Politics Now

The Deadlock of the Debating Platform

My health is fine but the health of Parliament is not. I feel like resigning.
– LK Advani, 15 December 2016

The Indian Parliament, the Sansad, is the executive abode of the highest tier of legislative officials. This holy sanctuary of debating has been subject to ruthless, deliberate disruption of proceedings. From immature attempts to gain publicity, to mud-slinging and on-the-face slandering, the Parliament has witnessed it all.  The present-day situation does not look exceptionally bright; for it wears the same dull grey of reminiscence of the yesteryears of parliamentary disruption. This phenomenon of stalling the Parliament to push forward demands is downright wrong and immoral: a manner of lackadaisical etiquette by elected representatives of the people should be tantamount to a criminal offence.

Making an approximate estimate, if all the three sessions of the Houses of Parliament are put in order, then it effectively functions for one hundred days a year. According to data put out by the Lok Sabha secretariat, the seventh session of the Lok Sabha under the iron lady, Smt. Indira Gandhi was the most productive, accounting for 120% of the assigned Lok Sabha time worth of constructive debating. What is disheartening, however, is the fact that this consistent record of constructive debating time has now degenerated into a slump that only sees a steep downfall. As per the following graph compiled from official data, it is evident that the last session of the Lok Sabha was the worst of the lot, accounting for only 62% of the time being used for work. The Lower House could not function for the rest of the allotted time due to disruptions and repeated adjournments.

 

Even on discounting items that are difficult to impute costs to (free petrol, subsidies, telephone calls, and much more), the daily expenditure of Parliament sits at a whopping cost of Rs. 2 crores. Hence, each Parliamentary minute is worth Rs. 2.5 lakhs. The exchequer bears this burden to facilitate smooth conduct of legislative business for the betterment and welfare of the nation. These costs are indirectly paid for by the common man on an individual level in the form of taxes levied at different junctures.  Hence, if the stakes are so high, should the Members of Parliament not be accountable to the public for the work they do in the Houses of Legislature? Should the members who serve as repetitive impediments to the functioning of the Lok Sabha not be subject to automatic disqualification? Is it not economically unsustainable to harbour such disinterested people who find pleasure only in deterring the chamber of Indian legislature?

It is important to remember that while the Parliament does lose out on a considerable amount of moolah that could have been preserved, a stalemate condition also hampers the probability of taking the country forward, one step at a time. The Modi government, ever since its inception, has pointed to the need to improve the work culture and an emphasis on indigenous industries. Under the tagline Make in India, he has been successful in attracting investments. This dynamic influx of new investments and the ever-changing economic terrains require vigilant watch and effective laws that are devoid of fatal loopholes. Such laws that need to be put into effect pan-India can only be deliberated upon by the Union Parliament.

Disruptions in Parliament are now a result of cheap vendetta politics. Both the major players, the BJP and the Indian National Congress, are equally guilty of having resorted to such form of unwanted interference. During earlier years of the UPA regime, it was the BJP that had sought refuge in such unorthodox methods to derail the proceedings. Now, as fate would have it, the Congress is paying back the government in its own coin. Back in 2006, the veteran journalist and author Khuswant Singh lamented that the more he saw the Parliament conducting its ‘business’, the more he felt it was on the verge of collapsing. The authenticity of the statement would be applicable for years to come, given the trend of functioning.

This marked change in attitude to parliamentary proceedings must be analysed through pen and paper. It is definitely not easy to be in the boots of a Parliamentarian, and being cynical of such people is a very easy task to do. As is justified by general wit, the first few sessions of the Lok Sabha (1950-early sixties) observed heavy activity in legislative transactions. The time spent by successive sessions of the Lok Sabha has since mellowed down. The First Lok Sabha session devoted forty-nine percent of its time to the legislative business. Successive sessions till the eighth Lok Sabha ranged from twenty-two to twenty-eight percent (22%-28%) for the time dedicated to legislative work, with the Ninth Lok Sabha plunging to an all-time low of 16%. This reduction in legislative work can also be attributed to the emergence of the Cabinet form of government. The Cabinet, which essentially mirrors the Government elected, takes all of the decisions on the guidance of the Prime Minister. The Cabinet is in turn responsible to the Lok Sabha. This system was devised to render a smooth edge to the working of the Lower House.

Despite all the advantages that the Cabinet system may possess, it is rendered ineffective and useless if the Parliament itself does not function the way it is meant to be. This sanctum sanctorum of policy debating has been prone to attacks on its system of operation. Of what good is the Cabinet if there are no questions raised on the viability or need of a proposal? Questioning and defending bills are one of the most important tasks assigned to parliamentarians, and it should be their sacred duty to ensure that the sanctity of such a process is accorded its due respect. This provides the essence of democracy, a fundamental right of every Indian citizen.

As responsible citizens, it is definitely heart-wrenching to see the Parliament degrade into such low standards of operation unseen in previous years. It is my earnest hope that things take a turn for the good in days to come, as yet another session of the Parliament draws to a close. Twenty Sixteen has neared its death, and now it is time for Twenty Seventeen to bring in fresh hopes. The reprehensible divisiveness of party politics should not override the devotion of serving in the best interests of the country. It is our India, and only when we become mature enough to take the decisions for ourselves, dumping behind frail temporal loyalties, can we progress.

The Kejriwal Kaleidoscope

There is a fine line between a government that is deemed successful and a government incapable of tending to even the most basic needs of its own citizens. Is Kejriwal a success, or has he proved to be a total failure? Has Kejriwal remained loyal to his pre-election manifesto, or does he still loom among the corridors of uncertainty? Ask any aam aadmi and it does not require much of wit to come up with an answer that bears strict resemblances to the latter proposition of failure.

