Parliament logjam: Can the Congress beat BJP's record of disruption?
This is perhaps a stunning example of BJP's contradictory political behaviour: the party that disrupted the Parliament the most in the last five decades crying foul that the Opposition is not allowing the house to work.
This is perhaps a stunning example of BJP’s contradictory political behaviour: the party that disrupted the Parliament the most in the last five decades crying foul that the Opposition is not allowing the house to work. The cavalier manner in which it had brought the last Lok Sabha to a historical low seems to have evaporated from its self-righteous memory as it accuses the Opposition of undemocratic behaviour.
The Congress and the Opposition want Lalitgate accused Sushma Swaraj to go without a discussion or preconditions just as the way the BJP wanted many of the UPA ministers to resign while it was in opposition during the last decade. Resign first, discuss later - was what the BJP had told the UPA then. Today, the Congress is paying back in the same coin. “What we have said is that (there will be) no discussion without resignation. Sushma has done a criminal act,” is Rahul Gandhi’s refrain.
It’s so ironic that it was the same Swaraj who in 2005 wanted the Parliament to stop and an FIR to be filed against the then External Affairs Minister Natwar Singh for his family’s alleged involvement in the Oil for Food scam in Iraq. Although he was close to Sonia Gandhi and the evidence against him was still preliminary, he was axed within a couple of months and was finally eased out of the party before the ED and a judicial committee began investigations. But both Swaraj and the BJP are now amused when Rahul says that she has done a criminal act and deserves to go to jail.
In February 2014 (during UPA II), the same Swaraj again justified her party's relentless acrimony in the Parliament. She said: “This government had so many scams, a new one came up in the interval of every session. The government wanted us to set them aside and let the parliament go on... But we had to stall the parliament to expose the government and its corruption.” What the Congress says now is no different - sack Swaraj, Vasundhara and Chauhan before you utter a word. Swaraj may recall that she hadn’t relented one bit when Sonia and Kamal Nath tried good manners with her as Narendra Modi is doing with the opposition leaders now.
The Congress is perfectly in its right to pay the BJP back in full because it was the latter that has progressively lowered the bar for legislative disruption. That its conduct was touching a new low was clear in the words of veteran journalist Khushwant Singh, who wrote in 2006: “The more I see of the way our two Houses of Parliament conduct their ‘business’, the more I feel that our Parliamentary system of governance is on the verge of collapsing. Most of my friends agree with me. The Monsoon Session clearly showed that it has been dismal failure. It was one adjournment after another on issues of trivial importance. Several mornings just about all the members were on their feet shouting at each other.”
The Hindu agonised over the plunging standards of parliament in an editorial at the same time: “In the last week, the Bhartiya Janata Party’s parliamentary conduct has plumbed new depths. The party has been behaving like a bad loser, disrupting Parliament with a gusto unbefitting the main Opposition party. It might have been possible to be good-humoured about the BJP’s zest for disorder had the party not been persistently offensive to the Speaker of the Lok Sabha. That the party’s big two did not participate in the unedifying spectacle has turned out to be illusory relief. Lal Krishna Advani thought nothing of joining those who sat on a dharna with gags—to protest the Speaker’s alleged intolerance of the Opposition. There is little of Mr. Vajpayee’s famed civility and exemplary parliamentary manner in his August 8 letter to Somnath Chatterjee.”
After the first eight sessions of UPA I, the “sitting time” lost to disruptions had reached an all-time high of 38 percent.
The 15th Lok Sabha, with UPA II government, was the crowning glory of the BJP in disruption of the Parliament - at 61 percent, its productive time was the worst in Indian legislative history. During the same period, the record for Rajya Sabha was equally dismal - 66 percent. Compared to 297 bills during the 13th Lok Sabha, when the BJP-led NDA was in power and Congress in opposition, the UPA II could pass only 179 out of its planned 328 bills. Several serious pieces of legislation such as Women’s Reservation Bill, Direct Taxes Code, Micro Finance Bill, Judicial Standards and Accountability Bill and the Bill enabling the introduction of Goods and Services Tax just lapsed. What was more tragic was that 60 per cent of the question time was wasted by the BJP-led acrimony.
The Congress can quote to BJP Arun Jaitely’s justification of the pandemonium in Parliament during UPA II: “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. (Defending the Indefensible, The Hindu, 28 August 2012).
The BJP is no stranger to double-speak. Whether it’s on secularism, communal riots, nuclear deal, FDI, or black money, it’s always armed with two convenient stock versions. Most of its leaders can instinctively speak with a forked tongue. What’s on display now is its double-speak on corruption, impropriety, ethics and parliamentary decorum. By exposing it, the Congress has nothing to lose. Anyway, the rulebook that the parties and the parliamentarians ought to go by has long since been thrown to the wind. Now, it’s pay back time for all those years starting with the Bofors days, as we sit back and watch with absolutely no amusement.
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