Democracy derailed

PARALYSED HOUSES

The legislature is the main arm of the government and one of the important pillars of democracy. Though the party which gains  majority forms the government and the right to rule, there is no distinction among members of the legislature and they enjoy equal rights and responsibilities. Democracy can function smoothly only when ruling as well as opposition members realise their respective roles and act according to well laid out rules and procedures.

This is the framework of the democratic rule we have accepted under an egalitarian Constitution and of which we have been proud all these years. But, in the last few months, the way our parliament, and at the state level, the Karnataka Assembly, have been interminably paralysed without work, indicates that the present generation of politicians has forgotten the art of accommodating each other’s points of view and the overall accountability to the people whom they represent.

The 2G spectrum and other scams at the Centre and the controversy surrounding land grabbing in Karnataka are extremely serious issues which expose the culpability of the ruling establishment in looting the wealth of the people. Apart from the public forums, the media and the judiciary, the legislature is by far the most important institution which should discuss and debate the wrong-doings and suggest measures while considering legislation to prevent their recurrence.

Instead, what we have been witnessing in parliament and in the Karnataka legislature is a complete breakdown of communication, adamant posturing, clash of egos and filibustering on either side. So much so, the legislators have abdicated their responsibilities and made the common people more cynical of politicians.

The BJP and other opposition parties stalled the entire winter session of parliament -- to score a dubious first -- and threaten to do the same with the upcoming budget session demanding a joint parliamentary committee (JPC) to probe the 2G spectrum and other scandals. There have been occasions when JPCs were formed for much smaller scams – and there was clearly a case for doing so now – but the ruling UPA government is hell-bent on not conceding the demand this time.

 The BJP should have realised that its moral posturing at the Centre has been weakened by its inability to act against its own government in Karnataka facing corruption charges and, in fact, its national president Nitin Gadkari’s whole-hearted endorsement of the Yeddyurappa government has given the UPA government a fig leaf to try and brazen out far more serious allegations against it.

But the UPA has a much greater responsibility of heading a government at the Centre and the comparison is extremely childish. It is time both the UPA government and the combined opposition realised that they need to end their stand-off on the constitution of a JPC and arrive at a solution to move forward.

Ammunition available

Instead of merely harping on a JPC probe and not being able to initiate any discussion at all, the opposition should use all the ammunition already available with it and use the parliamentary forum to seek answers from the government on the allegations. As indicated by the Supreme Court, it is far more important to force the government to constitute special courts to bring the culprits to justice in a time-bound manner. The government will also have to put in place a transparent mechanism and less discretion for individual ministers to ensure against the repeat of 2G spectrum-type scandals.

Similarly, in the Karnataka Assembly, the opposition had much to gain by exposing the government of all its shenanigans on the floor of the House than by stalling the proceedings for five full days just because its adjournment motion was rejected.

If the Congress and the JD(S) had worked out their strategies properly, they could have confronted the Yeddyurappa government on the floor of the legislature with all the allegations they have been airing outside and forced his government to come up with replies. It was also important to ensure that through debates, the acts of omissions and commissions of the government became a part of the records of the House and from the opposition’s point of view, a permanent black mark on the functioning of the BJP government.

But by sticking to a no-adjournment-no-debate stand, the Congress and the JD(S) achieved nothing and virtually allowed the government off the hook. The recent zilla and taluk panchayat election results revealed that the BJP’s stock has come down considerably and here was an opportunity to pull it down further by using the best platform available in a parliamentary democracy. Alas, it was not to be.

The Congress and the JD(S) also must be regretting that they stayed away from the Appachu Ranjan committee which inquired into the incidents that took place during the confidence vote on October 11, last year. It was no doubt one of the most shameful episodes in the history of the Karnataka legislature, but one is not sure whether this committee was justified in ‘unilaterally’ recommending suspension of eight legislators from the membership of the Assembly for one year and seven others for six months for what it has termed as “creating pandemonium, lowering the dignity of the House and curbing the rights of other members.”

The ‘crime’ of these offending members is, unfortunately, as ‘routine’ as it has become across political parties, but the proposed punishment is extraordinary to say the least. It leaves one with a nasty feeling that the recommendation is part of a ‘game plan’ to somehow ensure the Yeddyurappa government’s majority by means fair or foul.

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