People's Democracy

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


No. 26

June 26, 2011




Govt Again Undermines Constitutional Set-up


PANICKY and knee-jerk reactions have become a familiar characteristic of this UPA-II government. It has now decided to postpone the convening of the monsoon session of parliament. Traditionally, the monsoon session begins in the middle of July. It has now been deferred till the beginning of August. Ostensibly, this postponement is to permit the government to buy time in dealing with its negotiations with sections of the so-called “civil society” over the Lokpal legislation.


The government’s bizarre handling of this entire issue, including its fiasco with regard to Ramdev, has cast a long shadow over its competence at governance. In reality however, this postponement appears to have been done to buy time to work out a better strategy and response to the demands of the opposition in the face of growing and new scams of corruption that are surfacing, like the one in the gas sector.


In the process, however, this decision of the government only compounds the demeaning of the system of parliamentary democracy by sections of the “civil society.” Absolutely outrageous comments by some of the “civil society” leaders are being heard in the electronic media, questioning the right of the MLAs and MPs to represent the vast millions of Indians. This is nothing else but showing contempt for our parliamentary democracy and also seeking to undermine it.


According to our constitutional scheme of things, the sovereignty of the people is exercised through their representatives elected to the state legislatures and parliament. The executive (government) is both answerable and accountable to the legislature and, through them, to the people. By questioning the right of elected representatives to represent the people, this so-called “civil society” is undermining this very scheme. At the time of independence, when we adopted our republican constitution, India took a bold and courageous step in granting universal adult suffrage. Many an advanced democracy had taken decades, if not centuries, to grant this same right to its people. The strength of India’s freedom movement ensured such equality through a Constituent Assembly whose members themselves were not elected on this principle but had to have certain criteria like property ownership etc. The supremacy of the sovereignty of the people in our republican constitution was ensured through this principle of one person – one vote – one value. It is precisely this unique and most democratic form that these sections of civil society are seeking to undermine.


This contempt the “civil society” leaders have for the people, the voters and the electoral system must be rejected. These leaders will do well to remember that it is these common voters who through their electoral verdicts defeated the authoritarian streak in Indian democracy in 1977. It is this very electorate that in 2004 ensured the defeat of the communal forces to uphold the fundamental secular and democratic tenets of our republic. In the final analysis, it is this very electorate that has created conditions for ‘candle-light processions’ and ‘hunger strikes’ to be undertaken by leaders of the so-called “civil society.”


By deciding to postpone the monsoon session of parliament, this UPA-II government is only providing grist to the anti-democratic mill of such very people. Perhaps it is seeking to escape from its fate of being accountable to the legislature. This in itself will contribute to the further undermining of our constitutional scheme of things.


The Left parties have always been demanding that the parliament should sit for at least a hundred days in a calendar year. This has never been achieved in the recent decades. In fact a couple of years ago, the parliament sat for a mere 46 days. The job of the parliament is not only to legislate, which it alone can do in our country. Its job is also to make the government accountable and to draw the government’s attention to matters of public importance. Curtailment of parliament means that the government escapes from its accountability while the urgent problems burdening the people, like price rises, remain unattended. In the light of these developments, it must be made mandatory for the parliament to meet at least a hundred days --- if necessary through a constitutional amendment.


Further, it is necessary for India to have a parliamentary timetable to ensure that this objective is achieved. Such a timetable would also provide a reference frame to other constitutional authorities like the Election Commission in deciding the dates of elections to various state assemblies. The importance of this can be understood by the fact that the budget discussions had to be guillotined twice in the last four years due to elections to some state assemblies or others. Such curtailment of budgetary discussions is no healthy practice in a democracy.


Such a timetable would also prevent situations like the prime minister travelling abroad while the parliament is in session. The explanation now being given is that India has to take into account the timetables of other countries in deciding on mutually agreed dates. However, this happens only because of the absence of a timetable of our own. This weakness must be overcome immediately and a timetable must be decided upon. This would at least ensure the PM’s presence in parliament and thus the government’s accountability to the legislature.


Whatever may be the outcome of the government’s negotiations on the Lokpal legislation, a law can only be promulgated by the parliament. By delaying the convening of the parliament session, the government is only prolonging the problem and preventing its solution. This is inexcusable.


(June 22, 2011)