It would be worthwhile to disclose that I had, on a personal level, supported Kejriwal in his second run for Chief Ministership. Although his previous government had a tenure of a mere count of forty-nine days, that tenure had some glimpses of positive reform in it. President’s Rule followed, and then came the big State elections. People felt that the Aam Aadmi Party deserved a second chance; a chance that pardoned any blunder that the government might have made earlier, and a chance that promised a fresh start to the party. There was an ambient sensation that there was, finally, a political startup that had all the right ingredients: a reputation unblotted by the taint of any unethical offences, and a promise to bring in populist reforms by cutting down on corruption. As history has it, Kejriwal took the vow of office on the fourteenth of February, 2015, pledging to remove all traces of corruption and misgovernance. That pledge now looks no more than a cruel irony to me.

At the end of this period, the only thing that has kept Kejriwal’s party alive is the rhetoric of blame-game politics. From verbal wars with the Lieutenant Governor of Delhi to branding the Prime Minister a ‘psychopath’, he has left no stone unturned in this dirty game of his. It is possible that Kejriwal might have had no practical experience of running a government before. It is acceptable that the claims inscribed in his pre-poll manifesto may have been, after all, hollow and rather tall. However, that is no excuse to run away from the responsibilities. Over the present incumbency, instead of trying to rectify the domains of concern and areas that required a vigilant eye, he has played with the victim card. As a Chief Minister, that is an indefensible and lame rationale to justify his position. If you start something, you have to be the person to take the initiative to make it a success, and you have the sole responsibility to bring it to a terminating point. That essentially means to discharge one’s responsibilities in the most efficient way possible. Despite several litigation cases and his personal attacks on State dignitaries, Kejriwal has had no time to rest. Mud-slinging has become his day job, and the common man in Delhi has to bear the brunt of the Centre-State friction. In politics, it is expected that there would be tensions. Although unhealthy, the State administration has no right to put the populace in trouble by trying to point fingers at others. That is not good management, that is poor administration at its height. Going by the rigorous standards, Mr CM has scored a big zero. Perhaps, a negative mark.

The second of the unpardonable mistakes that Kejriwal has committed in his second stint is the failure to realise and implement his manifesto highlights. Plans of installing a million security cameras, making free Wi-Fi a reality in Delhi, establishing nine hundred public health centres, halving electricity bills and a promise to make potable water available free of charge have all gone haywire. The Public Works Department under State control could not carry out repair works pegged at less than two crore rupees, due to an acute lack of funds as per government sources. Is it not ironical that the party had sanctioned 526 crores in its advertisement and media campaigns, from the public exchequer, and then shamelessly professed the cause of severe deficiency of funds? This is a clear case of illicit duplicity and two-facedness. It has also failed on its pillar point in the manifesto: to get rid of the VIP Culture. If a four-hundred percent increase in salary is not a mirror of the VIP culture, I do not know what that means.

Kejriwal has not only politicised the issue of rapes and safety of women in the NCR region but also made a fool of himself in the domestic sphere due to the state of affairs that clearly show the tables have turned. For example, the Muffler Man used to launch diatribes against Sheila Dikshit, the former CM:

More often than not, we find Kejriwal the helpless person. In fact, when questioned about rising deflowering statistics, he has replied with the same rationale of the Delhi police being under the Central government and not directly reporting to the State administration. Under his administration, rapes have gone up by 27% from 6488 in 2014 to 7566 in 2015. Despite assurances of explicit arrangements being made to avoid any excuse or slip-up, only nine fast track courts have been established. What is worrying is that the trial for ninety-three (93%) percent of the accused are pending for the last three years. How perfect an example of hypocrisy is that?

There are a thousand other realms where he has equivalently failed. He has metamorphosed from an idol of reverence to just another uncontended politician looking to serve his own interests. He has transfigured from the ideal democratic figure to the unwanted dictator in the group. The expulsion of senior henchmen like Yogendra Yadav and Prashant Bhushan only offered a peek into the divisiveness and factionalism that pervades the group. Their expulsion sent a clear message that Arvind has sought to be the chieftain for his own political mileage; and that he is not ready to sacrifice it for anything else. While going through the news today, I found that Kejriwal has again resorted to hasty decision making, his supreme nemesis and his bete noire, by asking for the rollback of the demonetization move. Is he unaware that a rollback of the demonetization at this point of time is just a silly proposition, and that it has no pragmatic value attached to it? As a responsible politician who uses his office of legislature well, it would be his duty to suggest changes and amendments. Kejriwal, who seeks exclusivity from the rest (but yet finds solace confiding in Mamata and the Thackerays) has made it his signature move now to make such abrupt demands that are difficult to comprehend in any possible interpretation.

As a previous supporter, I feel betrayed, and this is perhaps the case with the vast majority of Delhiites who trusted Kejriwal with sixty-seven out of the seventy seats in the Delhi Legislative Assembly. Every Delhiite feels robbed of his voice and feels crushed under the onus of misgovernance. Running a State Government is not a child’s play, and hence Kejriwal should realise immediately that no amount of excuses can render him free from all allegations of poor governance. No one would listen to how the Centre did not cooperate. After all, when life gives you lemons, you ought to make a lemonade. His childish moves and comments have irritated all sane-thinking people (including me), and I would be eagerly awaiting the next State elections. There is no point warring with the Lieutenant Governor when you cannot resolve your internal disputes and cracks. Arvind Kejriwal has mutated into a dictatorial figure with no clear aims, a rudderless tug-boat venturing in the stormy seas of national politics.

If people say he is an anarchist, I would heartily agree with it.