This may be a bad time to champion the cause of lawmakers in India. It’s not just the revolting sight of the members of Karnataka or Goa assemblies bargaining away personal ethics and public morality for ministerial berths.
The MPs and MLAs have hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons in the past two months: a BJP MLA hitting a civic official with a cricket bat in Indore; a Congress MLA leading a mud attack on a deputy engineer of the NHAI on Mumbai-Goa highway; a BJP MP’s associates attacking a toll plaza employee in Agra; a BJP MLA’s daughter alleging threat to her life from the father for marrying a Dalit; and a former BJP MLA threatening to spill a chief minister’s blood.
The questionable conduct of these few, however, can’t be the yardstick to judge all lawmakers, most of whom have public interests in their hearts and minds. Each of them represents a million or more people but, contrary to common perception, wields little power where it matters – in Parliament. They make laws, but only technically. They speak, but as per a script. Their words and actions must follow their party lines.
Also read: In a rush to pass bills, 17th Lok Sabha is not scrutinising future laws enough
There was one forum where they could, to a certain extent, speak their minds – the parliamentary committees. But, with just a week left of the first session of the new Lok Sabha, no department-related parliamentary committees are in place. The Finance Bill, demands for grants, and Appropriation Bill have been passed by the Lok Sabha and are set to be passed by the Rajya Sabha – all without any legislative scrutiny.
Over half-a-dozen other bills have been passed without such scrutiny. The government is now preparing to push some controversial bills, such as amendment to the RTI Act, when there are no standing committees to raise the red flag, if needed.
When Congress leader Anand Sharma stressed the need for legislative scrutiny of important bills in the Rajya Sabha last Thursday, Union minister Piyush Goyal dismissed his objections, citing Narendra Modi government’s “track record” vis-à-vis the previous regimes. Poll-battered Congress legislators didn’t have the will to fight on.
It’s the Narendra Modi government, and not Parliament, that is virtually making laws. The government brings the bill. MPs make customary speeches as per their party lines. Opposition MPs point out lacunae, if any, which are brushed aside. The bill is passed, mostly by voice vote. Voting, if any, is symbolic. The message is clear: A government with such a brute majority can’t make mistakes. Rajya Sabha’s approval is no longer a concern as regional parties scramble to be on the side of the Treasury Benches.
That’s why the lawmakers in New Delhi should be thankful to their brethren in Bengaluru. Their experiments with loyalty have brought the focus back on anti-defection laws, especially the party whip.
Also read: What an Indian law can do to MLAs defecting in Karnataka & Goa – nothing
Way back in 2010, Congress MP Manish Tewari had moved a private member’s bill in the Lok Sabha to amend the anti-defection law to free parliamentarians from the fear of disqualification for taking a line independent of the party in all matters, except votes of confidence and money bills that concerned the government’s survival.
Tewari was a first-term MP then, and had a lot of fire in his belly. A majority of MPs agreed with him, though strictly off-the-record. They all felt the tyranny of the party whip that forced them to vote as their party dictated and not as per their own conscience or judgement based on merit and reasoning.
In 2016, Tewari wrote in a signed article: “Thirty-one years after the 1985 law, perhaps the time has come to assess as to how this statute-imposed morality squares up against a legislator’s right to vote according to his conscience, convictions, common sense and constituency concerns.”
The world’s largest democracy should probably take a tip or two from arguably the oldest democracy, the US. Last week, four Republicans voted with Democrats for a motion condemning President Donald Trump’s “racist” language against four Congresswomen. Last month, too, four Senate Republicans had voted with the Democrats to check Trump’s war powers. Think of a BJP lawmaker voting against a bill in the Lok Sabha.
So, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi warns BJP MPs against absenteeism during the Parliament session, not many see much merit in it.
The empty seats in both the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha last Friday afternoon certainly didn’t show any defiance of the Prime Minister’s warning; it showed what the parliamentarians think about their role in legislative business.
Manish Tewari is back in this Lok Sabha after a medically forced absence from the last one. It’s probably a good time for him to revive his old bill and test the waters again. The Prime Minister is known to respond positively to well-intentioned ideas and suggestions. He may probably see merit in empowering the lawmakers to express their ideas and exercise their rights freely when it comes to making laws.
