The recent controversy with regard to certain ‘words’ that have ostensibly been designated as unparliamentary by the Parliament Secretariat would have been laughable had it not been portentous. There were also reports of a notification banning any protests in the precincts of the Parliament House. However, it was later clarified that the latter order was passed in 2001.
Nonetheless, what this underscores is the continuing attempt to emasculate the legislature further, which, in any case, has become practically redundant over the decades to the governance processes of the nation.
The founding fathers of the modern Indian Republic had designed the Indian constitutional scheme that envisaged that the ‘legislature’ would lie at the heart of the Indian democratic experiment. The Westminster Model that envisaged that the executive would be both the progeny of the legislature and consequently accountable to it, as a template has been systematically whittled down over the years, to a point where it has become practically redundant if not a dead letter.
The controversy over certain ‘words’ that have ostensibly been designated as unparliamentary by the Parliament Secretariat underscores the continuing attempt to emasculate the legislature.
For India's founding fathers, legislative processes were not the steamrolling and railroading of laws and policies by a dominant majority.
In 10 out of the 17 general elections held since 1952, single parties have won with overwhelming majorities. This has led to a mindset that treats the legislature as a necessary nuisance.
For the executive today, the articulation of legislators is to be heard from one ear and exorcised from the other, without letting an iota of it influence the space in between.
When Nehru Accepted Vajpayee's Demand for a Debate
The founding fathers of the Indian Republic were people who had struggled and triumphed against both imperialism and colonialism. They had been at the receiving end of the jackboot of authoritarianism, and therefore, they were imbued by the conviction that they wanted to create an India that was democratic in spirit, liberal in disposition, and pluralistic in temperament. For them, the legislative processes were not the steamrolling and railroading of laws and policies by a dominant majority. In fact, it was respecting the views of a creative minority.
Nothing demonstrates this better than former Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru’s acceptance of a demand by a young leader, the late Atal Behari Vajpayee, of a four-member party in the Rajya Sabha called the Jan Sangh, to have a full debate in both houses of Parliament on the Chinese aggression in the November of 1962, just as the border war was concurrently playing itself out on the Sino-Indian Frontier.
Contrast this with the situation today. It has been 27 months since the Chinese transgressed into the Indian Territory. Not only has there been a complete information squeeze with regard to the situation on the Line of Actual Control (LAC), but Parliament has not been allowed to have a single discussion on the Chinese aggression into Indian territory.
The irony is compounded by the fact that a former BJP MP & Cabinet Minister, Subramanian Swamy, was compelled to tweet on 15th July 2022: “Yesterday I met someone whose brother is in the army serving in Ladakh. According to his brother, Chinese PLA has advanced far across LAC into undisputed Indian Territory and is continuing slowly to further advance. Still koi aaya nahin? Does Modi understand the consequences.“
The Leaders of 'New India' are Far from Democratic
Had Parliament been a truly autonomous and powerful institution, this would have compelled the government to make a clean breast of the situation. However, the national legislature has completely lost the ability to do so for a variety of reasons.
This partly is because of the overwhelming majorities that have been handed out to single parties in 10 out of the 17 general elections held since 1952. In the latter decades of the Republic, especially, it has led to a mindset that treats the legislature as a necessary nuisance. Coupled with that, the democratic spirit that was seared into the minds and hearts of the founding fathers has also ebbed out with the passage of time. The leaders of “ New India” do not even make the pretence of being democratic.
The anti-defection law that was brought onto the statute books with all the right intentions in 1985 and further tightened in 2003 has spelt the death knell of legislative institutions. It has been singularly unsuccessful in checking defections – rather, it has exalted them from retail to wholesale. Conversely, it has made the legislature a slave of whip-driven tyranny and has completely squashed the impulses of conscience, proscribed the dictates of common sense and squelched even the imperatives of the constituency from the hallowed portals of Parliament and legislatures.
India Is Now a Two-Horse Republic
If it would have been a pre-1985 situation when there was no Tenth Schedule of the Constitution, some brave men and women even on the Treasury Benches would have called out the government qua the Chinese ingress. That personal survival is triumphing over the larger national interest in the legislatures is, I am afraid, unfortunately, and regrettably, the case.
Given the brute majorities that governments enjoy, they do not consider it necessary to really listen to the concerns of legislatures. For the executive, the articulation of legislators is to be heard from one ear and exorcised from the other, without letting an iota of it influence the space in between.
Nothing underscores this better than the fact that an overwhelming number of state legislatures do not meet for more than a month in a whole year. Assembly sessions are as infinitesimal as a day or two. A legislator or a parliamentarian today is nothing more than an ‘intermediary’ between the people and the executive. Their contribution to making better laws or policies is virtually non-existent.
The fact is that India has become a two-horse Republic. One horse is the executive and the other is the judiciary, whose autonomy and credibility even as the upholder of fundamental freedoms are under severe stress, to put it very mildly. The third horse, the legislature, has perished somewhere along the way. The crisis, therefore, of India’s legislative institutions, is way beyond some unparliamentary expressions or the right to hold demonstrations in its precincts.
(The author is an MP, lawyer and a former I&B Minister. Views are personal. This is an opinion article and the views expressed are the author's own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)