Triveni Journal

1927 | 11,233,916 words

Triveni is a journal dedicated to ancient Indian culture, history, philosophy, art, spirituality, music and all sorts of literature. Triveni was founded at Madras in 1927 and since that time various authors have donated their creativity in the form of articles, covering many aspects of public life....

The Political Scene

Mamidipudi Pattabhiram

The next four months will be crucial for the nation. Elections to the Lok Sabha are going to be held, most probably, in April 1996 and all the political parties are gearing up for this important event which is going to decide their fate. The ruling Congress (I) has a big stake inasmuch as it is in power and there are wild guesses that it might not come . But there is no decisive evidence on which one could write off the ruling party nor are the other parties including the formidable BJP or even the National Front in a position as of now to offer a big challenge to the Congress (I). The National Front is now a pale shadow of what it was few years ago when it was first formed. Even the Janata Dal which is the most important constituent of the National Front is split and the two Communist parties have not added to their strength in the last five years. Thus the Congress(I) is not in such a hopeless position as some people seem to believe although elections are necessarily a gamble and it is difficult to say which party will finally come out successful. It is also being mentioned that the days of one party rule are over and the country has to go for an alliance to give a stable government. Coalition Government have been total failures at the Centre and in the States as experience shows and hence a single party rule is the best guarantee for stability. And without stability there could be no development or progress. Thus the Indian voter has a very responsible task before him but since the majority of the electorate is still illiterate it is up to the political parties to educate them. The time before them is short but they still will have to work hard. The Election Commission is getting ready to conduct this democratic exercise although in respect of Kashmir it has expressed its reservations and even turned down the proposal of the Government to go ahead with the poll. There has been bitter criticism of the decision of the Commission but there is no way the Government could have a poll conducted against the wishes of the Commission. The Prime Minister believes that the holding of elections would ultimately pave the way for normality in the State whereas the Commission had argued that normality is the prerequisite of a poll. Thus there is an irreconcilable difference between the Government and the Commission on the question of elections in Kashmir. However the matter has been taken to the Supreme Court which is examining the question whether the Commission was at all right in rejecting the Government’s plea for holding the elections. Meanwhile what has happened in Parliament during its winter session which could be the last for the present Lok Sabha was something unparalleled and deserves full consideration.

For almost a week the two Houses of Parliament were in a State of siege with the Opposition party members stalling the proceedings following the rancorous discussion on what they chose to call the “telecom Scam” demanding the resignation “here and now” of the Union Minister of State for Communications, Mr. Sukh Ram. The charge against him was that the entire Scheme of bids for providing telephone services was defective and the favour shown to a particular firm in various forms was totally wrong besides being unjustified. The merits of this particular issue apart, what has been worrying factor is the way work in the two apart, Houses has been severely hampered. The belligerent posture of the Opposition members who did not care to heed the pleas of the presiding officers to conduct themselves in an orderly fashion did not enhance their credibility although their right to embarrass the Government on an issue of this kind is never in question. In fact it is the legitimate business of the Opposition parties to bring down a Government if it is possible, but in doing so they cannot adopt any means they choose.

The rules of procedure for the guidance of the members of Parliament do clearly state that a member is not to interrupt any member who is speaking by disorderly expression although occasional interruptions are allowed to clear a point or seek information. Continuous interruptions mar the proceedings and the dignity of the House as a whole. When the Speaker rises to address the House members are enjoined to hear him in silence and any member who is then speaking or offering to speak is required to sit down. These rules are followed more in the breach than in their observance and the result is that a good deal of allotted business remains unfinished. An unintended result of the obstructionist attitude of the members is that the importance of Parliament goes devalued in the public eye. The Opposition may have gained a point or two but in the process the damage done to Parliament as a pivotal instrument in the present day Indian polity is immeasurable. Perhaps the Opposition will gain much by strictly adhering to the rules of business and caring for the directions given by the Speaker.

It must also be noted that Parliament is not the place for settling scores and by immobilising the House the Opposition may not really achieve the objective of bringing the Government to book in an ample measure. Only the other day the “members were protesting against the adjournment of the House on four occasions to mourn the death of some members but all this ended up as a mere academic exercise when the same members did not allow the House to go on until their demands for the setting up of a House Committee to go into the telecom seam and the resignation of the Minister concerned was accepted. The adjournment of the House following their unruly behaviour did not seem to have bothered them in the least. Of course this is not a rare feature and what happens ultimately is that good deal of legitimate business gets transacted within minutes without the members even realising what has happened.

In December last year, for instance, the two Houses could not carry on the normal work until the Government was made to yield to the demand of the Opposition that the report on the Sugar scandal presented by the Gyan Prakash committee was made public. The Opposition did score a point in that the Government finally gave in and Kalpanath Rai had to quit as Minister. But the entire episode led to considerable unpleasantness even as the Speaker’s plea that the rules did not permit the chair to direct the Government to dispose of a document (Gyan Prakash report in this case) in a particular way unless it was of a statutory or constitutional nature. The report did not fit into either category and it was entirely at the discretion of the Government to handle the matter as it liked. Flouting the Speaker’s rulings does not help in the smooth functioning of Parliament and if members are keen to focus issues of public importance on the floor of the House it should have to be done strictly according to well laid procedural practices.

