Temple of democracy being defiled
Between the Lines - Kuldip Nayar - PARLIAMENT is a temple of democracy. Members are its pujaris (priests). Their purity affects the temple’s purity. If members defile it, the reputation of the temple goes down in the eyes of the people. They begin to doubt the belief it projects. Something similar is happening in Indian Parliament, which has lost its luster and does not evoke the confidence it once did. All types of ills are attributed to it. The same temple, citadel of faith, has become a laughing stock.
PARLIAMENT is a temple of democracy. Members are its pujaris (priests). Their purity affects the temple’s purity. If members defile it, the reputation of the temple goes down in the eyes of the people. They begin to doubt the belief it projects. Something similar is happening in Indian Parliament, which has lost its luster and does not evoke the confidence it once did. All types of ills are attributed to it. The same temple, citadel of faith, has become a laughing stock.
Still the fact remains that power resides in Parliament. It is because the two Houses, the Lok Sabha elected directly by the people, and the Rajya Sabha indirectly, legislate for the country. Both have lessened in esteem due to the lowering of integrity of many MPs. A rough estimate is that 30 per cent of them are involved in one or other court case.
The nation’s happy experience is that the Supreme Court has intervened when the cases have got aggravated or when MPs have been found wanting.
In recent days, the Supreme Court has once again come to the rescue of the nation to set things right. In a landmark judgment, the court has said that the representatives in parliament and state legislatures will stand disqualified as soon as they are convicted by a trial court. One hopes this applies to heinous crimes only.
The provision in the Representation of People Act has been declared ultra virus because it allowed a convicted member to stay till his final appeal has been dealt with in three months. This has been misused, and it has enabled a delinquent member to continue for years by approaching different courts. The fodder scandal case against former Bihar Chief Minister Lalu Prasad Yadav is at the trial court stage even after 17 years. Shibu Soren has become Chief Minister of Jharkhand even after having been convicted and sentenced in a murder case.
Therefore, all that matters to a member of parliament or the State legislature is to remain in the House regardless of their conviction in a court of law. Power in politics being such a driving force, morality and ethics do not matter. Likewise, the British Upper House of parliament, the House of Lords, is thinking in terms of penalizing convicted members by debarring them from the House. Among those affected is one NRI who falsely claimed 50,000 pounds in expenses and was punished with three-month suspension.
Even after the Indian Supreme Court’s judgment, the conscience of convicted MPs and MLAs has not irked them. Instead, all political parties, whatever their affiliation, have come together to undo the Supreme Court’s verdict. A constitutional amendment is sought to be passed to lay down that a member cannot be disqualified until there is a court of appeal open to him. This attitude should have touched at least the thinking MPs, but they are quiet lest they embarrass the party they belong to, or the convicted members with whom they sit.
The protest against the proposed constitutional amendment is wide and strange. People are naturally appalled because parliament goes down further in their eyes. Already, the daily adjournments and the squabbles have raised the question: Why Parliament? Each day costs Rs. 2.8 lakhs. Urgent bills are pending because they have become a point of political controversy. Parties do not seem to realize that the people’s disillusionment in some neighbouring countries has killed democratic governance.
One is not sure whether the constitutional amendment would be upheld by the Supreme Court. Article 14 guarantees equality before law. MPs cannot gang up to thwart the equality which the Supreme Court has enunciated. The Constitution debars any person from contesting elections if he has been convicted. How is a convicted MP or MLA different? It’s but natural that they should also be disqualified.
Article 14 also forms a part of the basic structure of the Constitution. It has already been accepted, following a Supreme Court judgment that the basic structure cannot be changed by Parliament. If the proposed amendment is passed, it might be thrown out by the Supreme Court on the grounds that Article 14 forms part of the basic structure.
In reality, the judiciary and parliament are on a warpath. Fortunately, the government has deferred the Bill on the appointment of judges. The government wants to have a leeway.
The court has gone through the phase when the judiciary and the government openly fought over the appointment of judges. Now a collegium system has come to be followed. The four senior judges of a High Court constitute the collegiums and decide who will be elevated to the Bench. The same procedure is for the Supreme Court judges. This arrangement has never been to the liking of the government because it gives little room for any patronage which the Executive has in mind. If the Bill which the government contemplates is thrown out by the judiciary, then what happens?
The Supreme Court may again come to the rescue. The government is to amend the Right to Information (RTI) Act to exempt political parties from transparency. The proposed Bill insulates political parties from an order by the Central Information Commission which declared them as public bodies and accountable for financial benefits.
True, the elected representatives of the people are the final authority. But what is the remedy when every segment of democratic apparatus has been politicized? Power politics has come to dictate the various steps. Because of this, parliament ceases to be the temple of democracy in the real term. On paper, it will continue to remain so. Maybe, this fact will urge parliamentarians to rise to the standards expected from them. They are the ones who can retrieve democracy from the lack of confidence in which it is stuck. The convicted members should take the initiative and voluntarily resign the moment they are convicted by a trial court. It is their moral responsibility.