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Dysfunctional Democracy : A Disabled Parliament

Parliamentary democracy demands many virtues. It demands, of course, ability. It demands a certain devotion to work. But it demands also a large measure of co-operation, of self-discipline, of restraint…

These words of our founding father, Jawaharlal Nehru still ring true today. For a man who spent his entire life strengthening the arms of parliamentary democracy in India, he would have been unmistakably crestfallen at the state of affairs presently. Enjoying the legacy of being one of the most qualified and august parliaments across the globe, the 15th Lok Sabha has shattered the image of a vibrant democracy that India savored.

The 15th Lok Sabha 
The Lok Sabha in the 20th century was an embodiment of democratic virtues. The House was endowed with some of the greatest orators in India's history, devoted to their ideologies and determined to do their duty within the boundaries of civility. The debates the House has seen were of the highest order and respect for parliamentary procedures was still existent. It is unimaginable to think of an Opposition leader eulogizing a Prime Minister today, the way Vajpayee did Indira Gandhi after the 1971, equating her to Mother Durga.

Today, debates in Parliament have more or less lost all semblance of rectitude and have been reduced to mere name-calling. The 15th Lok Sabha has spent only a pitiable 13% of its time on legislation. Of the impressive array of bills that the Government had lined up for passage in these 5 years, only 165 have been passed and a distressingly high number of bills (74) still remain hung in the balance. A vast number have been rushed through without adequate discussion, an appreciable deterioration from the heydays of the past.

The most discernible degeneration has been in the conduct of the Parliamentarians. The respectable orators of the yore have faded into the background. Disrupting the order of the House has now become an opportunity to score political brownie points. Entire sessions of the Parliament have been washed out, in vain attempts at political grandstanding. The epitome of this atrophy is the now-infamous pepper-spray incident. Such attempts to bring elements of hooliganism to the Parliament often result in considerable success - Lagadapati Rajagopal (the MP who sprayed pepper-spray in order to convey his opposition to the formation of Telangana) has now been lionized across Seemandhra.

This is a worrisome phenomenon. Perhaps, this is a result, as many experts suggest, of the Anti Defection Law. This law prevents legislators from voting against their party's stand. When an MP knows that his vote shall be decided by party superiors, his importance in Parliament reduces significantly, even in his own eyes. Law-making should become a more inclusive process and this provision of the Anti-Defection law should be done away with.

More emphasis must also be laid on Parliamentary Committees. The Standing Committee, for example, is performing and delivering effectively without the normal theatrics which usually punctuate Parliamentary Proceedings. Representatives from every party are given a say in law-making, which ensures that bills have absorbed inputs from across the political spectrum. This will be a great stop forward in ensuring unanimous passage for all laws in the Parliament.

The Parliament is the center-piece of our democratic set-up. It's sanctity must be preserved if democracy must continue to flourish in the country. We must ensure that such happenings are not replicated in the years to come.

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