As the Winter Session of the Parliament has commenced, the primary topic being Demonetization, I happened to watch the LokSabha session. I must admit that it has been a long time since I did that last. As I watched that debate, I felt a sense of despair in my gut. I know, the general sentiment in the country currently has never been more optimistic in all my 22 years of existence. But, as I watched the quality of debate in the Parliament where our elected leaders- and please note the word, ‘leaders’ acted like a bunch of unruly kids, I felt my faith in democracy erode a little. The media coverage, which is part of the Parliamentary process now is precious to further their own political ambitions and sadly, any publicity is good publicity.
Now, I agree people have varied opinions on demonetization as they are very much entitled to. Some view it as a groundbreaking reform while others see it as a catastrophic move for the poorer sections of the society or rather just an ineffective way to deal with the black money. And you know what, that’s absolutely okay! After all, dissent is the foremost metric of the health of a democratic society. What baffles me right now is the disheartening lack of a graceful parliamentary opposition in today’s times. Don’t get me wrong, nobody and I mean, nobody is absolved of this crime. Only the tables turn but the drama remains the same. Before BJP formed the government, during the ten years of Congress-led UPA government, the opposition was no better. There has been a marked shift in how the Opposition deals with debate on important policy issues. Shouting slogans, beating desks and melodramatic, baseless and aggressive theatrics mean more TV minutes than a healthy, rational debate.
It isn’t just limited to inside the Parliament. Now, we have Twitter, a powerful 140-characters medium which enables people to spew cringe worthy political statements, mostly tin-foil conspiracy theories or plain hate-mongering. And our gracious politicians can’t get enough of it. The most powerfully armed nation in the world elected their Commander-in-Chief even after his twitter handle kept spitting out racist, xenophobic and hateful ramblings. Indian politicians, when not in Parliament, use the same tactic to come up with embarrassingly stupid remarks ( Hint: Kejriwal and PayTm fiasco). I am not blaming Twitter or any of the similar medium. It is not the apparatus that irks me, it is the content that does.
Role of Opposition in a democracy
Opposition is instrumental to the very fabric of democracy. In two-party systems like that of the UK and the USA, the opposition forms a sort of shadow cabinet to keep the government in check. A country does not just put faith in the people in power, it also elects those who form the opposition. They trust them to safeguard their rights, raise their voices for something they don’t believe is right and most importantly, and stand in support of their own convictions.
This country has seen a plethora of great leaders who could look beyond their own vested interests and even ideological differences to work towards a common goal of the country. There was a room for dialogue to talk about shortcomings and amendments and support when it came to policies. We have had instances when the then-leader of opposition, Atal Bihari Vajpayee was sent to Geneva for the United Nations Convention by PV Narsimha Rao setting a unique example at an international platform. There were leaders like Bhupesh Gupta and Somnath Chatterjee from CPM, JD Kripalani and Peelu Modi from Swantrata Party, Ram Manohar Lohia from the Socialist Party who were known for their brilliantly rational political style of executing and they have earned the respect in the political circles even today.
Delayed Decisions: The Foremost Argument against Democracy
Let us glance at the instances from the recent past:
- Shashi Tharoor’s attempt to introduce the bill to decriminalize homosexuality by amending Article 377 was not even allowed to be introduced as it was defeated 58 to 14 in LokSabha. Of the 73 people present, one didn’t vote. This was his second attempt and it serves as an example where the brute majority in the Parliament can silence an attempt to revise a colonial bill which denies the rights of a much unacknowledged section of the society.
- When Manmohan Singh signed the Indo-US Nuclear deal back in 2005, the opposition again fought tooth and nail and demanded that it be ratified by the Parliament. This is the same government who just signed a much-deliberated upon deal in Tokyo along the similar lines.
- The GST (Goods and Service Tax) bill which the government takes a lot of pride in would have seen the light of the day much earlier if it were not for the opposition not getting on-board then, much to the indignation of Congress. However, one might argue here that it took a long time for this government to get it through as well.
- The very-personal attacks against Sushma Swaraj and Smriti Irani without objectively examining their policy making to get the currently-doomed Congress Party to get excited about political mileage stalled the business of the Parliament on more than one occasion.
- The sad and pathetic politicization of Rohith Vermula case and the JNU and Kanhaiya Kumar debacle recently in the Parliament took the attention away from other pressing issues of the government.
- The Juvenile Justice Amendment Act after the brutal 2012 Delhi gangrape case put forth by the Central Government which was passed in LokSabha could not get passed in RajyaSabha because of the opposition’s disruption much to the disappointment of the country in general.
While writing this piece, some argued that if the Opposition is vocal, they are probably doing their job right. The acceptance of the unruly way of handling political machinery is becoming more forgivable and that’s where my problem lies with the system. Having stated these, I’d also like to point out that it doesn’t help when the ruling government refuses to acknowledge the Opposition, however skeletal it is at this time. The attacks in turn get personal and the opportunity to build a consensus about an issue flies right out of the window. The politicians indulge in a personal, vitriolic war leading to a paralyzed Parliamentary function and severely delays decision-making, which is one of the biggest arguments against democracy as a form of government. I’d like to quote a very poignant line by Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who I absolutely revere, “Matbhed hona chaiye, manbhed nahi”, which roughly translates to while on the opposite sides of the fence, our ideas may differ but we are absolutely not the enemies.
Author: Priyanshi Goyal
Designer: Himali Tripathi