Democracy is all about debate and discussion. No decisions, especially those with far-reaching consequences, should be taken in a hurry. There should be adequate discussions with all stakeholders before any decision is taken. Parliament is nothing if not a debating forum.
As every citizen is represented there, through his or her MP, it is the right forum to discuss all the issues that affect the people. Alas, the Modi government takes Parliament for granted, because it enjoys a brute majority there. This tendency has landed the government in many sticky situations.
There can be differing opinions on the Agnipathscheme the government decided to implement with immediate effect. However, when the Cabinet approved the scheme early last week, almost everybody seemed to have been taken by surprise. The decision was taken and announced in a hush-hush manner leading to speculations and violent protest, especially in states like Bihar and Uttar Pradesh.
The government claims that it had held discussions with the defence authorities but the fact remains that it was clueless about many aspects of the scheme.
It was only after agitation began that the upper age limit was increased from 21 to 23, to take care of those who lost two years as defence recruitments remained suspended because of Covid-19. Then there was the case of thousands of young men who had cleared various stages of recruitment and were awaiting a decision on their fate.
Suddenly they were told that they would have to appear as fresh candidates under the Agnipath scheme. There was speculation that 75 per cent of the Agniveers who would be required to leave the defence forces after four years of training and service might not be considered for absorption by the paramilitary forces.
Post-haste a decision was taken to give 10 per cent reservation for Agniveers in all the recruitments in paramilitary forces like the CRPF and the BSF. By then much damage had been caused to public property. Had the government allowed discussions on the scheme in the media, it would have received different opinions on it.
There would have been many retired defence experts giving their considered views on Agnipath. Had the scheme been announced in Parliament, the MPs would have dissected it for one and all.
The government could have even referred the scheme to a parliamentary committee to study it in depth. It could have addressed the concerns of the people to make the scheme acceptable to everyone. It is not the first time that the government has acted in haste and regretted at leisure. Take the case of the three farm laws.
True, they were presented in Parliament and the approval of the MPs was obtained. However, the fact of the matter is that there was hardly any debate on the Bills. They were passed as quickly as they were presented.
And the President did not use his discretionary power while giving his assent to the Bills. In short, the apprehensions of the people were not removed as the government readied itself to implement the laws in a hasty manner.
The laws had certain welcome features butthey, too, were ignored by the protesting farmers. Had an attempt been made to assuage the feelings of the farmers by making suitable changes in the laws,they would have remained on the statute and the government could have taken credit for revolutionising the farm sector.
A decision like demonetisation could not have been announced in advance because it should have an element of surprise. Alas, the Prime Minister did not hold proper consultations with the authorities concerned, so much so that all the reasons cited for the decision were found to be baseless, if not illogical.
Similarly, the heavens would not have fallen if the government had given adequate time for the people to make necessary arrangements before lockdown was imposed in the wake of Covid-19. It could also have taken many preventative steps that would not have forced tens of thousands of people to walk hundreds of miles from cities like Mumbai and Delhi to reach their villages.
Similarly, no discussion took place when the government unilaterally decided to convert Jammu and Kashmir into two Union Territories. True, what matters in a democracy is the majority the government enjoys in the legislature. This gives a political party the legitimacy to rule. However, the legitimacy should not degenerate into a licence to do anything. It is in this context that the Opposition assumes its importance. It may not have the necessary strength to defeat the government, but it has the right to be heard on all the key decisions the government takes.
If this principle is followed in both letter and spirit, there won’t be scope for any half-baked decisions like Agnipath that shock the people.