Both houses of Parliament, which were supposed to sit for nearly 3600 minutes, could run for just 218 minutes last week. With all the sloganeering and the ruckus created by the ruling and opposition MPs, the switching off of the microphones and the audio of Sansad TV being muted, the highest institutions of the world’s largest democracy were seen becoming a laughing stock. Many do not have much hope that the situation will change when the houses sit today. The ruling party wants Congress leader Rahul Gandhi to apologize for humiliating India on foreign soil. However, the opposition pointed out that the apology was being demanded in order to counter the opposition demand for a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) probe into the connection between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Adani Group.
The 'majority benches' and the chairman of the respective Houses have a special responsibility to conduct the proceedings constructively. If the Lok Sabha functioned only for 65 minutes and the Rajya Sabha for 153 minutes in a week, then the introspection should begin from there. The representatives of the people have the duty to scrutinize the governance and convince the people. It is the way of democracy and the precedent of our parliament to give a sympathetic consideration to the issues raised by the opposition. It is the constitutional duty of the Speaker and the Chairman of the Rajya Sabha to create the environment necessary to carry out the responsibility of assessing the government on behalf of the people. It is an accepted practice of the ruling party and those in office to work vigilantly in order to restore normalcy through consultations and discussions, even if the proceedings are temporarily stalled when there is an uproar.
Isn't it true that the state of affairs in the House actually vindicates Rahul Gandhi’s criticism that India’s democracy is under threat? If such complaints exist, then it is a democratic practice to look into them. Isn't the denial of opportunity for Gandhi to respond to the four ministers who unilaterally levelled allegations against him in the Parliament, a sign of a weak democracy? Gandhi had met Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla on Thursday, requesting him to give him a chance to speak the next day. But it didn’t happen, a situation that reflects the strength of democracy. The broadcast of House proceedings went mute even while allegations had surfaced that the microphones of the opposition members were being turned off. While technical glitches were the reason given as an explanation, the fact is that the opposition was more or less ignored in the visuals at that time.
The televised broadcast of the house was unmuted only when the Speaker announced the stalling of the proceedings. It should be in the interest of those who have raised allegations against Gandhi that he be given an opportunity to speak. Why is his voice being muzzled? While BJP president JP Nadda says that Gandhi should apologise for his remarks, Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge demanded an apology from Prime Minister Narendra Modi for insulting India during his visits abroad. During his speech abroad, Modi had remarked earlier that ‘some cursed their past life for being borne in India’. The opposition has come forward with a series of video clips of Modi’s speeches he made in South Korea, Germany, China, the US and Canada. They point out that what Gandhi said in London was criticism while Modi through his remarks humiliated India.
Gandhi who alleges that divisive powers have seized the country’s administrative system have raised another grave allegation that India’s foreign policy was tweaked for the Adani Group. The best way to hit back at Gandhi for the allegations such as the foreign trips made by Modi accompanied by Adani, the trips made by Adani and the major contracts signed by the Adani group in different countries, is to release that information, to allow debates on the topic in the parliament and then deny the allegations directed at the government. If there is nothing to hide, the JPC probe will be a good answer for Rahul Gandhi.
However, instead of utilising the opportunity to establish transparency in their approach, the government's attitude reinforces the allegation that things are obscure. Stifling the parliament which should be a platform for scrutiny and dissent in a democracy, is shameful not only for the country but also for the ruling party. Gandhi should be able to speak freely in the parliament and the opposition must be able to raise important issues. It is not for stalling the debates and insulting the democracy that people elect their representatives and conduct House proceedings at a huge cost. The parliament needs to regain its voice. It needs to be ‘unmuted’. A democracy that is ‘muted’, is not a democracy at all. If the government’s hands are clean and if the criticisms are baseless, then there is no need to hesitate to allow opposition demands. Can we expect that in the coming days, both Houses of Parliament will function in tune with democratic norms and prove that democracy is not being undermined?