It is a sad day for democracy when it’s daily bedlam in Parliament, with shouting members disrupting business, sometimes by invading the well of the House or at other times not letting ministers make statements on issues as grave as the murder of 39 Indians in Iraq by the ISIS. The way Minister of External Affairs Sushma Swaraj was blocked by Opposition members from making a statement in the Lok Sabha on the 39 Indians, was shameful.
It was thought that the comfortable majority that the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance government enjoys in the 16th Lok Sabha would help in the smooth running of the Lower House, which was indeed the case, initially; even though the government had a tough time getting any work done in the Rajya Sabha, with the Opposition in a majority there. But now that the Telugu Desam Party has walked out of the NDA, it too is indulging in a “free for all” in the Lok Sabha, as it engages in competitive politics with Jagan Mohan Reddy’s YSR Congress on the rather extortionist and “unconstitutional” demand of granting special status to Andhra Pradesh.
It is a different matter though that tables have been turned on both of them by their neighbour from Tamil Nadu, AIADMK, whose MPs have been creating so much ruckus, some say with encouragement from the Treasury Benches, that the two Telugu parties have not been able even to table their respective no-confidence motions against the government. In this context, it must be mentioned that even if the tabling of such motions is more about scoring political brownie points than posing any real threat to the government, it is incumbent on the Speaker’s part that such motions be tabled and discussed.
The government is comfortably placed, so there is no fear for its stability once the motion comes to vote. In fact, by initiating the debate the government will get the opportunity to put forth its argument on why granting special status is not possible and how “adequate” funds are being provided to Andhra Pradesh already. Similarly, the Punjab National Bank and NPA scams must be debated. If the government is confident that it has zero involvement in these cases of UPA-origin graft, it should use Parliament to expose the erstwhile rulers of this country. Instead, what is becoming obvious is that the ruling party lacks the ability to manage the floor of the House or derive a consensus on important issues when faced with an extra vocal Opposition. It is coming across as inept.
For that matter, the Opposition too needs to understand that just because the ruling party has been defeated in a few byelections, does not mean that it has lost its legitimacy to govern. This is not a lame-duck government. It has the numbers and the elections are still a year away. Surely, a whole year should not be wasted by forcing bills affecting people’s lives to be delayed, if not abandoned. In fact, the kind of animosity that the Opposition has been displaying towards Prime Minister Narendra Modi in particular is unhealthy for democracy. For example, it was not a pretty sight, at an earlier occasion, to see Congress MPs constantly barracking a democratically elected head of government in an attempt to disrupt his speech, while the then party president Sonia Gandhi passed them lozenges to keep their throats moistened. It was complete bedlam. Such petulant behaviour borders on the desperate and screams of existential crisis.
Moreover, our elected representatives tend to forget that Parliament cannot be seen to be a seat of chaos. People are watching. It would not be out of context to mention a Pew Global Research poll published in November last year, which saw 53% of Indian respondents saying military rule was better than democracy. This is frightening. Our MPs should be concerned that citizens have started identifying democracy with disorder and confusion. They need to realise that the heart of Indian democracy, Parliament, cannot appear as the font of confusion. If the heart malfunctions, body politic cannot survive.