A parliament without the prime minister and oppositiontext_fields
The question why we should have a parliament has been raised a lot over last few years. The use of epithets of parliament as the temple of democracy, and a sanctuary of legislation with scrutiny and debate, have now become meaningless. Supreme Court Chief Justice N.V. Ramana commented recently that the Supreme Court will get good relief if the houses are ready to check the constitutionality of bills while preparing them. Ramana's comment shows the depth of the current degradation of the parliamentary debates. The Prime Minister and the Speaker, who should be leading a sincere and dedicated effort to resolve them in both houses, are acting in such a way as to make them worse. What has been seen from the very beginning of the this year's monsoon session of the parliament is the government's determination that there should not be any voice of dissent and protest in Parliament. Speakers of Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha have suspended 25 MPs between the two houses for protesting in the well of the house and raising placards. Similar action is likely to continue.
The responsibility to ensure the smooth functioning of the houses and observance of precedents are vested with the Speaker of the Lok Sabha and the Chairman of the Rajya Sabha. It is customary at the beginning of the session to move calling attention motion regarding the issues facing the country. It is such interventions that have brought many important issues to the attention of the authorities and sometimes even led to the removal of governments from power. On Wednesday, the opposition staged a protest in the House demanding an urgent discussion on rising prices that is plaguing the country. Even in times of more heated exchanges, any move to suspend members from the houses was rare. But now that has become routine. Since 2019, Opposition MPs have been suspended in at least six sessions which underscores that the country is under an authoritarian regime which believes that there is no need for an opposition in the House and that debate on legislation is redundant. Hence the view that the respectful epithets about the house have become meaningless.
There is a growing tendency in the House to treat with disdain every precedent which ensures equal treatment of members and opposition parties. In the past, Prime Ministers used to diligently attend the all-party meetings before the opening of a session. The Prime Minister himself had listened to the demands of the opposition and directly intervened to make the parliamentary proceedings constructive. However, this time the Prime Minister did not care to participate in the all-party meeting. Last time he participated only for name, said what he had to say and left without listening to the opposition. The Prime Minister's attendance in both houses has been scanty. It is only for a few hours that the Prime Minister, who claims to work 18 hours a day for the country, attends parliament sessions. Figures show that since 2019, he has not spent even 24 hours between both houses for sessions. The Prime Minister's absence represents an unwillingness to listen to voices of dissent. This is becoming the feature not only of the Prime Minister but of the house itself. The previous practice of referring bills introduced in either house to respective parliamentary committees is also disappearing. Before the Modi era, 65-70 percent of the bills passed by the Parliament were scrutinised by the committees, whereas now that number has gone down to less than 20 percent. It has become a regular feature for bills to be passed by a majority in the house without any discussion. In short, house sessions have weakened so much that they serve only to fulfil the constitutional obligation to convene three times a year. And the proceedings during the current session convince us that the government is wondering why the Prime Minister should spend his time, and the opposition is making noise, in these perfunctory meetings.