Parliament’s Turbulent 2023 And The Imperative For Democratic Renewal In 2024

Parliament’s Turbulent 2023 And The Imperative For Democratic Renewal In 2024

As we cast a retrospective gaze on the year gone by, it is incumbent upon us to summon a collective hope for a more sanguine 2024

Sayantan GhoshUpdated: Tuesday, December 26, 2023, 11:01 PM IST
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The annals of 2023 stand as a sombre testament to the erosion of democratic traditions within the venerable chambers of the Indian Parliament. A year marked by the inauguration of a new Parliamentary edifice bore witness not only to the architectural transition but also to the lamentable abandonment of longstanding values that have historically characterised the Indian Parliamentary system. The year highlighted the poverty of mutual respect, cohesion, sanctity, privileges and decorum that traditionally underscored the democratic ethos.

The intractability within the Parliamentary ranks became most pronounced in the strained relationship between the government and the Opposition. The latter, ostensibly charged with providing a check on executive power, exhibited a regrettable proclivity for obstinacy, often manifesting in rigid demands that thwarted the smooth functioning of Parliamentary proceedings. The vital tenet of finding a middle ground, a foundational principle of democratic governance, was regrettably absent, perpetuating a stasis that echoed discord rather than constructive dialogue. Equally disconcerting was the apparent metamorphosis of parliamentary proceedings into a contest of egos, with the ruling government, particularly under the auspices of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), wielding undue influence through presiding officers. The consequence was a stifling of Opposition voices, rendering Parliamentary debates a monologue rather than a nuanced exchange of ideas. The ramifications of such a paradigm shift extend beyond partisan politics, striking at the core of democratic principles that hinge on the symbiotic relationship between government and Opposition.

The culmination of this acrimonious dynamic manifested itself in the unprecedented en-masse suspension of Opposition Members of Parliament during the winter session. This act, ostensibly a punitive measure, pointed towards an alarming culture of arrogance within the ruling party. It not only sidelined the Opposition but also betrayed a disregard for the fundamental tenet of a healthy democracy — the acknowledgment of dissent as an essential component of governance. Ramesh Bidhuri and Meenakshi Lekhi, two prominent members of the ruling party, served as examples of how their inflammatory remarks and combative language contributed to the erosion of Parliamentary sanctity, but they are not the only ones. But what steps have been taken against them? The answer is technically negligible, which means that the government is not even pretending to be unbiased, nor are the presiding officers. These incidents were not isolated transgressions but symptomatic of a broader trend that suggested a systemic indifference to the decorum befitting Parliamentary proceedings.

The very essence of Parliamentary democracy, which hinges on the earnest deliberation and scrutiny of proposed legislation, faced a severe test in the recent Parliamentary discourse. The government's apparent reluctance to engage in substantive debates on Bills and laws raised pertinent questions about the integrity of the legislative process. The drift towards an inclination for imposition rather than discussion runs counter to the democratic imperative of transparent governance through deliberation.

A lamentable consequence of this tumultuous period has been the cessation of meaningful debate and discussion within the hallowed halls of Parliament. Rather than fostering an environment where diverse perspectives clash and converge, the prevailing milieu has transformed into a forum where majority decisions are secured through voice votes, leaving the democratic spirit malnourished.

The regrettable trend of suspending Opposition MPs, a practice that reached new heights in 2023, underscores a significant departure from the democratic norm. The vitality of the Opposition's voice as a counterbalance to the ruling government is a linchpin of Parliamentary democracy. Attempting to stifle this dissent not only weakens the democratic fabric but also deprives the nation of a crucial mechanism for scrutinising executive actions. A particularly egregious incident that encapsulates the erosion of Parliamentary sanctity was the ousting of TMC MP Mahua Moitra based on the recommendations of an ethics panel with questionable purview. In an astonishing turn of events, the mimicry incident involving TMC MP Kalyan Banerjee outside the Parliamentary arena drew the ire of Vice President Jagdeep Dhankar, who perceived it as a personal affront. The subsequent passing of a government-backed resolution on the matter exemplifies an unprecedented intrusion of personal grievances into Parliamentary proceedings, compromising the very sanctity that should underscore the functioning of the august institution. The purported transgression was weaponised against members, an act that speaks to the personalised nature of Parliamentary affairs and the blurring of lines between personal and institutional grievances. It has always been the norm that if something happens outside Parliament, except for issues of national importance, it is not discussed inside the House. But at the same time, when the Opposition demanded that the PM make a statement on the ongoing civil war in Manipur, he did not respond.

The events of 2023, both within and outside Parliamentary chambers, have painted an indelible stain on the canvas of Indian Parliamentary democracy. A year characterised by a confluence of factors — be it the suspension of Opposition MPs, the divisive rhetoric within Parliament, or the attack within its very confines — stands as a dark chapter in the annals of democratic governance. As we cast a retrospective gaze on the year gone by, it is incumbent upon us to summon a collective hope for a more sanguine 2024. The new year must serve as a harbinger of change, a resurrection of democratic ideals, and a reaffirmation of the sanctity that should pervade the corridors of power. The Indian Parliament, as the crucible of democratic governance, must rekindle the spirit of mutual respect, embrace the diversity of opinions, and foster an environment where Parliamentary debates are characterised by substance, not acrimony.

In conclusion, the onus rests on the representatives of the people to navigate a course that steers away from the tumultuous waters of 2023. The imperative for 2024 is clear: to uphold the true spirit of democracy by restoring the Parliamentary traditions that have, for long, defined India's democratic journey. In the hands of those who shape the destiny of the nation lies the responsibility to transcend the discord of the past year and carve a path that leads to a more dignified, deliberative, and democratic Parliamentary future.


The author teaches journalism at St Xavier's College (autonomous), Kolkata, and tweets at @sayantan_gh

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