PM Modi's penchant for the ordinance is worrisome, eerily similar to Indira

The BJP government’s penchant for ordinances is the talk of the nation.

Not that Prime Minister Narendra Modi is exceptional in bypassing the parliament to pass executive orders compared to his predecessors, but that he resorted to them in the absence of “circumstances”, which make it necessary to take immediate action, is worrisome.

In fact, two ordinances - on insurance and coal - came immediately after the conclusion of the winter session of the Parliament on 23 December. While the government could have passed appropriate bills in the parliament, it waited for the session to get over to bypass it.

The President also overlooked this fact and didn’t care to see if there was any urgent circumstance that warranted the ordinance.

Associated Press

Associated Press

More importantly, the session was not without bills. The BJP passed many other bills without even discussion because of its majority. Not passing bills and waiting for the session to get over to pass the ordinance certainly was a plan. An undemocratic plan.

Eight ordinances in 225 days works out to an average of one ordinance for every 28 days. Compared to his predecessors, it may not be bad because Indira Gandhi had the same average while Narasimha Rao, IK Gujral, Charan Singh and Deve Gowda had still lower numerical tolerance. What sets Modi’s inclination towards the ordinance apart is that it becomes synonymous with his pet idea of good governance.

Other than in exceptional circumstances, passing ordinances without going through the processes of consultation and revision in the parliament is not good governance. It certainly is not democratic governance. Governance is not strict administration - it’s also about participation and accountability. Circumventing the parliament, which is meant to ensure participation and accountability so that there are checks and balances to protect the interests of the country, contradicts good governance. In fact, it’s a threat to good governance.

The compulsion of the Modi government appears to be its poor strength in the Rajya Sabha. While it can pass bills in the parliament because of its brute majority, they will face a roadblock in the upper house. The solution to such a situation is not bypassing the system itself, but to take everybody along. Why pass legislation without the will of the people?

What does the government propose to do when ordinances lapse in six weeks? Will it re-promulgate them or go on doing it again and again? It’s impossible and unlikely. However, that the decisions taken under the ordinance as long as it lasted will not be affected if the latter expires subsequently shows its inherent danger. An ordinance can be the short cut to help quarters close to the ruling party, and once its utility is served, it doesn’t matter even when it lapses.

Observers have made a comparison of the Centre’s preference for ordinance with that of the Rajasthan government, which also passed an ordinance despite having a comfortable majority in the assembly. Is it sheer audacity of power or a flawed understanding of democracy and governance?

The BJP can certainly argue that Modi is not the first to issue ordinances and that that there have been 677 ordinances so far, but a score that is comparable to Indira Gandhi doesn’t befit a champion of governance who professes to be different from the congressmen.

As V Venkatesan noted in Frontline, “the resort to ordinances by governments with brute majorities only shows that they want to avoid democratic decision-making process in the legislatures initially. Once the ordinances become a fait accompli, it is easier for the governments to replace them with legislation before they lapse without any serious discussion in the legislatures as the ordinances carry an unstated compulsion to do so to ensure ‘continuity’.”

Updated Date: Jan 08, 2015 16:21 PM

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