Many of my senior colleagues have spoken about the history of our Parliament through the last six decades, and indeed, it reminds us about the idealism and strong sense of duty, service and commitment to the Idea of India that was the hallmark and signature of our early Parliamentarians.
When Nehruji and other founding fathers referred to the Majesty of the Parliament, they were no doubt referring to the moral authority of Parliament based on this idealism and commitment to the country of its MPs.
While I share the view of many that Indian Parliamentary democracy has, no doubt, been a success and a beacon to countries and people all over the world, it should be our endeavor on this day, and indeed in coming days, to introspect on the functioning and efficacy of Parliament as an institution.
Let us start by acknowledging that while our Parliamentary democracy is vibrant and well as free and fair elections bear out – the cynicism of our Parliament and Parliamentarians is at an all time high. Our usual response to this is that it is media driven or middle class angst driven, or we use some other alibi to move the focus away from the message to the messenger who is delivering this message. But sir, there are reasons for this decline in credibility - that go beyond corruption and insensitivity. It is the almost absolute disappearance of idealism to be replaced by a strange form of Political pragmatism that is inconsistent with the thoughts, beliefs and views of our founding fathers. A classic example of the disconnect between Parliament and people is the recent debate about ‘Parliament is supreme’ vs ‘People who elect Parliament are supreme’!
We all know Parliament has two very important functions – Firstly, to deliberate and legislate, and Secondly, to ensure oversight of the executive, and its accountability and transparency in Governance.
Let me quote from a paper by Pratap Bhanu Mehta and Devesh Kapur:
“The idealized view of Parliament, as a deliberative body, where all of the considerations relevant to legislation are aired and discussed and outcomes reflect the weight of the stronger arguments, is a far cry from reality in any setting. However, in the Indian case, the problem is more acute and has worsened in recent years. Parliament in the public mind is essentially a site for adversarial combat rather than of deliberative clarity. It is for this reason, that disruptive adjournments have become main tools of parliamentary opposition rather than reasoned argument.”
So this perception of Parliament in the minds of the people needs changing – and can be changed if we can have a few Special Sessions of Parliament every year that are dedicated to deliberations on national priority issues that are bipartisan in nature – security, poverty, institutional performance – where Parliamentarians are seen being earnestly involved in discussing solutions to some of these common challenges. Such sessions will serve to get the attention of the media and the people of India to focus on the real challenges facing us, and reassure them that we are sincerely engaged in this process of finding solutions and a way. I and a few of my colleagues in Parliament like Naresh Gujralji have already written to the Prime Minister and Hon’ble Chairman suggesting this. I hope some consideration will be given to this issue.
Similarly, Parliament can do a lot more on the issue of Oversight and accountability of the executive. Let me quote Pratap Bhanu Mehta and Devesh Kapur again:
“In one sense, the incentives for monitoring and oversight of the executive simply do not exist. The effort is high and the potential pay-off limited. Opposition MPs are likely, therefore, to focus more of their attention on political scandals such as financial scams and corruption cases, where they can attack individuals, rather than try to force institutional and systemic changes. During the 1999-2004 NDA government, the then opposition Congress used all of its might to stall proceedings on various corruption scandals, but did very little to protest against systemic and governance weaknesses. Post 2004, the BJP in opposition has acted very similarly. Even with opposition focused on corruption scams, almost all of the Parliamentary probes into these scandals have led nowhere. In some cases, it likely reflects collusion within the political class to avoid institutional changes.“
I am not necessarily agreeing or disagreeing with what is being said – but we cannot avoid the fact that this is the popular perception about Parliament.
To address this, one solution is that the current form of oversight through Parliament and Standing Committees be given more respect and space. Let Governments of today and tomorrow not continue this strange tradition of ignoring the Standing Committees when they choose to do so. Let Standing Committee reports and deliberations be made available to the public as written or video transcripts. That will give people confidence that Parliament is indeed playing a role in keeping Governments honest and accountable.
In addition, Parliament should meet more often. This current trend of declining days of sittings needs reversing. My erstwhile colleague, Shri Mahendra Mohanji even moved a Private Members’ Bill in this connection. He withdrew the bill reportedly after the Government gave him an assurance that the number of sittings would be increased. I look forward to the Government fulfilling its assurance.
I wish to draw your kind attention to another worrying aspect – which is about the rights of Private members to move legislation. Private Members’ Legislative Business used to have its own importance in the past, which saw 14 Private Members’ Bills becoming Acts of Parliament. However, the last Private Bill which became an Act was in the year 1970. The last Private Bill passed by this House was the Aligarh Muslim University (Amendment) Bill, 1977 by Shri Triloki Singh, MP on 2nd March, 1979, but this could not be passed by the Lok Sabha as it was dissolved. So during the last 42 years, no Private Members’ Bill has found a place in the Statute Book in India. In contrast, in the UK, half the Legislative Business is done through Private Members. It is a matter of concern that these days, Private Members’ Business has become a casualty in the House. If the House has to discuss another issue, the Private Members’ Legislative Business or Private Members’ Resolutions are postponed or even cancelled without any hesitation. The Members who wait for the introduction of their Bills or the moving of their Bills for consideration or their Private Resolutions, are not even consulted, even as a matter of courtesy. The Government also does not take Private Members’ Bills seriously. The Bills are taken routinely and an assurance to take up the issue is given and the Member is asked to withdraw his Bill.
Lastly, the issue of Parliament House – Sir, this building is the repository of the history of our democracy and Republic. Great men and women have walked here and great thoughts and ideas have been debated here. But in recent times, the building and complex has become a far cry from what it should be – Instead of representing the majesty of Parliament, it is beginning to resemble, feel and smell like many other Government offices that are all over Delhi. The incident of a few days ago, should trigger us into taking action to bring back our Parliament House to its past glory and dignity from its current decaying state. Thousands of young Indians visit Parliament House. Let them go inspired by the building, instead of holding their nose and underwhelmed by the papers and rubbish strewn, and chaos all over the building. Please Sir, I request you and the Hon’ble Parliamentary Affairs Minister - let us treat this building as a monument to our democracy and start a programme of refurbishing and restoring it to its pristine historical state.
I conclude by wishing the people of India, my state Karnataka and city Bangalore, and all my colleagues in Parliament the very best on this 60th anniversary of Parliament, and to all my seniors my respects, and my most grateful thanks to Shri H. D. Deve Gowda and the leadership of the Congress and BJP who gave me the opportunity to be a part of this House for the last six years and coming six years. It is my privilege to serve and to be here.
Thank you. Jai Hind.
This was speech made by Mr. Rajeev Chandrasekhar in Rajya Sabha during the special session to commemorate 60th Anniversary of Indian Parliament on May 13th 2012