Also read: From India to Israel, laws are chipping away at democracy around the world
As for the other aspects of the 10th Schedule of the Constitution, we have umpteen examples in the past 34 years that show how political loyalty and morality can’t be enforced by law. Let the voters decide their fate.
Examples from the US democracy perhaps does not fit well with our democracy – examples from the UK would be suitable, where we do not find such examples. Parliamentary Democracy is based on party system and party system implies the party discipline, sometimes tyranny, in the form of whips.
It has always been debated whether the lawmakers could be permitted to go by their conscience, while participating and voting in the Parliament. But always we have to settle with the idea of lawmakers towing party line. For if they are allowed to always go according to their conscience, the Parliamentary system itself will be at stake. The member becomes a party man agreeing to the party ideology and ethos, are elected being supported by the party, one foregoes his personal liberties to go his own way in public domain – Parliamentary proceedings included.
But here there are two things – One, in the party forums, where every decision that the party is about to take or every bill or motion or resolution that the party proposes to place on the floor of the house is discussed ( or should be discussed ), the member concerned is free to speak out his conscience, discuss, fight, bring home his points and contribute to taking a stand or decision. Two, in the Parliamentary committes, where the bills are properly scrutinized and analysed, the member could still put out his conscience. But the essence of Parliamentary Democracy remains in the party system and one has to respect this.
Indira ji once asked her party lawmakers to listen to once conscience and vote for Me Giri as President, who was not the party’s official candidate – here was a party leader asking the members to vote as per their conscience revolting and disregarding the party command and thus split happened in the party itself. This is the example of voting as per conscience in a party system of govt.
But this would lead to a deeper theory of party democracy.
Today we have killed party democracy virtually in all our parties. The so called leaders make coutrie and decide everything from policies to principles. In initial years there would be elections in Congress and decisions would be taken democratically. But soon not less than a person than Mahatma Gandhi started pushing his says which would go beyond discussions and elections and the party would adopt it. Whether this was good or bad for the Congress and/or for the times to come, is a different issue but this was the beginning of pushing personal ideas into a party exploiting one’s image and love of the people. Later, Nehru adopted the same tricks whenever he was likely to face a dissent. After that this became a rule for Congress and continued till Congress reached on the verge of crumbling on its own lest saved by a family. Unfortunately, BJP has contracted the same disease and Modi ji is allowed to overshadow the party. Initially, it may be enjoyable for everybody but it has a huge price tag attached to it, which the party pays in far future.
Fact remains, however, the lawmakers can not be permitted to go as per their conscience in a Parliamentary Democracy and they must go by the party discipline, while always trying to make their party more and more Democratic.
The things happening in Karnataka or Goa or elsewhere do not indicate the voice of conscience, but a sinister design to grab power, chair and, rather crudely, the Money by whatever means.
If at all, any one can find out precisely the amount incurred on Five Star captivity of the lawmakers and the source of these amounts in Karnataka, all the dirt under wraps will come out.
Our lawmakers, unfortunately loose conscience much before they reach the temples of democracy – they become all above conscience!
As such, in our system party discipline is required to be strengthened further and lawmakers are made adhering to that strictly. We are seeing almost everyday lawmakers behaving irresponsibly and even taking laws in their hands. Even apperant warning and pulling from Modi ji himself does not appear to have desired effects – what is going to happen if everyone is left to go by his/her conscience!
Congress is still in kinder garden for learning the role of opposition politics and it has yet to take the position of main opposition party after being in power for most of the time after 1947. Congress is also refusing to read the messages given by the people in 2014 and now in 2019. Being confrontationalist, inventing fake controversies, not showing interest in meaning debates, unable to come out of superiority complex, not contributing positively, always ignoring people’s wishes and not allowing parliament to have peaceful and meaningful debates Congress has only shown the negative side of opposition. Modi government can’t wait for opposition to contribute positively. Journalists like DK Singh is having untreatable heart burn and continue to churn useless stuff.
It would be wonderful if such preponderance of power – not just executive but now legislative as well – was translating into fantastic outcomes on governance and development.
When the opposition’s only desire and ambition is to thwart the functioning of the Parliament and stall its proceedings by shouting, rushing to the Well of the House and forcing adjournments through their pandemonium, why should the Government not take advantage of such a negative behaviour? No one prevents them from raising issues, arguments and voting against the government. The worst culprit in all this is Rahul & his Congress. He simply hates the very idea of Modi in the PM’s chair.
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