People's Democracy

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


No. 51

December 18, 2011

Who is Denigrating Parliament?


Prakash Karat



THE non-working of parliament for ten consecutive days during the current session has led to accusations that the opposition is bent upon disrupting parliament in order to fulfill its aim of paralysing the government and parliamentary functioning.  The corporate media mounted a concerted campaign that MPs are wantonly destroying the institution of parliament. Some young MPs, many of whom have corporate links, have demanded the application of the “No Work – No Pay” principle. But behind the smokescreen of propaganda lurks an inconvenient truth.


The truth is that the ruling Congress party and the UPA government are unwilling to abide by the tenets of parliamentary democracy. The normal democratic functioning of parliament is seen as a hindrance because the UPA does not have a secured majority in both houses of parliament.


Take the current example. The FDI in multi-brand retail trade was announced by the union cabinet. When the opposition wanted this issue taken up in parliament and to disapprove such a policy, the government refused to accept an adjournment motion on the subject. It is for the Speaker to admit an adjournment motion, but it is well known that this depends on the attitude of the government. With the UPA partners, TMC and the DMK opposing the policy and its uncertainty about neutralising the opposition of parties like the BSP and the SP, the government was not wiling to face any motion which would censure it. That is why parliament got stalled.


In the process some absurd arguments were advanced by certain Congress ministers. One such was that this policy decision is the right of the executive and to put it to parliament vote is to encroach on the legitimate right of the executive. While it may be conceded that the executive has the right to take decisions, in certain policy matters, how can the right of parliament to scrutinise such policy decisions and for the opposition to seek to reverse such a decision through a parliamentary vote be denied. It goes against the elementary principle of the accountability of the executive to parliament, in our political set up. If the government wishes to push through an unpopular and harmful policy, it must be willing to face the consequences of that in parliament.


The lack of a stable majority in the Lok Sabha is the reason behind all the deadlock that we have witnessed in parliament in the past two years. The refusal to accept an adjournment motion on price rise or a voting resolution on the subject was the reason for the disruption of the house on two earlier occasions. The refusal to set up a joint parliamentary committee on the 2G Spectrum scam led to the loss of the entire winter session last year.


The Manmohan Singh government should realize that it cannot adopt many of its neo-liberal and pro-US policies as it does not command a majority in parliament. Instead of accepting this, the government prefers to push through such measures and manoeuvre to escape parliamentary scrutiny and approval by allowing parliament to be paralysed.


The disregard for parliament can also be seen in how the Standing Committees in parliament are being conducted and dealt with. In the case of the Civil Nuclear Liability Bill, we saw how a standing committee recommendation was sought to be manipulated by adding the word “and” to nullify the provision of foreign suppliers’ liability. This was discovered in time and exposed and the clumsy effort had to be abandoned.


Even after parliament passes legislation and it gets enacted as law, the government is not above trying to dilute or nullify the essence of the law. The latest instance of this is the rules that have been framed under the Civil Nuclear Liability Act. They have been framed in such a manner as to nullify the limited recourse to foreign suppliers liability provided for in the law, both by limiting the period for making such a claim and also the quantum of compensation to be sought.


More recently, the Standing Committee on Personnel, Public Grievances, Law and Justice held a meeting on November 30 to finalise the report on the Lokpal Bill. The very next day an emergency meeting was called at the instance of two Congress members and a decision to recommend the inclusion of C category employees within the purview of the Lokpal was withdrawn. Similarly, the procedure for the appointment of the director of the CBI by the selection committee set up for the Lokpal was also withdrawn.


The government has also the record of ignoring the recommendations of the standing committee in the past when it does not suit them. Introducing FDI in the print media and the retail trade are such instances.


What does this contempt for parliament or the willingness to bypass parliament show? In country after country where the governments acting in the interests of the ruling classes are prone to the pressures of international finance capital, there is a distinct tendency to narrow the scope of parliament and to attenuate its power. As long as parliament faithfully rubberstamps the neo-liberal policies and does not voice the popular opposition to the restrictions on democratic rights and attacks on the livelihoods of the people, the functioning of parliament is tolerated. Where the parliaments are unable to adhere to the draconian demands of finance capital and the imperatives of the neo-liberal policies, efforts are made to restrict and tame the elected bodies into submission.


In the current crisis engulfing the countries of the European Union and the Eurozone, we have seen how the demands for austerity measures, cutting jobs and social security of the people are being pushed through. The very mention of a referendum on these policies by the Greek prime minister led to howls of protests by the political leaders and the bankers of the European Union. Prime minister Papandreou had to quit and a banker, Papademos was made the prime minister with the consent of the major political parties, except the communists and the Left. The mandate of this technocratic government being to push through the austerity measures demanded by the European Union and the bankers. Similarly, in Italy, the rightwing prime minister Berlusconi had to quit after the markets expressed their no confidence in his leadership. He has been replaced by an economist Mario Monti who is approved by the big business and the EU financial circles. The Italian president has made him a life-time senator in the upper house so that he could become the prime minister. Here again the supra party mandate is to ensure fiscal discipline and austerity measures  through a technocratic government that has no popular mandate. The elected parliaments are only to rubberstamp these policies. How the big bourgeoisie would like such a set-up to be installed in India!


In India, the UPA government despite its precarious and uncertain majority in the Lok Sabha wants to push through neo-liberal policies and measures. For this, it seeks to undermine parliamentary methods which are the right of the opposition; it subverts the parliamentary procedures by ignoring the recommendations of the parliamentary committees. Under the UPA government in the last eight years, we have seen the number of parliamentary sittings gradually reduced. From hundred days sitting a year in the 1980s, in the past decade it averaged 70 days and in the past two years it has fallen to below 50.


The Congress which derides parliament in this manner, hypocritically talks of the supremacy of parliament to bludgeon all opposition outside parliament to its policies and its efforts to shield high-level corruption. After the introduction of the government’s bill on the Lokpal in parliament, Congress leaders proclaimed that any protests against it was undemocratic, since it is under the purview of parliament. The latest stance is that since parliament is scheduled to discuss it, after the standing committee’s report on the bill, it should not be discussed at Jantar Mantar or any public meetings outside parliament. This is a travesty of democracy. Fortunately, for the country, there are few takers for such self-serving arguments of the Congress leaders.


The rising chant of Congress leaders that ”parliament is sacrosanct” cannot cover up the fact that it is the ruling dispensation that is responsible for denigrating parliament and refusing to heed the voice of the people.