Sanctity of the parliament and the democratic process

Towards the end of August last year, a large section of articulate India, partly whetted with the saturation coverage by electronic media, was waiting with bated breath to see the outcome of the indefinite fast undertaken by Anna Hazare in Delhi demanding acceptance by the parliament of a time-bound commitment to pass an effective Lokpal bill. During the 12-day fast, as indeed during the tumultuous build-up for weeks preceding the event, many serious questions about the Indian democracy and the role of the parliament as an institution were raised from time to time. Sometimes these were in the form of sweeping comments, generalizations and sanctimonious homilies made by the politicians, mainly from the ruling parties, in the thick of the battle of attrition with the protesters and by some partisan political commentators, talking heads in the media, etc. The Anna Hazare team members contributed in no small measure to bring to the forefront a difficult but fundamental question relating to the basic nature of our democracy – should it be merely representative (which, arguably, was, and is not being perceived by many as quite effective) or should it aspire to become much more participatory in form and content. In the current context of a popular concern like endemic corruption in our body politic this translated to a question of allowing meaningful participation by enlightened members of public (the civil society) in the legislative process to combat such a menace.


Time and again during this period, repeated ad nauseam later, the ruling party members and their supporters stoutly maintained that in a democratic polity like ours the parliament is supreme, this institution alone is entrusted with the legislative responsibility according to our constitution. It follows, therefore, that the time honoured labyrinthine procedures a proposed bill has to endure before it can become a law are sacrosanct. Since the business of the parliament is exclusively conducted and controlled by the politicians (calling themselves the ‘elected representatives of the people’) and by extension the political parties they belong to, the members and the sympathisers of political parties have a vested interest in proclaiming and protecting their parliamentary privileges. All in the name of the people they supposedly represent. The merry band of Anna Hazare dared to question the status quo, albeit in a quixotic manner.


No wonder that the political class and a section of their apologists (some journalists, editors, TV personalities) were cut to the quick. The spontaneous upsurge of popular interest and peaceful innovative participation added to their discomfort and heart burning, their very protestation about being peoples’ sole representatives ringing somewhat hollow. And from their angst grew anger and breast-beating : Indian democracy  in danger !

The irony of life is that nobody can predict the future. In August 2012, when Anna Hazare movement has practically fizzled out, apparent public and media support having dwindled, and nobody is raising any questions about pre-eminence of the parliament, it is the political parties who, quite shamelessly, managed to deadlock the entire monsoon session of the parliament. In the backdrop of the damaging CAG report on the coal block allocation and the daily media disclosure of the documents in the media, the direct culpability and the acts of commission and omission by the ruling party MPs and ministers promoting crony capitalism are becoming increasingly apparent. The opposition parties may also have some hard explaining to do regarding the role of the chief ministers and government officials of some of the opposition ruled states both in respect of their stated position on the policy debate (auction vs. the screening committee route) and also about their specific recommendations on private companies for the allocations, some of these allottees now appearing not particularly above board. Instead of a reasoned and factually honest debate and further independent enquiry and investigation, the MPs on both side of the divide chose to hurl epithets, allegations, worked up righteous indignation and let the parliamentary proceedings be washed out. The unbending maximalist position of the opposition and the obdurate stalling by the ruling combine any reasonable reassessment of a possible nexus among the corporates, politicians and the bureaucrats in the allotments, made sure that the parliament session ended up without conducting any worthwhile legislative business.


Is it therefore enough for our country to be called democratic just because some people (a sizable number among them having declared criminal record) organizing themselves as political parties, differing merely by their election symbols and the colour of their flags, manage to win electoral contests by fooling poor and simple-minded electorates with false promises (only to be dumped after the elections), cornering negative votes playing up anti-incumbency sentiments and more often than not by blatant use of money, muscle power or through pandering to peoples’ basest instincts like caste and religious prejudices?


This question facing our democracy has assumed urgency as during the years between the elections these representatives of the parties primarily conduct themselves in the legislative bodies to further their narrow partisan political or other parochial interests session after session parading their antics, into the bargain, as championing public interests. The positions taken by several small and medium sized (regional, caste or religion based) parties on the women reservation bill a few sessions earlier and the bill on the reservation for the Dalit communities in respect of promotions in the government jobs proposed in the last session (which saw actual fisticuffs between the SP and BSP members) are clear examples of this trend. These marginal parties both allowed the ruling alliance a brazen and cynical traction on the number game in the parliament and also effectively contributed to the latter’s continued lame duck existence. Cash for asking questions in the parliament, perusing pornographic material within a state assembly during session and MLAs routinely coming to blows and breaking up tables and chairs and throwing microphones at each other in various other state assemblies in the recent times are some of the elements of similar unpardonable conduct of the elected representatives of the people within the precincts of these hallowed institutions of our democracy.  


A moot question therefore is : What has remained of the sanctity and sacrosanctness of the parliament and the legislatures, law-making, democratic processes, etc ? And does raising such questions necessarily endanger our democracy ? And should invite a charge of sedition like Trivedi did for his admittedly puerile cartoons ?

2 comments to Sanctity of the parliament and the democratic process

  • A very nice thought-provoking article. The big story of citizen involvement, however short-term, was enough to shake the political class. The big tragedy was that this involvement was short-term.

  • amitesh

    i think indian democracy is taking a historical leap forward.aam admi may not be vociferously protesting but there is a passive support for anti graft crusaders.the ethical vacuum created in politics has allowed some fresh air to seep and create troubles among our ‘revered representatives’

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