Why can't our parties learn to behave from British MPs?

All of India is agonising over the parliamentary deadlock that has disrupted business for days on end, with no prospect of an early end. In forum after forum, the general public have made clear their utter disgust with what’s going on – and what’s not going on – in Parliament. Yet, our wretched parliamentarians themselves appear to be tone-deaf to the bilious kolaveri mood of the people.

At a time when the country’s economic prospects are looking grim, with inflation running high, when truckloads of work remains to be done and, if anything, everybody ought to be working together, our MPs, whom we sent to Parliament ostensibly to make things better for us, are playing blatantly partisan games, at enormous cost to the economy and to the polity.

For sure, every party will have its defence for its own conduct: the ruling party will allege that it’s the Opposition that’s to blame for the failure to function. The Opposition will, in turn, claim that the onus of ensuring proper parliamentary proceedings lies with the ruling party.

 Why cant our parties learn to behave from British MPs?

In 1956, the Lok Sabha met for the highest number of days in any year – 151; the Rajya Sabha met for 113 days. Today, the average is only about 60 days. Reuters

But no amount of this meaningless back-and-forth can justify the colossal waste of parliamentary time and taxpayers’ money. Honestly, a plague on both their houses – and on both the Houses of Parliament.

It isn’t just about this session of Parliament. The research agency PRS Legislative Research, which monitors the progress of bills through Parliament, has calculated that during the monsoon session, too, Parliament fell significantly short of its legislative plans. Then, as now, proceedings were marred by disruptions on several occasions.

Against the 34 bills listed for introduction (and 37 bills for consideration and passing) in the monsoon session, only 13 bills were introduced. And only 10 bills were passed by both Houses of Parliament and sent to the president for assent.

The Budget session was even worse, and over 80 percent of the budget demands were not even discussed.

Over a longer time frame too, our parliamentarians are doing a shoddy job. For instance, since the 1950s, the number of days that Parliament meets has steadily declined. Indicatively in 1956, the Lok Sabha met for the highest number of days in any year – 151; the Rajya Sabha met for 113 days.

Today, the average is only about 60 days.

Indicatively, the Upper House of the British parliament sits for 136 days in a year.

That’s not the only area in which our MPs can draw inspiration from the British parliament. There are provisions in the rules of parliamentary business that make for orderly conduct of business, and yet provide enough scope for the Opposition to embarrass the government.

For instance, under the Standing Order of the House of Commons, 20 ‘Opposition days’ are allocated for every parliamentary session. Of those 20 days, 17 are set aside for the largest Oppposition party and three for the other parties.

On these days, the Opposition parties can take up any subject of topical interest, and matters selected on those days have precedence over government business. Typically, the Opposition parties take up those issues on which they reckon they can embarrass the government. For instance, during one Opposition Day in 2009, the Gordon Brown government suffered a shock defeat in the House of Commons on its policy or restricting the rights of former Gurkhas to settle in the UK.

Sure, democracy sometimes gets feisty and cannot entirely be tamed with rules and bylaws. But disruption for days on end, of the sorts we’re witnessing today, is perversion of another kind. In a larger sense, it is unparliamentary and undemocratic.

Politics, it is often said, is the art of the possible. But with their cussed partisan behaviour and their regular disruptions of Parliament, our leaders have reduced politics to a street brawl that does nobody any good.

Meanwhile, the people are watching them with a sense of utter disbelief and helplessness . This frustration finds itself in regrettable ways – as when Harvinder Singh let Sharad Pawar have it. If our parliamentarians and leaders are to be spared more such ignominy, perhaps they should got their act together – in Parliament and outside.

But here's something all our parliamentarians should be able to agree on: a free junket to Westminster and the British parliament to learn and observe how to conduct themselves.

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Updated Date: Dec 02, 2011 15:43:59 IST