- NL Sena
The concluding piece in a three-part series. It is a recollection of the major systematic overtures the Modi government has made on the institution of Parliament since coming to power in 2014.
Read the second part about how the Modi government has started an era of Ordinance Raj and avoided proving its legitimacy in Parliament here.
The Monsoon Session will begin on July 18 and is the penultimate full Parliament session for this government. That is if we don’t count the Budget Session next year, since it’ll be super-close to the general elections. Going by the events of this summer – where we saw epic disruptions, bulldozing of the Budget with a few Bills thrown in casually, and the scuttling of a no-confidence motion – we are unlikely to see any productive sessions from this point forward.
Interestingly enough, unlike between 2013 and 14, there is no narrative of “policy paralysis” being played up this time around. Technically speaking, there is no policy paralysis. It’s more like policy on steroids. Since this trigger-happy government is only too eager to push legislation through, whether Parliament gets disrupted or not, and issue ordinances when it isn’t functioning at all.
How are they getting away with this? Easy. I call it Legislative Whataboutery. What we are seeing is the clever usage of past precedence to justify the systematic destruction of the institution of Parliament.
Past sins redux
The Bharatiya Janata Party spent a lot of time in the Opposition till 2014. They have seen and faced multiple overtures unleashed on them, citizens of India and Parliament. All of it was done systematically and deliberately by the Indian National Congress-ruled governments.
Back in 2013, when protests broke out against cronyism and high-level corruption, the BJP was consistently disrupting both houses of Parliament, not allowing them to function. They were demanding answers from the United Progressive Alliance government, while their ministers were being just plain arrogant and the then-prime minister was remaining silent for the most part.
It would be incorrect to say that the Modi government is completely responsible for the state of Parliament today. The truth is, degradation of the institution of Parliament has been a gradual process which has been unleashed overtime. It just seems to have accelerated lately owing to the presence of a majority government. There are past precedents for every overture this government is unleashing in Parliament today.
If we talk about the Budget being passed without discussion, it has happened before. In 2013, the Budget and Finance Bill were cleared by Parliament without discussion. That move was engineered by P Chidambaram and Speaker Meira Kumar who said, “However, under the prevailing circumstances as there is very limited time for completion of the financial business, … As was decided at the BAC (Business Advisory Committee) yesterday, the Finance Bill, Appropriations Bills, Demand for Grants and the Rail Budget…Maybe passed without discussion.”
In reaction to this, the Leader of Opposition Sushma Swaraj lodged a vocal protest and said, “The media says this House has witnessed the highest number of disruptions. But the government itself is solely responsible for this situation.” This followed a walkout by not just the BJP but also the Janata Dal (United), Left parties, All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, Biju Janata Dal, Telugu Desam Party and the Trinamool Congress. They all protested this forceful passage of the Budget. The situation sounds oddly familiar, doesn’t it?
If we talk about Bills being bulldozed through, the craziest instance would be the Andhra Pradesh Reorganisation Bill which was passed in 2014 – right before the general elections – by the UPA government. In February 2014, amidst major confusion involving a Member of Parliament unleashing pepper spray in Lok Sabha, a Bill was introduced to divide Andhra Pradesh into two separate states.
Soon after, again amidst voluble protests, the Bill was passed by Lok Sabha on February 18, 2014. To make matters worse, the live telecast of Parliament proceedings was cut off abruptly and the Bill was cleared keeping the public in the dark. The BJP supported this too. In Rajya Sabha, just two days later, a demand for division voting was denied and the bill was bulldozed through by voice vote. The President assented to the Bill on March 1 and a whole new state was formed. Just like that.
Oh and, as an aside, the speaker of Lok Sabha refused to take up and discuss the no-confidence motion put against the UPA government back then. Sound familiar?
Another instance of a problematic bill being bulldozed through without discussion is the Amendment to the Information Technology Act, way back in 2008. A vague little Section 66A was casually added to the legislative shopping cart. What’s more, it was passed with 8 other Bills in 15 minutes without any discussion. This law was then used to willy-nilly arrest people for posting opinions against politicians on social media. Finally, the Supreme Court had to step in and scrap it. Again, the situation sounds oddly familiar, doesn’t it?
Through all this, the BJP was playing the part of a vocally disruptive Opposition. They were screaming “Death of Democracy”, and rightfully so. The narrative of “policy paralysis” was one of the reasons why people voted against the INC and gave the BJP a majority in 2014. It now seems like the BJP has learnt a lot from the INC and is now repeating their actions, but in a hurried manner instead of spreading it out over a decade or so.
So yeah, the attacks on the institution of Parliament were always there, governments have always been punching its pretty face. The only difference is that it used to be a drizzle, but now the punches are coming in like a cloudburst.
Outraging Opposition Redux
If we say the government is behaving the same – even if it is run by a different party after 2014 – so is the Opposition. One would think that the INC would act as a responsible Opposition party and allow the Houses to run. They used to be at the receiving end of epic disruptions so they wouldn’t want to unleash the same on someone else, right? RIGHT?
Lol, no. Of course not. It’s all about revenge now! “They didn’t let us work, so why should we, eh?” To expect our dear elected leaders to learn and behave like responsible and mature adults is a too much.
When you demand accountability from the government and for those not-in-government to amplify our demands, tired and cynical people call it an “ideal situation” these days. It’s a pipe dream, they say. Parliament is a useless place now.
After decades of punching Parliament in the face with varying degrees of urgency, even the public is used to seeing the institution lie battered and broken. We have come to a point where a frightfully large number of people have the opinion that Parliament is a waste of time, that discussions are pointless and that it should work like a factory to pass Bills. Oh, and this situation is all thanks to the Opposition, they say. It’s the Congress which is at fault!
Now it’s important to point out that the Opposition consists of literally every other party than the BJP. They have the majority. They don’t need outside support. Every other party is free to go their own way. As a result, we have three types of Opposition in Parliament at the moment: One kind opposes everything that the BJP does, because they feel it’s their job to oppose every single thing. The second kind selectively opposes certain policies proposed by the government but supports a few, based on their own interests. The third kind are those who are technically allies with the BJP but are openly speaking out against them, criticising them and at times dissing them outside Parliament. But when it comes to passing Bills, the third kind would wholeheartedly and unquestioningly support the BJP.
Diss, Disrupt and Destroy
Vice President and ex-Parliamentary Affairs minister Venkaiah Naidu used to keep saying that Parliament is a place for three Ds: “Discuss. Debate. Decide”
It’s funny how every member, when given an opportunity, sings praises about the great institution of Parliament and how everyone respects it. Just look at the Constitution Day speeches when member after member spoke about the greatness of the Constitution and about the superior nature of our chaotic, yet functioning democracy. But when it comes to actually acting on these noble thoughts, a frightfully limited number of members put these thoughts into action. Most of them would rather “Diss. Disrupt. Destroy”.
People are dissing the institution for being just a pointless round building which is a gigantic waste of taxpayer money. Disruptions have been normalised as news channels show the House primarily when it’s in chaos, but rarely when it’s functioning. The destruction of everything it stands for has been systematic and, thanks to this majority government, has accelerated.
Our Parliament is standing at the edge of a cliff right now. It’s up to the Modi government whether it wants to push it over the edge or pull it back to safety. As citizens, all we can do is ask them to do the right thing.