Food security ordinance: How netas are killing Parliament

Let’s face it. Parliament is no more about debates, it is about numbers. In the age of maximalist positions, grand posturing and inflexible political egos, there’s little point discussing whether
ordinances are a justifiable resort to law-making. They are not.

However, given the present turbulent political equations among parties and the general state of polity, it’s probably the only way laws could be passed in the country.

The government taking the ordinance route to clear the crucial Food Security Bill is unfortunate. It is possible that the Land Acquisition Bill will go a similar way. Our political parties certainly have taken adversarial politics too far and if the current trend continues, the idea of Parliament and profound debates over issues of importance to the common people will soon be redundant in our democracy.

Check the numbers first.

As many as 370 bills were lined up for introduction in the 15th Lok Sabha. Of these, only 172 have been introduced and less than a hundred passed, some without any discussion at all. The fourteenth Lok
Sabha lost close to 25 percent of Parliament time and the current one has already lost about 30 percent.

MPs rushing to the well of the house - a typical session of Parliament

MPs rushing to the well of the house - a typical session of Parliament

Worse, the practice of parliamentarians working overtime to make up for time lost is being given a go-by too. In monetary terms, each minute our leaders spend in Parliament costs the exchequer Rs 2.5 lakh. Imagine what the disruptions cost us every year.

Who is to blame?

Laws are supposed to be passed by Parliament, which includes both the government and the opposition. It’s thus a joint responsibility. If there is a complete breakdown of the law-making process, the blame must lie equally on both. Neither the Congress, nor the BJP, nor other parties have shown great urgency - forget those stray statements in the media - in discussing the matter so far. What makes matters worse is the apparent breakdown of the communication among major political parties.

By now a pattern to the disruptions in Parliament is discernable. The logjam begins on day one, with the major opposition BJP taking a maximalist position and demanding the resignation of ministers or the Prime Minister and the Congress, leader of the ruling coalition, rebuffing it.

Allies get aligned with either side and the session is virtually over. It appears the Congress is happy with House boycotts as it helps it avoid uncomfortable questions. The BJP is satisfied because it gets media attention.

No wonder, CPM leader Sitaram Yechury suspects “match-fixing” in the House disruptions. "In the garb of PM's resignation demand, you are allowing the government a free hand to do whatever they want. This is one kind of match-fixing between BJP and the Congress... demanding the resignation is meaningless and it does not happen," he said recently, adding, "Parliament is not functioning, no debate is taking
place and there is no accountability. We want the government to be accountable to Parliament.

He hits the nail on the head. The government has a free hand to whatever it wants. And now it has a justification, however weak it is, for taking to the ordinance route to pass legislations. This is clearly not the sign of a healthy democracy. What is disturbing about it is there seems to be no way out.

If the parliamentarians decide not to work, there is little any external agency can do. The normally noisy elite outside the political system has hardly shown any interest in the virtual breakdown of the law-making machinery and process. The media’s approach to the issue has been largely perfunctory.

Dissent and disagreement are necessary parts of any democracy. Parliamentarians represent a large cross-section of interests and it is their responsibility to the country to present different points of view. Parliament is the ultimate forum for that purpose. If they abdicate that responsibility, there’s little hope for the country. Games of political one-upmanship are alright only up to a point.

Is there something that could be done? Well, our leaders can start with simple things. They can extend their working hours to make up for the lost time. Parties can be more restrained on passing whips and allow party members to vote according to their conscience. Allies should stop behaving like members of a herd and assert their individuality.

Is this too much to ask for?