COLLAPSE OF PARLIAMENTARY DEMOCRACY ?

The continued disruptions of the Lok Sabha provoked a strong reaction from a sidelined BJP veteran, LK Advani. The latter has blamed both Speaker Sumitra Mahajan and his one-time protégé, Parliamentary Affairs Minister Ananth Kumar, for the logjam. Advani gave voice to public disgust at the systemic paralysis. The Advani rap has re-emphasised the established democratic norm that it is the ruling party’s responsibility to smoothly run Parliament. Prime Minister Modi’s call to the party MPs to “expose” the Opposition got lost in the political excitement that Advani’s sudden outburst generated.

Opposition parties, too, need to understand that noise is not a substitute for debate. A divided Opposition has weakened its case to corner the government on demonetization. AAP and TMC insist on a repeal of the demonetisation notification. Most parties support the move against black money but agitate over its flawed implementation without offering alternatives or ways to plug loopholes.

In the final analyses, both sides have managed to skip debate on priority issues and the Prime Minister also needs to take the blame.

Modi’s commitment to Parliament has been questioned by some constitutional experts like Badri Raina (who taught at Delhi University). The Prime Minister has shown a distinct preference for communicating directly to the nation in a format where conversation or questioning is excluded. This political leadership style “naturally finds Parliament an irritating and cacophonous forum where anybody might exercise the Constitutional right to query the chief executive of the country. Thus, even when a parliament session might be on, the executive shows only a proforma and perfunctory willingness, at reduced levels, to answer to points of concern however crucial and widespread these might be to the life of the nation”.

Thus, writes Raina “in the current imbroglio about the decision to render some 86 per cent of the nation’s active currency defunct, Modi chose not to leave the announcement to the Reserve Bank of India but took it upon himself to use prime time television to make the declaration. Even more significantly, as we write, the demands raised by a united Opposition in Parliament notwithstanding — that the prime minister sit through the debate on the issue, having made the declaration in person, Modi has thus far chosen to disregard this constitutional propriety, if not imperative, and to make a direct reference to those who follow his twitter account about the rightness or not of the decision to demonetise.

“This latter move then must raise the question whether Parliament has a key constitutional role or not in supervising the executive branch of the state. The other very disquieting aspect of the current logjam is the rhetoric unleashed by the right-wing outside and inside Parliament which seeks, ab initio and ipso facto to dub all sceptical voices, including those of the elected representatives of the people, as driven, not even allegedly, by their support for corrupt systems and practices”.