand Sharma moving a resolution to this effect. Sharma gave a list of opposition members to be part of the proposed select committee and asked the ruling party to suggest its names to the panel, which should give its report in the first week of the Budget Session. Besides Congress, SP and TMC, the names proposed by Sharma for the panel included leaders of AIADMK, BSP, DMK, NCP, CPI, CPI(M), TDP, RJD, BJD, JMM, IUML and nominated member KTS Tulsi.

The Congress leader, along with Derek O'Brien (TMC), also insisted on a resolution on sending the bill to a select panel. This gave rise to speculations that the government would aggressively bring in an ordinance. But sources say that the government has formulated its alternatives and is not willing to oblige the opposition. The government may instead use the deadlock to electoral advantage in Karnataka and Rajasthan. The Congress wishes to keep its minority vote bank safe in the elections in Karnataka and Rajasthan.

The situation is no different in State Assemblies. On most occasions, a session ends without deliberating on real issues as the ruling party refuses to be accommodative. In some cases, the opposition parties are in a great hurry to come to power. Instead of participating in the Assembly proceedings, they prefer launching padayatras. It’s time politicians rise above party lines and restore the dignity and esteem of the legislative bodies in the world’s largest democracy.

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