New Delhi: Senior Congress leader and Lok Sabha MP Manish Tewari has expressed shock at the way “laws have been shamelessly and brazenly railroaded” in the monsoon session of Parliament adjourned sine die Wednesday, two days before schedule.
The session has been a disappointment in more ways than one and would have serious implications on the future of the country, he added.
In an exclusive interview with ThePrint late Wednesday, Tewari responded to the comments by Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla who had spoken about being “extremely hurt” by the continued disruptions in the House as the opposition protested against the Pegasus snooping row, farm laws, and other issues since the start of the session on 19 July.
“As the presiding officer of the Lok Sabha, Speaker Om Birla is fairly justified in articulating that anguish. But unfortunately, Mr Birla was not an MP from 2009 to 2014 when these honourable traditions, that disruption is a legitimate parliamentary tactic, were consecrated in stone by the NDA-BJP,” Tewari said.
“In fact, then leader of opposition in the Rajya Sabha late Arun Jaitley and then Leader of the Opposition in Lok Sabha, the late Sushma Swaraj, had articulated ad nauseum between 2010 and 2014, that disruption is a legitimate parliamentary tactic.”
Birla had said that the productivity of the Lok Sabha was just 22 per cent, and functioned for a little over 21 hours in total. The Rajya Sabha, on the other hand, saw a productivity of 28 per cent.
Tewari reiterated the opposition demand for a discussion on Pegasus, the ongoing farmers’ agitation and the Covid management.
“But, unfortunately, the government behaved in the most cussed manner possible. And coupled with that, you had a situation where they have shamelessly and brazenly just railroaded legislation through without any debate or discussion,” he added.
The Lok Sabha passed 11 bills, each on an average taking about eight minutes and most of these bills were passed without discussion
‘Non-functional legislatures are of no use to this country’
Tewari further said that he is a “firm believer that Parliament must function and that non-functional legislatures are of no use to this country”.
The Congress leader said he had visited Birla one day during the budget session, and that BJP’s Rajya Sabha leader Piyush Goyal was also present at that meeting.
“I suggested to the honorable Speaker that one way of getting the House to run smoothly is that you have government business from 2pm to 6pm. After the government business, if you table a discussion every day, or let’s say every alternate day, on a subject which has been jointly decided by the opposition between 6 and 9 o’clock at night, you will see Parliament will function smoothly there will be no disruption,” Tewari said.
However, he added that “unfortunately Mr Goyal was not very enthusiastic about the idea”.
Tewari, a national spokesperson of the Congress and a former Union Minister of Information and Broadcasting, added that Parliament cannot function only on the government’s terms.
“You see, it’s a multi-stakeholder institution, and every stakeholder needs to walk that extra mile. Unfortunately, the BJP government thinks that it is my way or the highway. Therefore they decided to take the highway in this particular session, whereby they just railroaded all these bills through,” he added.
Tewari cited the example of bills such as the Factoring Bill and the Essential Defence Services bill that were passed in Parliament.
“And my trepidation and apprehension is that there would be serious implications of these legislations which have been passed,” he said.
‘MPs across party lines tied to whips, not conscience’
Tewari also referred to an article of his published in The Indian Express last week where he had argued about the redundancy of Parliament, as MPs are bound by party lines and cannot act on their own convictions.
“The [party] whip-driven tyranny has totally sucked out democracy from our legislative institutions. No longer can Members of Parliament vote according to their conscience, constituency, or common sense,” he said, adding that this is “true across party lines”.
“To my mind, this seems to be a flagrant violation of even the basic structure of the Constitution. But, unfortunately, this whole system of whips makes it extremely comfortable for party managers across party lines to be able to manage the flock. So, this is something which everybody is very comfortable with, and is unwilling to even talk about,” he further said.
In 2012 and 2019, Tewari said he had moved a private members bill where he proposed that whips should only apply to no-confidence motions, adjournment motions, money bills, and financial matters — areas where the stability of the government may matter.
“In the rest of the legislative space, even if the party was to issue a whip and you were to violate the whip, it should not result in your automatic disqualification,” he said.
Why Opposition needs to come together
Speaking on the revived efforts to forge opposition unity in the last few weeks on Congress initiative, Tewari said it is important for the opposition “to come together to defeat the BJP”.
Early August, Rahul Gandhi had held a breakfast meet for opposition leaders. Senior Congress leader Kapil Sibal, too, had hosted a birthday dinner for leaders from various parties.
However, Tewari refused to comment on Sibal’s birthday dinner, saying it was a “private dinner.”
“The ideal situation for the combined opposition if it believes that the idea of India is under grave threat, is to try and aspire for a situation whereby there is a direct one-on-one contest between the NDA and the opposition. It’s a desirable goal to work towards, for 2024,” said Tewari.
The Congress, he said, “has a pole position in terms of the entire conception of the opposition unity” given that the BJP is in direct contest with the Congress in around 220 of the 543 Lok Sabha seats.
“The fact is a large number of people have been concerned primarily because we lost the 2014 and 2019 elections. There is no denying that it is only a robust, integrated, and a fully revitalised Congress that would be able to be in the vanguard of the opposition’s charge, to resuscitate the idea of India, which has received a huge battery in the past seven years,” he said.
In August 2020, Tewari was one of the 23 leaders, who had written to Congress president Sonia Gandhi demanding a full-time and effective leadership.
(Edited by Paramita Ghosh)