The 15th Lok Sabha has failed Indian democracy

Last Updated: Wed, Feb 12, 2014 01:45 hrs

Disruptions of Parliament have become such a common occurrence that they hardly give rise to outrage any more. The last session of the 15th Lok Sabha is no exception.

Both Houses have already been adjourned daily, amid slogan-shouting, scuffles and placard-waving by various members of Parliament. The worst offenders have been parliamentarians from Andhra Pradesh, protesting the government's action - or inaction - on the formation of the new state of Telangana.

But other issues have also been raised, through slogans and placards: the fate of Tamil fishermen; special status for Bihar; rapes in Kerala; the anti-Sikh riots of 1984. Each of these is, of course, an important issue and deserving of debate. Equally, each is an important issue and therefore not a reason for disrupting Parliament.

The tenure of the 15th Lok Sabha, thus, has been a disappointment. According to data released by the think tank PRS Legislative Research, the average number of Bills passed by Parliament when a Lok Sabha has completed its full five-year term is 317.

The current Parliament has passed only 165, thereby torpedoing any chance of meaningful reform under the second term of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA). This is the worst performance of any Lok Sabha since the first one, which had somewhat weightier discussions to undertake.

Worst of all, even those Bills that are passed are frequently passed with insufficient debate, demonstrating the degree to which political parties today have debased India's public sphere. Only 23 per cent of laws passed by this Lok Sabha have been discussed for more than three hours.

Ten Bills were passed in less than half an hour; as many as 20 in just five minutes. Clearly, not enough attention was paid by parliamentarians to the laws that they approved.

Meanwhile, the unfinished agenda - including major anti-corruption Bills, the reform of regulatory structures, and so on - just builds up. As many as 126 Bills remain to be passed; more than half - 72 - in the Lok Sabha.

Many of these Bills, which were introduced during the current tenure of the Lok Sabha, will lapse after this session, a waste of time and energy.

Who is responsible for this state of affairs?

Primary responsibility surely goes to the opposition parties, which early on in UPA-II's term discovered that they could bend a weak government to their will, and gain significant airtime on news television, by preventing the work of Parliament from occurring.

But the ruling dispensation cannot escape criticism either. After all, the members of Parliament (MPs) from Andhra Pradesh currently disrupting Parliament were mainly from the Congress; they have only now been expelled.

Nor has the Speaker of the Lok Sabha or Deputy Chairman of the Rajya Sabha been firm enough with disruption. And the leadership of the Congress party has demonstrated little regard for Parliament. Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi missed more than half of the Lok Sabha's sessions and spoke only twice.

This five-year period in which India's parliamentarians have paid little attention to their primary responsibility of making laws is also a time when dissent about the form of India's parliamentary democracy has become a real phenomenon.

When the leaders of the anti-corruption agitation claim Parliament does not represent true democracy, then the behaviour of MPs just seems to back up this claim. In pursuing this unproductive course, the 15th Lok Sabha and the current Rajya Sabha have failed to further the cause of Indian democracy.

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