Demonetisation: PM Modi's avoidance of Parliament is serious and mocks democracy
Prime Minister Narendra Modi's absence is not born out of necessity but perhaps the unstated belief that Parliament deserves no explanations or answers.
At the height of the Weimer Republic, many Germans derided their Reichstag (parliament) as the "teuerste Gesangsverein Deutschlands" (the most expensive singing club) because their "elected representatives" gathered there only to sing 'Deutschland-Deutschland' and listen to Hitler's speeches during sessions.
Unfortunately, on current evidence, it is not even song and bhashan in the Indian Republic.
The Indian Parliament, considering the current arc of democracy, runs the risk of turning into India's most expensive shouting club where members gather just to rant and scream while the Prime Minister makes his speeches on Twitter, in Tokyo, at election rallies close to the site of a train accident that kills 146 people and at rock concerts.
How the mind harks back to the man who promised to treat it like a temple of democracy! How it goes back to PM Modi's first tears in a series of many that were to periodically move the lachrymose nation! Standing on the footsteps of Parliament on 20 May 2014, after becoming the PM-elect, Modi prostrated at the main entrance and after choking on his words declared: "This is the temple of democracy."
Ironically, the temple is still there, but the chief priest (sevak, if you will) is busy at concerts. And the bhakts (devotees) are dancing to rejoice the sacrilege.
How we are reminded of Arun Jaitley's sermons while he was leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha during UPA 2. Of his words: "Parliamentary obstructionism should be avoided. It is a weapon to be used in the rarest of the rare cases… If parliamentary accountability is subverted and a debate is intended to be used merely to put a lid on parliamentary accountability, it is then a legitimate tactic for the Opposition to expose the government through parliamentary instruments available at its command."
It has been almost a fortnight since Modi disrupted the life of a nation of 125 crore with his "demonetisation" experiment. Without any debate, without consulting his colleagues, keeping even top functionaries in the dark, he has brought millions of Indians on the road — both literally and figuratively.
Since then he has laughed, cried and recited Bob Dylan poetry but evaded the very thing he was elected for — face Parliament, debate his decision on the floor of the House with representatives of the 69 percent Indians who did not vote for him. Like the Weimer Republic, he seems to have unilaterally accorded himself the powers and privileges of the 'Enabling Act' without even going through perfunctory parliamentary motions.
India, it must be reminded, is a parliamentary democracy and not a tin-pot dictatorship or an oligarchy where decisions are taken by a cabal in a closed room and then handed down the line for people to follow and execute. Parliament is the fountain of our democracy, the place from where every Indian institution derives its moral, legal and administrative legitimacy. So, even if the PM enjoys executive powers, he can't avoid Parliament, especially when it is in session and deny it the right to debate and question his decisions. He is duty bound to face and be answerable to it.
It is clear from the government's history, the PM just won't find enough time for Parliament. But, if Twitter is the new pulpit of the high priest of the "temple of democracy, why not wind up Parliament completely? Why not rewind the clock and turn our Republic into a Mughalia-Timuria sultanate where the ruler sits on his peacock throne and issues firmans after holding a darbar-e-khas?
The argument that the PM doesn't need to bother engaging Parliament because he has the approval of the people and the Opposition can be circumvented is flawed. To consider some "baazaru-type" opinion polls (PM's own words) as vox dei is tantamount to ignoring the lessons of history.
Since when have opinion polls become a reflection of popular mood and thus a pretext for ignoring Parliament? Since the days they forecast a resounding win for the BJP in Bihar? Since the days Britain believed Brexit was just an empty jumla? Since the days opinion polls predicted Hillary Clinton has 82 percent chance of becoming US president?
The problem with the PM's refusal to face Parliament is all the more serious because he has no logical reason to do so. The government enjoys a comfortable majority, the Opposition is fragmented and leaderless, and the PM himself is a master of rhetoric and oratory. But, it seems he has utter contempt for the Opposition and uses his silence as a strategy to ridicule his rivals and make debates look like a waste of time. His absence is not born out of necessity but perhaps the unstated belief that Parliament deserves no explanations or answers.
But, this is a dangerous precedent. Even at the height of the Opposition ruckus during the UPA scams, for whatever it was worth, the then prime minister Manmohan Singh used to sit poker-faced in Parliament, showing that even if he did not have the courage to respond to charges and questions, he at least had enough regard for the rituals of democracy. But, Modi is setting a precedent that could have disastrous ramifications in the future: He is telling us that Indian PM is not the primus inter pares, but the supreme leader.
That, the temple of democracy can wait because the demigod of democracy is busy at a concert.
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