People's Democracy

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


No. 20

May 20, 2012



‘Let us Make our Parliament

a Better One for the Future’


Below is the text of the speech delivered by Sitaram Yechury, leader of CPI(M) group in the Rajya Sabha, in the House on May 13, 2012 on the occasion of 60th anniversary of the Indian parliament


I RISE to join all the members of parliament and the rest of the country on this 60th birthday of independent India’s parliament. As the country celebrates this sashtipurti – which ancient belief suggests marks the beginning of a new life; it, however, does not say a ‘better life’ –  it is incumbent upon the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha today to make the parliament and our democratic system a better one for the future.  This requires consideration of at least four aspects. 


Before we discuss these issues, it is necessary to recollect what the then prime minister of Britain, Sir Anthony Eden, said: “Of all the experiments in government, which have been attempted since the beginning of time, I believe that the Indian venture into parliamentary government is the most exciting.... The Indian venture is not a pale imitation of our practice at home, but a magnified and multiplied reproduction on a scale we have never dreamt of.”  Indeed, during these six decades, we have consolidated this process and enriched its content, overcoming the challenges of internal emergency and the demolition of the Babri Masjid.


The centrality of our Constitution lies in the sovereignty of the people. This is exercised by those elected to the legislature (parliament/state assemblies).  The executive (government) is accountable to the legislature which, in turn, is accountable to the people.


The efficiency of this mechanism depends on the duration and proper conduct of the parliamentary proceedings.  On this score, there is much need for corrective action.  During the last two decades, the parliament never sat for more than a hundred days in a  year. The closest was in 1992 with 98 sittings.  The 14th Lok Sabha was marked by the least  in parliament's history with 332 sittings (an average of 66 a year).  Worse, 24 per cent of this time was wasted in disruptions and adjournments. The British parliament, on the other hand, sits for at least 160 days a year on the average. 


Clearly, unless the parliament sits for longer durations, its vigilance over the government is not effective. Thus, the executive's accountability to the legislature becomes the casualty. This seriously undermines our Constitutional scheme of things engendering authoritarian tendencies. This needs correction by ensuring a mandatory 100 sittings a year through a Constitutional amendment.


The second issue relates to the role of the judiciary as being both the interpreter of the Constitution and law, the custodian of the rights of citizens through the process of judicial review and the delivery of justice.  During the last session, the law minister informed us that there are 3.2 crore cases pending  in high courts and subordinate courts across the country while 56,383 cases were pending in the Supreme Court.  As of December 2010, there were 3,50,003 undertrail prisoners languishing in jail due to such delay.  Justice delayed is justice denied. The system of delivery of justice, thus, needs to be urgently beefed up. Further, recent experiences of judicial activism have blurred the delineation between the three organs of democracy.  The judiciary interprets the law but cannot make them or  decide on public policy. The Constitutional mandate is for judicial review and not for judicial activism.


The time has come for us to seriously consider the establishment of a National Judicial Commission with representatives from the three wings and the Bar. This could deal with an entire range of issues from the appointment and transfer of judges, examining complaints of corruption and other expressions of possible judicial misconduct and for ensuring judicial accountability. 


Thirdly, the maturation of Indian democracy needs to be accompanied by certain structural changes to enrich  the process further.  Consider the fact that not once in our history since the first general elections in 1952 has a government been formed which commanded  over 50 per cent of the polled vote. All the governments at the centre had more people voting against them than supporting them. The closest to reach the majority mark was the Rajiv Gandhi government in 1984 that polled 48.1 per cent with 415 seats. The lowest was the 1998 NDA government whose alliance polled 36.2 per cent. Thus, democracy as the rule of the majority has not yet been achieved in its full sense. This merits a serious consideration  of the proportional representation system where the people vote for the parties, who, in turn,  will send to the parliament the number of MPs, on the basis of a  prior-declared prioritised list, in proportion to votes they receive.  Any government that is formed on this basis by a majority of MPs in the parliament will necessarily reflect the majority as expressed by the electorate. This issue was seriously debated in the Constituent Assembly, but in its wisdom, it adopted the British ‘first past the post’ system.  The 1928 Motilal Nehru Committee report had recommended the system of proportional representation as the best answer to reflect India's diversity.


In the Indian context, therefore, a combination of proportional representation with the present form may be ideal. This could be done, for instance, by clubbing two adjoining constituencies where people, with two votes, vote for individual candidates as well as the parties.


An additional advantage of this system would be the prescription of a minimum percentage of the national vote required for parties to send their representatives to the parliament as per the submitted list. They, of course, can be represented by individual candidates who may win. In the coalition era, this would be of immense relief to foil unreasonable pressures and demands.


The responsibility of the media, the Fourth Estate, is also an issue on which we will have to do certain fine-tuning without encroaching and, most respectfully, upholding the right to expression, the fundamental right to expression, which is necessary.


Finally, notwithstanding all the talk of ‘inclusive growth’, the reality is that during the course of the last two decades of economic reforms, there have been two Indias in the making – a `shining’ India for the rich and a `suffering’ India for the poor.  In this context, recollect what Baba Saheb Ambedkar had to say when he presented our Constitution’s draft for final consideration and adoption by the Constituent Assembly. 


"On 26th January 1950, we are going to enter into a life of contradictions. In politics we will have equality and in social and economic life we will have inequality. In politics, we will be recognising the  principle of one man-one vote and one vote-one value. In our social and economic life, we shall, by reason of our social and economic structure, continue to deny the principle of one man-one value.


"How long shall we continue to live this life of contradictions? How long shall we continue to deny equality in our social and economic life?


"If we continue to deny it for long, we will do so only by putting our political democracy in peril.  We must remove this contradiction at the earliest possible moment or else those who suffer from inequality will blow up the structure of political democracy which this Assembly has laboriously built up."  (25th November, 1949)


The parliament must enact necessary laws which empower our people economically, politically, socially and culturally.  One man, one vote, one value must be transformed into one man, one value. The time has come for us to heed the above warning. 


As incumbent members of parliament  at this moment, it is our responsibility to rise to the occasion to create a better future.