A few months earlier during the monsoon session, it may be recalled there was a deadlock over the controversial Action Taken Report on the securities scandal and stepping up their campaign for the withdrawal of the Report, the Opposition parties, barring the AIADMK and the Muslim League, resigned from all Parliamentary Committees and also decided to boycott the rest of the session of Parliament. The Speaker’s plea of order having been rejected he had to repeatedly adjourn the House. The stalemate continued for some days even as the Prime Minister expressed his anguish over the development leading to the Parliament functioning­ without the major Opposition parties. It is not really relevant how the deadlock was finally resolved but the fact of the matter was every other business including legislative work had come to naught. Even granting that the public do not appreciate the niceties of Parliamentary practice and procedure they do recognise that Parliament’s work is greatly hampered by some members who persistently defy the chair.

There have also been occasions when members persisted in their demand for scrapping the question hour to enable the House to discuss some “urgent” issue although the Chair would not permit any departure from the accepted procedure. After all the question hour is an integral part of the day’s proceedings and in fact the most important segment of the work scheduled. It is understandable why the members should ask for its suspension knowing its importance. Several ministerial heads had rolled because the Ministers concerned could not answer the supplementaries in a convincing manner. And members who are concerned about the functioning of the House should also note that there had been occasions in the recent past when even the few listed questions could not be taken up just because the members who had given notice of them chose to be absent. This kind of indifferent attitude certainly undermines Parliament which indeed is the highest forum where the accountability of the Government is tested. Of course the loser is the Opposition and not the Government although it would not be entirely correct to blame only the Opposition for eroding the importance of Parliament.

It is no doubt true that the “scenes” in Parliament could not be entirely avoided because on occasions tempers are so frayed that letting-off steam, human nature being what it is, cannot be totally impermissible. But repetition of scenes makes them stale, undignified, unpleasant and derogatory to the country as a whole. Quoting what happened on March 1, 1968 in the Rajya Sabha Mr. H. N. Mukherjee said the supposedly Council of elders but comprising some who can score points easily over the most rumbustious Loksabha members saw for a whole hour, or more an unseemly scramble between two well known members -- while the Chair looked helplessly, for both were dauntless wordy fighters -- over something patently trivial. One thing led to another and obviously no other business could be transacted for the rest, of the day.

Addressing a conference of Presiding Officers, a former Speaker of the Lok Sabha observed that members in their zeal to raise issues and grievances on the floor of the House have tended to overstep the limits they themselves had laid down in the form of rules and regulations. While the members should ensure that Parliament’s time is not usurped by trivialities the Government should also see that its responses to the Opposition demands on major issues are adequate. It is even more unfortunate that the sessions of Parliament are being curtailed and this is a matter which should receive the urgent attention of the members especially those who adorn the Opposition benches. The long budget session was held in three phases this year contrary to the usual practice and this itself had reduced somewhat the importance of the session itself thereby adversely affecting the normal rhythm. Frequent holidays have also led to interruption of work and even the all ­important financial business was transacted in the Lok Sabha in April this year with lightning speed. There was not a murmur from the Opposition benches in protest and the usual spectacle of subjecting the demands of nearly 50 ministries and departments to the guillotine was gone through in minutes. Whether the introduction of the committee system has really helped to educate the members on the performance of the ministries and enabled them to evaluate their work better is a matter which could best be explained only by the members. At a time when so much is being said about judicial activism it would be unfortunate if legislatures all over do not assert their rightful position. There is need for actually increasing the number of sittings of Parliament so that even after the aberrations which per force stall the proceedings on particular days all the work set out for implementation is gone through. Whether it is matters like the securities scam, the nuts and bolts of the economic reforms that have been introduced in a big way, the abysmal failure of law and order in different parts of the country, the misuse of certain Articles of the Constitution to favour some political parties - these are issues that could be focused in Parliament with authority and relevance and it is up to the members from all sides to put the nation’s most prestigious forum of debate and discussion to the right use. There is no time for trifles and the distortion of the priorities that sometimes dominate Parliament should be wiped out a task which can again be executed only by its members. It should however be noted that dragging the Supreme Court as has been done by a few opposition members to pronounce its verdict on the telecommunication scam was not exactly a wise thing to do. Besides, the issues involved relate to matters which are primarily for the legislature to determine. Attempting to drag the superior judiciary into the realm of public policy must be deplored. The courts are not there to make up for the deficiencies and the inadequacies of politicians. There may well be some over lapping of jurisdictions but respect for the judiciary requires that Parliament should now go slow with the matter when once the proceedings in the court commence. In fact the members who went to court when Parliament was seized of the matter could be said to have committed: a faux pas for in the ultimate analysis this move would only act as a. check on the parliamentarians themselves. As some one said attempting to eat the cake and have it not only is throughly improper, it is also bad tactics.

December 20, 1995

Like what you read? Consider supporting this website: