The winter session of Parliament is most likely to end on Dec 23, a week ahead of schedule. It had begun on Dec 7 and taking the Saturday and Sunday offs into account, it seems the honourable members will have ‘worked’ for 12 days, if that. According to reports, several Opposition leaders at a meeting of the Lok Sabha Business Advisory Committee urged the Government to end the session early in view of the Christmas and New Year festivities. The Government, on its part, was only too happy to oblige. Of course, this is not the first time a parliamentary session will end ahead of schedule.
Even in these vastly truncated periods, especially when you compare with the first four or five Parliaments, normal functioning of the two Houses has become increasingly difficult. Disagreements over the agenda generally result in noisy scenes, leading to an abrupt suspension of the day’s proceedings. In this session, too, the first two days were lost in acrimony, with the Government unwilling to concede the Opposition’s demand for suspension of the listed business to take up the latter’s concerns here and now. The now-familiar scenes of noisy exchanges, catcalls, disruptions, etc, are followed by the presiding officers adjourning the Houses abruptly.
Despite knowing that their stubbornness will lead to unscheduled adjournments, neither side is ready to accommodate the other. Jagdeep Dhankhar, Vice-President and Chairman of the Rajya Sabha, feeling exasperated with the unruly scenes in the House on Tuesday, remonstrated that the MPs were not schoolkids who should be making a spectacle of themselves. “The entire country is laughing at us,” he said. Presiding over his maiden session of the Upper House, Mr Dhankhar probably was behind the times, for the country has long stopped expecting anything better from our honourable MPs. The MPs, too, realise this; otherwise they would not conduct themselves in such a shabby manner during the televised House proceedings. The cynicism is mutual — people seem unconcerned with the doings of their MPs in Parliament, refusing to enforce accountability; on their part, the members are least bothered about the feelings of the voters because they get elected anyway riding on the coattails of strong and charismatic leaders. Individual performance, in Parliament or outside, counts for precious little in wave elections such as the ones we saw in 2014 and 2019.
This is the peculiarity of all democratic systems in thrall of popular leaders, with good, bad and even rotten candidates on their ticket getting elected. Seen from this perspective, the relevance of Parliament as a forum for meaningful debates has declined sharply over the years. Increasingly, a Parliament dominated by a single party gets reduced to a rubber stamp endorsing the Government’s legislative agenda. Whether the television news channels, which seek to snag viewers with their ‘staged’ slanging matches, mirror the goings-on in an increasingly dysfunctional Parliament is a moot question. Maybe if our honourable members were to behave in a more orderly manner, we might still get to watch more fecund debates on our television channels, but so far, not unlike Parliament, slanging duels involving rival panellists compete with the shouting matches between the Treasury and Opposition members during Zero Hour.
Meanwhile, Congress MPs are clearly acting in the belief that forcing the Government on the back foot over the uncertain conditions on the border with China can help them regain electoral traction. Both inside and outside Parliament, party leaders have sought to convey the impression that the Government is weak in dealing with our belligerent neighbour. Of course, the truth is that within our levels of economic and military development everything needed to keep the Chinese dragon at bay was done, and is being done. To suggest, as Rahul Gandhi did, that Chinese soldiers ‘thrashed’ our troops was irresponsible. We should learn to show unity and solidarity in meeting the frontal challenge a rogue China poses to India and to virtually every one of its land and maritime neighbours.
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