Erosion of Parliamentary system

Erosion of Parliamentary system

As days are changing, there has been a qualitative erosion of parliamentary system and its functioning with the composition of the Tenth Lok Sabha....

As days are changing, there has been a qualitative erosion of parliamentary system and its functioning with the composition of the Tenth Lok Sabha. During the days of the early independent era, there were very good traditions and members kept up the prestige of parliamentary institutions.

But, today, time is wasted on non-productive and useless debates in both the Houses. Those were the memorable days when our leaders got freedom from the yoke of British imperialism. The parliament was the supreme law making and enacting body and the people showed the highest reverence and respect for it.

During the days of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, Indian democracy blossomed out to a remarkable extent at a time when despotic tendencies resulted in the establishment of totalitarian governments around India.

There were no noisy scenes in Parliament; rather democratic values were cherished and the rule of law was prevalent. Some stalwarts used to insist on their contentions and pleaded with the government to yield to their demands.

Likewise, the ‘zero hour’ came into existence and Parliament used to observe conventions and the earlier procedures.

Those were the days when great leaders like Acharya Kripalani, who was upright and outspoken, a socialist leader like Nath Pai, a great orator Atal Bihari Vajpayee, a great conventionalist like S K Patil, a Pandit well-versed in rules and conduct of the House,

Ram Subhag Singh, a seasoned parliamentarian like Bhupesh Gupta, the memorable Prof Hiren Mukherji, the convincing parliamentarian like G B Pant, the astute parliamentarian on defence matters like V K Krishna Menon and a host of others were the key figures in our parliamentary history.

This period is known as the “Golden Age of the Indian Parliament.” Pandit Nehru gave utmost credence to parliamentary institutions and studied problems in-depth. Jawaharlal Nehru once gave a reply in the Rajya Sabha about the example of President Sukarno, who used to take a number of people in a special plane to defend him.

This is the Nehruvian way of doing things. He used to speak of even minute details to the opposition and carry the day. It was only by persuasion that Nehru used to convince the opposition members, though the Congress Party had an absolute majority.

There was never any animosity among the various parties in the Nehruvian era. Though the parties had different outlooks and manifestos, there was a sort of coexistence and amity between them. What is happening today?

All the conventions and customs and procedures are being vitiated and violated. Once the Speaker announces that the question hour is over, there often arise noisy scenes ending in a pandemonium. The opposition wants to stall the government business and they want their names to be prominently published the next day in leading newspapers.

The serious obstruction by members often results in the Speaker’s adjournment of the House till lunch break. Subsequently, when the Assembly reassembles there will be few members resulting in the lack of quorum and the bell has to be rung a number of times.

In a House of more than 542 members, hardly ten members sit through the session. Soon after the question hour, the ‘zero hour’ sets in. Nobody knows the origin of the ‘zero hour.’ The term ‘zero hour’ was not used in any other of the rules and procedure books of the Houses. Rabi Ray, the Hon’ble Speaker of the Ninth Lok Sabha, gave the utmost importance to the ‘zero hour.’

He wanted a list of names to be given by various groups so that the Speaker could give a chance to them to speak on the subject one by one. In due course, suddenly, some 60 or 70 people began giving notice of an urgent matter to be discussed on the floor of the House.

This made it terrible for the Speaker to regulate business. The central hall is ideally located in between Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha. The Members of Parliament of both Houses sit together, chat, discuss what is going on in the respective Houses.

Even Indira Gandhi, when she was out of power, used to have jokes and repartees with Philo Mody. V P Singh and Morarji Desai used to spend sometime in the lobbies of the Central Hall. Rajiv Gandhi used to enjoy his coffee with other friends in the Central Hall of Parliament.

Chandrasekhar used to have his ‘press meet’ in the Central Hall and he used to ascertain whether a piece of news had come in the papers. The BJP MPs never meet in the Central Hall. They keep their strategy to themselves worried that it may be copied by others. Pandit Nehru used to intervene now and then and his aim was to satisfy all sections in party politics.

Today, things are different. The members have secretarial assistance and others write questions that are tabled for answers. Article 371 is being used in the Lok Sabha for a special purpose. But now-adays members are using this provision for even sundries.

A strange situation arises when a question of this nature is put: once, when all assemblies were dissolved and the states were under the President’s Rule, how could the election to the President in constituting the Electoral College take place? This question was asked by a Member of Parliament and later he took this issue to the Supreme Court.

Some Members of the Legislature also used Article 371 to ventilate their grievances under the jurisdiction of the municipal councils. The Parliament is constituted to make laws and enactments but most of the time the members bring in unimportant and useless business and waste the precious time of the House. No Private Members’ Bill became an enactment for the past 15 years in our Parliament.

The Parliament is only a representative body and most of the important business of both the Houses is being guillotined by the Presiding Officers for lack of time. Pandit Nehru was a legendary figure and the person who could oppose him was Shyam Prasad Mukherji.

He was the lone member elected from West Bengal on a Jan Sangh ticket, and one of the best parliamentarians for four decades. He waged war on the Preventive Detention Bill. In both the Houses, Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Prakash Veer Sastri were the two pillars who spoke in chaste Hindi, who used to keep the entire Parliament spell bound.

Feroz Gandhi was another stalwart and he exposed several scandals of the ruling party. One such is the ‘Mundhra Deal’ and when it was pressed, the then Finance Minister T T Krishnamachari was made to resign. There used to be a wordy duel among stalwarts like Acharya Kripalani, V K Krishna Menon and Purushotam Das Tandon.

Even Moulana Abdul Kalam Azad and Seth Govinddas were astute parliamentarians. In the earlier days, those people who sacrificed and went to jail were encouraged to contest the Rajya Sabha polls. In his time, Pandit Nehru used to take interest and select great stalwarts in the field of education, art and culture for Rajya Sabha nominations.

Subsequently, people with business background and those who could fund their elections are being chosen for the Parliament. There is a declining ‘professional’ involvement even though there has been some increase in the number of teachers and educationists in the parliament.

The number of women in the Lok Sabha is increasing from one General Election to another. Many of those elected to Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha do not have experience in the State Assemblies.

(Writer is former Speaker, AP Legislative Assembly)

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