Are Ugly Scenes in Parliament Mandated by Electorate and Sanctioned by Constitution?
Unruly and ugly scenes in parliament and state assemblies have become an order of the day. It is wisely said that when a person goes bankrupt of arguments and logic, he comes to yelling, abusing and, finally to blows. This may or may not be true of the frequent happenings in the temple of democracy, the Parliament. Yet the sanctity of this temple needs to be maintained. Ours is a ‘secular’ country. That is why, it looks, ‘secular’ people do not find any obnoxious in playing politics in the precincts of this temple at the cost of the common man Why should the rebellious individual not be held responsible for the loss and made to compensate the state exchequer. The Chief Justice of India has also expressed his dismay at the goings-on in Parliament. The Supreme Court should ipso facto take cognizance of the happenings and consider whether the MPs have the mandate of the people for such acts in the Parliament and whether such acts violate or not the letter and spirit of the Constitution.
In ancient times in India, there was hardly an instance of raja-maharajas having been an autocrat and cruel to his subjects. If there was any, he was dethroned sooner than later. The parliamentary institutions and elections, like the ones in the present times, were something unknown, unheard of then.
The institution of village panchayats did exist much earlier. People had great faith and respect for this institution and its members who were hailed as panch parmeshwar.
The raja-maharajas discussed every matter concerning their state in an open court where the wazirs (ministers), the saintly aacharyas, heads of the army and elders were always there for advice. The holy gurus commanded great respect as their advice was in accordance with the tenets of morality and ethics. The rulers too held them in high esteem. At times, they even overruled the king who accepted their opinion without protest. They were there not just as courtiers shaking their heads always in agreement with whatever the king thought and wanted. Though not elected by the people, yet they always had their fingers at the pulse of the people. They enjoyed people’s faith and respect.
The rulers were always one with the joys and sorrows of the people. In times of natural calamities, like drought, famine etc., they suffered as much as did their subjects.
That is why the erstwhile rulers and their dynasties, though not in power now for the last over 75 years, still continue to be held in high esteem by their people. In elections to state assemblies and parliament they, in a majority of cases proved their sway among the people.
On the other hand, those who begged for peoples’ votes with folded hands during election campaigns become masters (with very few exceptions) of the people once they get elected. They luxuriate at the cost of the people.
The erstwhile princely states surrendered their properties and lands running into tens of crores of rupees to integrate with the Union of India. In return, the then government at the Centre promised to pay them privy purses in token of nation’s gratitude to them. The amount of privy purses to them ranged from `5000 to `one and two lakhs annually. Only five-six erstwhile rulers, like Hyderabad and Patiala, were given a privy purse of about `42 lakh, later reduced to ` 20 lakh. The late PM Indira Gandhi abolished this constitutional obligation altogether.
According to reports, the Parliamentarians are given `50,000 (increased to one lakh, but reduced by 30% for a year because of Covid-19 pandemic) as monthly salary, electorate allowance of `40,000, `15,000 as office expenses and `30,000 as Secretarial assistance expenses, which works out to a total of `1,40,000 per month to each person. In addition, they are also provided with 34 free journeys by air and unlimited rail and road journeys across a year. Above all this is `5 crore placed at their disposal every year as Local Area Development Fund.
India adopted the UK’s Westminster style of parliamentary democracy. The main functions of the UK — and Indian — Parliament are (1) to check and challenge the work of the Government (scrutiny); (2) to make and change laws (legislation); (3) to debate the important issues of the day (debating); and to check and approve Government spending (budget/taxes).
The way the two houses of Parliament — the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha — functioned during the just concluded Monsoon session — and earlier sessions too — leaves no one in doubt that parliamentarians in India have just the rights to pay, perks, privileges and other facilities but no duties at all either towards the country and the people who voted for them. The conduct of a section of parliamentarians in the temple of democracy, the parliament, has not made the people of the country to raise their heads with pride.
Before the session commenced a section of members had left no one in doubt that they were determined not to let both the houses of parliament to function. The meetings the Prime Minister, Lok Sabha Speaker and the Rajya Sabha Chairman held with the opposition leaders on the eve of the session for a peaceful going proved of no consequence. The Prime Minister and other ministers in the house and outside declared that they were ready to discuss and debate any issue in the house. As the session commenced the opposition looked united not to let the parliament function and discharge its obligation towards the people. The question arises: Did the people give their mandate to their representatives for the conduct they exhibited in the house?
Outside the house, the leaders alleged that the ruling party was denying them their right to speak but in the house it was just uproar and nothing else.
A section of the parliamentarians demanded repeal of the CAA, National Register of Citizens (NRC) and the three agricultural laws. A minority of parliamentarians seems to be trying to impose their will on the majority, a negation of the spirit of democracy. They accuse the ruling party of being fascist. But the boot seems to be in the other leg.
They don’t have with them the strength of majority or logic but only the road-roller weight of shouting, unruly and rowdy behavior on their side. Further, the house of parliament is not the place where political parties should promote their political agenda at public cost.
What was the signal the parliamentarians sent out to children, young, adults and the elders of the country and other democracies of the world? It seems, they think that it is their divine political right to create ugly and rowdy scenes not to let parliament function.
The disruptions in parliament have left the public exchequer to bleed from two sides. One, the public representatives hold a tamasha at the cost of the people as they continue to draw full pay, allowances and perks. Two, by not allowing the house to conduct its legislative business the state exchequer, this time, was put to a further loss of `144 crore, i.e. `2.5 lakh per minute.
This situation also raises the question whether what they do in the house has the mandate of the people who elected them. Does it also have the sanction of the Constitution? Or does this unruly conduct in the house form a part of their parliamentary privileges?
However, there has been an exception too. A public representative from Biju Janta Dal, Shri Jai Panda, did declare that he will not accept the salary for two months since parliament has not been able to work for the welfare of the people during this period.
Amidst the ugly scenes and sloganeering some bills were passed by the parliament. This has attracted the ire of the Chief Justice of India Justice NV Ramana over bills hurriedly passed without debate and discussion. This raises another question: Can a minority in a house hold the majority to ransom preventing the parliament from performing its constitutional functions? If it can, then it will mean minority sitting lord over the majority, a negation of the spirit of democracy.
It is time to remedy the situation lest we are rendered a laughing stock of all. The honour and prestige of the country and the future of democracy is at stake.
By Amba Charan Vashishth
(The writer is a Delhi-based political analyst and commentator)