A paralysed Parliament is nobody’s quest. Disruptions can’t be the goal. Elected representatives are supposed to discuss people’s problems and find solutions. Parliament is the highest platform of democratic deliberations and seeing ruckus and turmoil there, instead of any meaningful engagement between the government and the opposition day after day, and what is far more disconcerting -- for weeks and the entire session, is totally unacceptable.
While holding a Parliament session involves money and time, the message going out to the nation is that the members are irresponsible and not doing their duty. The Narendra Modi government lamented that Rs 133 crore had been wasted so far because of the deadlock in Parliament over the Pegasus row. An estimate put out some years ago by the government suggested every minute of running Parliament takes Rs 2.5 lakh.
The issues, however, are far bigger. It is about democracy; the principles of transparency and accountability cannot be undermined because of monetary considerations. What is to be understood clearly is that Parliament cannot function like corporate boardrooms, where every stakeholder quietly works for self-interest and personal profits. Factors guiding members of Parliament are far beyond self or political interests.
The elected representatives are not only supposed to fight for the interest of their constituencies and parties, it is morally incumbent upon them to fight for the nation; for the people, for constitutional principles, for empowerment of the weak and the oppressed. No government would like to readily discuss its failures and misdeeds but it is the job of the opposition to force them to be answerable. The opposition’s responsibility involves being a watchdog and to fight for the people, while those in power go to any extent to hide the unpleasant things. This is bound to trigger conflicts, sometimes so irreconcilable that disruptions and deadlocks become inevitable.
It is not for the first time that Parliament is in turmoil. It is not for the first time that no business has been transacted for weeks. It is not for the first time when the entire session appears doomed to be washed out. Nobody knows it better than the BJP, which has played the role of opposition for a much longer time than any other national party. It is the BJP which first achieved the rare feat of forcing a session washout.
If governments don’t allow debates on contentious issues, refuse to order probes into serious scandals and try to bulldoze their will despite stiff popular resistance, there will be disruptions in Parliament. It happened on Bofors, on the Tehelka sting operation, on 2G and the coal scam and it is happening over Pegasus snooping. It can’t be anybody's case that the Narendra Modi government is right in refusing a debate on snooping by an Israeli spyware. While it is indeed a case of privacy, putting judges, ministers, political rivals, journalists, security officials and even an election commissioner gives wider dimensions involving the functioning of democracy and national security to the unseemly episode. The politics of snooping, coercion and blackmail cannot be allowed in a civilised society.
As Israel has itself initiated a probe and the spyware-maker NSO has admitted misuse by certain clients, apart from several countries ordering their own enquiries, it is inexplicable that the Modi government has tried to stonewall every query on the subject. Hollow bluster about the issue being meaningless, baseless and a hoax is not how governments deal with serious concerns in a democracy. The opposition will fail in its duty if it doesn’t raise such issues. The government should have readily ordered an investigation if it didn’t have anything to hide. That it has vacillated and refused to accept any probe only deepens suspicions.
Democracy is not merely about elections. Democracy operates at every level – from personal to the collective, from social to the political – and the principles of transparency and accountability are inviolable in such a system of governance. Democracy is more about constitutional morality than power and politics. All those government actions that are not in tune with these sacred principles will invariably run into resistance. If that doesn’t happen, democracy will be in serious peril.
After all, can the BJP promise not to haul up governments of the future if such a serious case of snooping happens on a wide spectrum of civil society members and government officials? If not, even the Modi government will have to submit itself to the law of the land instead of trying to brazen out of this mess. Parliament belongs to the people and their representatives are expected to hold the government accountable.
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