I would like to speak about something I was ignorant of until today. Not that I was living under a rock, but being a massive ignoramus was easier than meandering out of my comfort zone * sigh *. It’s about my being ignorant of a term that’s casually ignored under the title ‘politics’ which largely does revolve around issues that matter, but has an abysmal prioritisation. The cardinal attributes of a democracy involve discuss-deliberate-dissent prongs but when the temple of the democratic exercise is tainted with inefficiency and severe dereliction, on a bare minimum, it should tend to alarm us, if not act. The recent budget session that was concluded forms the basis for this observation. The PRS Legislative Studies, the agency that does research and analysis for policy making suggestions for the Government opined that this session was the least productive in 18 years. Before going further, the budget session this year of the parliament was to convene from January 29th to February 9th as the first phase with budget presented on 1st of February, and the second phase to be convened from March 5th to April 6th.
Having concluded with the session, the PRS Legislative Studies report suggests that our democratic framework is crippled by its miscarriage of democratic duty. With the first session constituting of 7 sittings and the second of 23 sittings it has a combined working of 21% and 27% of scheduled working time respectively for the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha. A closer look revealed that first session saw the lower house working about 89% of the time and the upper house working 96% of the time. The latter phase saw numbers take a dramatic drop to 4% and 9% respectively. The result of this being, The Finance Bill ‘not discussed’ in the Lok Sabha passed within 18 minutes’ time and expenditure relating to grants for several ministries amounting to 28% of total government expenditure again not discussed in the parliament. This process, known as ‘guillotining’ is not a new one as this has happened twice, in 2004-’05 and 2013-’14.
The ‘why’ of this opens up a lot of perspectives. The disruption of the proceedings that happens on a daily basis are staged on account of getting to have some issues addressed. Parliament being a place where your voice is expected to be heard is a place for all of such democracy’s luxuries. As much as it is the premier lawmaking body, it is also a place for voicing dissent. But when it fails to discuss pressing matters at the cost of time and the sacrosanct principles of dignity in politics and giving way to relentless mudslinging, the legacy of a parliamentary democracy that we once took pride of, falters greatly. As the Hindu article about the issue opined, these disruptions cannot simply be wished away, but actively trying to minimise them is in the best interests of democracy. Both the opposition and the Government has failed in addressing this creatively. These disruptions are at times aggravated by the motive of publicity–even bad ones–which creates an impression that the representatives are in the limelight since the proceedings are broadcast by Doordarshan as opined by several political observers.
In our infancy as a democracy during the Nehruvian era of politics, the polity had a generic idea and awareness of what should the apt behaviour consist of in the Houses. We had the insight and audacity to work around the differences amiably and have exhaustive discussions and deliberations, ordinances wasn’t a common practice and dignity was exercised generously. As the times have changed, with heterogeneity in the houses and multi-party coalitions seeing a rise, we have compromised on the dignity, decorum, discussions and deliberations. The accountability to answer in a timely fashion and to put forth criticism and radical evaluation of policies, which are becoming a rarity in the system should be seen as a detrimental rot in our democratic culture. In a conversation with a friend, who shared the concern on the ignorance of this inefficiency in our system, she spoke of the paradigm shift in the political philosophy and thought process. The nationalistic approach of the polity got replaced inevitably with regional ambitions. The conscious attempt to turn a blind eye towards seeing the bigger picture and vote bank regional equations along with personal interests clouding the judgement, the way forth appears rather bleak, not that the Nehruvian era was free of this– but the extent was significantly lower.
Why this must be discussed is simply because we’re not talking about it. I believe that, as people entitled to rights and duties, it’s also imperative that our democratic institutions that rely on our consent as votes also have to work responsibly. The political indifference is not something we can gamble with, this guillotine must not be ignored or taken lightly. We’re all politically active at least in our comfortable domains, speaking up and being aware of this juncture border-lining on acute short-sightedness may serve to drive out this nonchalance. On a concluding note, democracy is not something we should take for granted, not because of the legacy or to inflate a Pan-National ego but because it’s something we take for granted forgetting our place and stakes in it.
P.S. The author Felix Boben Koottakkara is a third year Electrical and Electronics Engineering student at MACE.