Parliament logjam eroding the basic tenets of India's representative democracy

Many questions could be raised about the recent impasse in Parliament. The Winter Session, which was scheduled from 16 November to 16 December, is in danger of a complete washout with just three working days left in kitty. For starters, it could be argued that this a massive waste of taxpayer money.

Government estimates recorded in 2012 hold that the cost of running the Lok Sabha is Rs 2.5 lakh per minute, which comes round to Rs 1.5 crore per hour or Rs 9 crore per day since the Lower House has a six-hour daily roster. The Rajya Sabha, which runs usually for an hour less, sets back the exchequer by Rs 1.1 crore per hour, or Rs 5.5 crore per day. The logjam has washed roughly Rs 391 crore down the drain so far.

Apart from this criminal waste, the washout also reflects a complete abdication of responsibility on the part of the lawmakers and none among the treasury benches or the Opposition can take the moral high ground. A weird situation has emerged where MPs in absence of any real incentives in breaking the logjam, limit themselves to little else than empty posturing. The disgraceful conduct has drawn sharp censors from President Pranab Mukherjee and BJP patriarch LK Advani but we are no closer to breaking the deadlock.

 Parliament logjam eroding the basic tenets of Indias representative democracy

Representational image. PTI

But the biggest casualty of this nihilistic exercise is the Parliament itself as an institution. In this world of daily disruptions, ruckus and perpetual adjournments, the basic tenets of our representative democracy are getting irreparably damaged. It presents a sorry picture for a demographically young nation. Bulk of the population that enjoy voting rights in India are children of the economic reforms. To their minds, this Kafkaesque absurdism raises legitimate questions on the efficacy of the Parliament and whether or not we should move towards a more Presidential form of government where the premier may wield centralised power.

As Badri Raina writes in The Indian Express, "It is to be noted that a new generation of Indians, post the neo-liberal opening up of the economy… have like their peers in other countries, shown a marked impatience with representative democratic processes. This new aspirational class of Indians can thus be seen to be vocally favourable to tendencies which mean to centralise political power in order to facilitate a greater and smoother centralisation of the productive life of the country, away from structures of democratic scrutiny and interrogation." 

This could be disastrous for us in the long run. Let us consider why.

In nearly all metrics, India lags behind China with whom we like to draw frequent comparisons. It is generally considered that China's single-party system of governance makes a streamlined chain of command possible which enables leaders to take quick decisions, as opposed to India where democracy necessitates building of consensus — a time-consuming exercise in such a heterogeneous and culturally diverse nation. As a result India's rise in every field, in comparison to China, has been slow. This, when coupled with the continuous logjam in Parliament, presents a convincing case for a more centralised system of governance that can't be held ransom to Opposition antics.

This is a slippery slope. Howsoever painstaking and slow, consensus creates a fundamentally sound base which allows for a more stable growth. Chinese experiments with the 'Great Leap Forward' helmed by Mao Zedong and the resultant economic collapse in the 1950s carries for us a grave warning. If power becomes too centralised in a leader, even well-intentioned moves may create hollow, unsustainable growth. The Great Leap resulted in famine, snuffing out 45 million lives. The Cultural Revolution created even more discontent. China eventually put in a place a long-term plan of growth that is now paying them dividends.

Manoj Joshi writes in The Times of India on the Chinese trajectory of progress: "Another type of top down process began thereafter, one based on long-range planning, sustained implementation and sophisticated leadership. In the 1975-85 period, China got over the Cultural Revolution and provided near-universal literacy and healthcare to its society. From 1985-2000 China sought out FDI to create a world class infrastructure and manufacturing capability. After acceding to the WTO in 2001, the economy took off." 

The point, therefore, is that by making Parliament defunct, the government and the Opposition are undermining a pivotal Indian institution the role of which cannot be overestimated in our representative democracy. In this regard, the Opposition is guilty of even greater dereliction of duty because their myopic tactics are letting Narendra Modi government avoid debates and escape legislative scrutiny for its actions.

The government must be held accountable for each of its actions, especially when it has unleashed such a radical, disruptive change such as demonetisation.

If the Narendra Modi government is guilty of being obtuse because it wants the discussion to be held under no other Sections except 193, the rival parties too are to be blamed for frequently changing the goalpost. The demand that the prime minister be present during discussion in Rajya Sabha changed to insistence over his participation and later, when Modi appeared ready for a debate, the Opposition then sought his apology.

While Modi has tried to exploit the gridlock by shifting towards a direct referendum paradigm — be it launching impromptu opinion polls through his app, appearing in frequent public rallies or addressing the nation through his radio monologue — the Opposition has looked completely devoid of any coherent strategy through which they may force Modi to play by their terms.

And as this game of one-upmanship continues, the Parliament hurtles towards an invalid future. This we cannot afford.

Updated Date: Dec 12, 2016 15:31:19 IST