The Parliament of India, the highest citadel of its democracy, recently completed 60 years. This magnificent circular edifice was inaugurated on January 18, 1927, by the then governor-general, Lord Irwin, and legislative councils had conducted its sessions here. After Independence, the Central Hall accommodated the Constituent Assembly till it completed writing the Constitution. The first Lok Sabha was constituted on April 17, 1952, and the first Rajya Sabha on April 3. Both met for the first time on May 13.
The Parliament has evolved over the years. As the supreme law-making body, it has enacted hundreds of legislations and policy decisions, brought qualitative changes to our economy and society. I came to Parliament in 1980 from Uluberia constituency in West Bengal and have served as an MP for eight terms. The experience has been a unique source of information and education. At the same time, I have seen many changes in the functioning and character of Parliament.
At this juncture, I would like to identify some of my concerns about the changing nature of Parliament. Since our Parliament emerged after a prolonged struggle for freedom, patriotism and anti-imperialist ethos directed our initial policies, especially our foreign policy. But in today’s unipolar world, nations face challenges from superpowers. Gradually, the sovereign will of nations is giving way to the dominance of the super will. The Indian Parliament could take the lead in mobilising the free will of the third world.
Transparency is the marker of democracy. In the past, the House forced the executive to fight corruption and punish it, as in the Mundhra case. Now corruption is the order of the day. Instead of Parliament, the courts are taking steps to combat corruption. Parliament is yet to form an anti-corruption body.
Most shocking to me is the decline in the integrity of MPs. Some have been accused of taking money to influence government policy. Others have been bribed to vote in Parliament in a particular manner. We have seen the ugly display of cash in the Lok Sabha. Incidents such as these have lowered the dignity of Parliament.
The current Lok Sabha has some positive features, such as a large number of young people and highly educated members. But it is a matter of grave concern that many politicians with criminal backgrounds are also part of the House.
When I started my career, I found Parliament was given to intense debate. The Lok Sabha sat for sessions for 160-180 days in a year. People used to come to listen to highly intellectual debates by great parliamentarians like Hiren Mukherjee, Madhu Dandavate, George Fernandes, Indrajit Gupta, Somnath Chatterjee and Atal Bihari Vajpayee. But later we saw Parliament being reduced to a shouting bazaar. It stalled work more than it worked. Days of sitting got reduced.
The Parliament is a law-making body. Every aspect of a bill was once discussed and debated before it was passed. I remember the House spending whole nights debating the National Security Act and the Essential Services Maintenance Act. But later we saw bills being passed without debate or scrutiny. Dozens of bills were passed in a few minutes amidst a din. This bulk passing of laws weakens parliamentary control over the executive. One of the basic principles of parliamentary democracy is parliamentary control over finance. But most of the ministry budgets were passed without discussion. Other legislative business was completed without legislators’ participation. This has threatened to upset the constitutional separation of powers. Today’s talk of judicial activism has resulted from the weakening of our legislative body.
In spite of the negatives, our democratic polity has not only survived but has also been strengthened in many aspects over the past 60 years. We have ensured freedom of expression and of the press. We maintain our secular character in spite of attacks from communal and fundamentalist forces. Our country has prospered, although the benefits have accrued only to a small section of our people. But we are fighting for many more changes through Parliament. We still haven’t ensured food security through legislative measures. We have not found ways to prevent our farmers from committing suicide, by protecting their land from corporate greed through proper land legislation. We still have no fixed law on reservation for women. Our Parliament, aged 60, ought to ponder over the many unfulfilled desires of the people and ensure that these are taken up in future.
The writer served eight terms as CPM MP in the Lok Sabha