Let’s start with some number crunching. Each hour of Parliament session costs the public exchequer Rs 25 lakh. Our lawmakers work for eight hours during a regular session day. When they refuse to work for the entire day, the burden on the exchequer comes to Rs 2 crore. The loss to the country from house adjournments so far in this session is thus Rs 8 crore.
Admitted, in a country accustomed to fancy numbers such as Rs 1.86 lakh crore and Rs 1.76 lakh crore this amount is not sexy enough. It’s not good enough to make it to the newspaper headlines or be a subject of animated television debates. But still you and I pay for this amount. The numbers would be more interesting if you add up the losses from disruptions during all the sessions in the last three years.
Think of the other loss to the country. Several important bills are pending clearance in Parliament. All these are crucial to a country stranded in policy confusion in several areas and in the middle of a financial crisis. These include, the Land Acquisition and Rehabilitation Bill, Banking Laws Amendment Bill, Prevention of Money Laundering Bill and the Whistleblower’s Bill among others.
It’s interesting that our normally vociferous media have shown little urgency over the loss to the country from members refusing to let Parliament function. We still don’t have debates on prime time television on the subject and there are hardly any newspaper reports on it. It appears the opinion-makers are too obsessed with 'notional’ losses to detect the 'actual' losses.
The unhealthy tradition was started by the Congress. It refused to acknowledge the presence of the then Defence Minister George Fernandes for three years during the NDA regime citing he was made minister despite an enquiry pending against him the in defence scam exposed by the Tehelka magazine. It refused to treat him with silence even as he kept waiting for questions in the house. The party, however, did not boycott Parliament entirely.
The BJP, the self-proclaimed party with a difference, has gone one better or worse, if you please. It has turned boycotting Parliament into a regular political strategy. It is not clear whether it would reap rich political dividend out of the exercise, but it is clear that the loss to the nation from the strategy has been heavy. The demand for the prime minister’s resignation without even a debate in the house on the coal allocation issue does not appear sensible.
The sanctity of Parliament — leaders had called it the the temple of democracy repeatedly during the Lokpal debate — stands violated. And both the Congress and the BJP stand guilty. It was expected that after the scorn and humiliation poured by members of Team Anna during the Lokpal agitation, the leaders would mend their ways. Their conduct was condemned in public during the agitation. Nothing has changed after the experience. The signal emanating from our political class is disheartening indeed.
The media do not complain. Simply because they are the beneficiary of the trend. Television studios have substituted for Parliament. Politicians are more comfortable airing their opinion here than indulging in meaningful debate in the house. The logic is rather uncomplicated. Television allows them easy reach to a larger audience. They can get into theatrics here and make a point, with little help from a friendly anchor, without being rebutted point by point. They do not have to face uncomfortable counter questions from the invisible audience. The other media keep getting their daily dose of news too as press conferences have become a more than twice a daily affair.
The problem is there is no end to the problem in sight. If it is the BJP this time, it could be the Congress stalling house proceedings when it is in the Opposition benches. It’s time to begin a calculation on the notional loss to the country from the irresponsible behaviour of our leaders. It could be staggering indeed.