An endless decline

The 2016 winter session has been the least productive one for both the Rajya Sabha and the Lok Sabha in the last 15 years.

We were under the impression that Indian Parliament will regain its glory during the present NDA regime. We did notice certain visible improvements in its working in the past two years in terms of its productivity, passing of bills, attendance and participations of MPs in parliamentary proceedings. But our impression got shattered when we observed that the 2016 winter session has been the least productive session for both the Houses in the last 15 years.

Looking at the data provided by PRS Legislative Research, we can safely argue that all improvements made in the working of our parliament before this session is proved a mere aberration. Parliamentary disruptions continued over non-legislative issues like demonetisation and delay in landing of an aircraft carrying a chief minister due to air traffic issues.

While Lok Sabha lost 107 hours of scheduled time to disruptions, Rajya Sabha lost 101 hours. Out of the eight legislative bills introduced during this session, only two were passed - Taxation Laws (Second Amendment) Bill, 2016 and Rights of Persons with Disabilities Bill, 2014. In total, LS worked for 15% of the scheduled hours and RS for 18%. Further, only two of the 330 listed questions in RS could be answered orally. In LS, 11% of the questions could be answered orally. This has also been one of the least productive question hour sessions for both RS and LS.

It is now amply clear that whichever party forms the government with whatever majority, the pivotal position of parliament will continue to deteriorate. In fact, the poor narrative of the working of parliament does not suitably fit the patterns during the first one and half decades of Indian democracy. The achievements of the Nehru era have been extraordinary by any standard.

Despite the scale of his parliamentary majorities, Nehru emerged as a genuine parliamentarian as he showed great deference and sensitivity to parliament. He sought to create an atmosphere of trust and consultation with the opposition. For him, parliament was not only a moral institution but also an emblem of India’s modernity. Both parliament and parliamentarians were working with dignity and authority. Records also indicate that the MPs attended the parliamentary sessions well-prepared and were heard with rapt attention.

Outstanding debates were common and functioning of the executive was criticised and debated by the ruling party itself. While analysing the story of Indian Parliament, Morris-Jones found Nehru as the reason behind its successful working while arguing that “Perhaps India, without Nehru's leadership, might not so firmly have acquired this political system, (and) might not have been able so quickly to let it take clear shape”.

Nevertheless, a careful analysis of the parliamentary proceedings over the last three decades indicates a painful transition from a remarkable deference to the growing insensitivity of our parliamentarians towards not only the parliamentary decorum and decency but the institution as a whole. It might sound strange but the mystery of parliamentary rot is much deeper that one can perceive.

The frequency of parliamentary disruptions through walkouts has become the norm. The quality time of parliament is wasted in trivial political controversies, rowdiness, disorder and theatrics. The parliamentary perversion could also be seen not only in the falling standard of the parliamentarians but also in their marriage with crime, money, scams and demagoguery.

Are we living in the final fading years of parliamentary glory? Is parliamentary decorum and decency no more a priority in contemporary age? In this regard, five preliminary observations on the possible reason for institutional dec-line of parliament call for special attention.  First, there is a serious absence of genuine will among parliamentarians to inculcate parliamentary values in their personality. Their personal gain is prioritised over the parliamentary image and values as they use parliament as a `taken-for-granted’ institution.

Second, the democratic paradox of first-past-the post system lies in the opportunity for every non-serious candidate with muscular and economic strength having strong probabilities of winning the parliamentary seat. This is evident from the criminal records of the most of the parliamentarians and their complex nexus with corporate world. Thus, expecting civil behaviour from them is little too much an expectation.

Third, there is the aspect of digitisation of parliamentary records and televising of parliamentary proceedings. Most of the parliamentary disruptions, walkouts, protests and trivial hungama by our parliamentarians are due to the chance of being seen on TV and the consequent publicity among the electorates of their respective constituencies.

Multi-party framework
Fourth, while the multi-party framework has helped parliament emerge as platform to debate and discuss the diverse issues and interests, it has also, most of the time, been trivial in character and electoral in intent. In doing so, matters of high national and political importance are sidelined.

Fifth, there is a shift in the ownership of our parliament from the people to a few entrenched dynastic oligarchs. Parliamentary hall is treated as drawing room of these oligarchs where everything is taken for granted without any code of conduct. The issues of parliamentary accountability, decency and decorum, debate and discussions are easily sidelined as if these are small inner house family matters.

Last, there is the growing indifference among the people towards the working of Indian Parliament. While wealth, crime and political power have always colluded to some degree, there comes to a point where apathy, pseudo tolerance and indifference binds the will of the people to a fanatical idea that brings total loss of faith in the efficiency and transparency of their own institution. Our parliamentarians are taking advantage of this growing indifference as their rampant unparliamentary behaviour going unchecked. 
 
If we are not able to draw serious attention on reforming the parliamentary system, the time is not far off when our parliament will only be treated as a gossip centre like a paan shop where self-styled politicians discuss political issues with no policy or legislative outcomes.

(The writer is Associate Professor & Head, Department of Political Science, Maulana Azad National Urdu University, Hyderabad)
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