People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 43

November 02, 2008


Resist This Undermining Of  Our Parliamentary Democracy

Nilotpal Basu

DR. Babasaheb Ambedkar and other stalwarts of Indian nationalism who steered the process of drafting the Constitution in the Constituent Assembly would have been in great pains had they been alive to witness what has now come to face the Indian parliament. The latest decision of the Manmohan Singh-led UPA government has created a record of ignominy which has hardly any earlier precedents. Within a week, the ongoing session, which was neither a monsoon session nor a winter session, was adjourned. And, now, the government has announced that it will reconvene the parliament from December 8 – once elections to the five state assemblies are over.

It has become apparent that the government is not interested in adjourning the parliament sine die and proroguing the House, so that the session could be convened as an independent and a full-fledged winter session as the Left parties have been demanding.

To the best of one’s knowledge, the session which was summoned on July 17, 2008 primarily to enable the trust vote on July 21-22 will now end somewhere in the third or fourth week of December, if one were to believe the government. This is the longest ever session of the parliament notwithstanding the fact that it will simultaneously create a record of sorts in terms of the least number of sittings. Parliament has hardly been treated with such utter contempt ever before.

A Betrayal against the Spirit of Constitution

The uniqueness of our Constitutional scheme lies in the design of its edifice premised on three pillars – the organs of the State – legislature, executive and judiciary. Our system has over the years sustained its strength from the independence and separation of powers of each of these. The checks and balances inherent in the arrangement has proved to be enduring and has rendered our Nation State and the system of parliamentary democracy resilient enough to overcome challenges and attempts to undermine it. That is, perhaps, the principal reason for which, unlike most other countries liberated in the post-Cold War period, India has remained immune to takeovers by dictators – military and otherwise. We have set up a unique record of uninterrupted governance by elected representatives of the people.

The major aspect of this scheme includes the principle of accountability of the executive to the legislature and in its turn, to the sovereign – the people. It is from this fundamental standpoint that the treatment meted out to the parliament by the Manmohan Singh government needs to be evaluated. The blatant attempt by the government to avoid facing the legislature is so obvious that there is hardly any need to elaborate on the burning questions that needed to be taken up for discussion and debate on the floor of the parliament.

The fact that the entire gamut of issues arising from terrorist attacks and relentless communal violence could not be appropriately addressed is one major point of concern. Similarly, the ongoing global financial crisis and its impact on our economy and financial system, which has brought about a great air of uncertainty, is yet another major question. And, not to speak of so many other challenges which continue to disrupt the life and livelihood of the overwhelming majority of our people.

By avoiding parliament, the government has, in effect, refused to redeem its accountability to not only the legislature but also to the people of this country. And, in the wake of such blatant violation of the spirit of parliamentary accountability – it is necessary to point out that such a course is also resulting in a complete negation of the legitimacy of the government. In fact, if one goes through the volumes of Constituent Assembly debates, it will be obvious that the Constitutional scheme envisaged the accountability of the executive as the cornerstone of its legitimacy.

That the government will be bereft of any legitimacy was more than apparent when it manipulated the majority during the trust vote. And, the majority that was mustered was, in itself, constructed through series of opportunistic compromises and extraneous considerations. That such a majority, which had nothing to do with the confidence and support of the people, would be extremely tenuous was also apparent. It is such an unacceptable course that has now led to the government repeatedly adjourning session after a very few sittings. But, they arrogantly refuse to convene a fresh session. That this is a ploy to avoid the possibility of a further no confidence motion is the only plausible explanation for such an obstinate refusal.

One cannot but be reminded of the fact that the government which is clearly undermining the role of the legislature is led by the same party which, in the past, has breached the continuity of five year terms for the Lok Sabha and extended its tenure in order to perpetuate the executive’s term beyond the tenure provided for in the Constitution through the declaration of internal emergency in 1975.

The Subversion from Within

In the wake of such assault on the parliament by the government, the resistance of the opposition is a prerequisite to sustain the powers of the legislature. That is how parliamentary democracy works and sustains all over the world.

But, in the present phase, this was not to be. In fact, it is outrageous that it was the leader of the opposition himself who proposed the adjournment of the session. It is clear, as it was in the past, that the principal opposition is not interested in enforcing accountability. Neither does it have any inclination to pin down the government on its omissions and commissions particularly on burning issues facing the people. Additionally, the latest round of vicious campaign of communal hate and violence which is engulfing the religious minorities of this country in a great sense of insecurity and fear could further expose the complicity of the principal opposition – the BJP – in perpetrating such a dangerous course.

It is, therefore, this complete refusal of accountability by the ruling combine, on the one hand, and the apathy of the principal opposition that makes the situation so dangerous for our parliamentary democracy. The complementarities of the two major parties send out an ominous signal. And, that is not a chance coincidence. The complete exposure of the economic and financial paradigm that has informed the policy directions of these two in the context of the current global financial crisis, their common proximity towards imperialism – all constitute the basis for undermining an adequate role to the Indian parliament.

sWHEN THE  Custodian Fails

The presiding officers play a most significant role in ensuring the independent functioning of the parliament and to ensure accountability of the government. It is through the presiding officers that the united will of the parliament asserts itself. But regrettably, not only has the clear breach of privilege by the prime minister to the effect that the government will come back to parliament before signing the India-US nuclear deal, been overlooked; but without any such requirement, even the prime minister has been handed out a clean chit.

Similarly, the continued attacks on the Christian minorities and the atmosphere of fear which is being perpetrated and the complete failure of the government made it imperative that the issue be discussed under an adjournment motion which implies a censure of the executive. This was outrightly rejected. Such a motion would actually involve a voting. Did the concern of the government to avoid voting which has led to continuation of the same session from July to December also prompted the government to try and sabotage an adjournment motion and did it rub off somewhere? These are questions which will raise their heads in these difficult times which face our parliamentary democracy.

The Indian people in the past have shown their resilience time and again in safeguarding our parliamentary democracy. This time around, there will be no exception. It is not any benevolent dictator or high sounding rhetoric of 'clean’ politicians – the louha purush or the paragons of probity in public life – that can steer the people of this country through these difficult times when they are reeling under the onslaught of policies which threaten their day-to-day life and livelihood and tend to divide them through the spreading of the venomous communal poison. That needs a complete and united mobilisation of the people, as a whole, regardless of caste, creed, religion and identity. And, that unity can be forged both inside and outside the parliament; more so when there is space for discourse and debate in parliament. Our six decades old democracy will prove to be equal to this task of ensuring the strengthening of parliamentary system and its continued assertion. Let each one of us modestly contribute towards that end.