The country’s parliament yesterday celebrated 60 years of its existence with leaders, mainly from the ruling Congress, calling for an end to frequent disruptions and the need for parliamentarians to introspect over their behaviour.
Both houses of parliament held day-long special sittings with party leaders recalling country’s freedom struggle and the nation becoming the largest democracy in the world. But there were words of self-criticism as well.
During the debates in the two houses, speakers from both sides of the political divide stressed that the supremacy of the Indian parliament must be preserved as Singh flagged concerns in his speech over “the routine of disruptions” and members’ “unwillingness” to discuss key issues in the forum of parliament.
“The routine of disruptions, adjournments and shouting in the house are leading many to question the efficacy of this institution,” Singh said, addressing the Lok Sabha. He urged MPs to think over their conduct “as we look ahead, this occasion should also become the moment for some candid and serious introspection”.
“The manner in which we have conducted our affairs… has created a sense of frustration and disillusionment among the people,” the prime minister stressed, referring to the frequent opposition protests that have blocked many key legislations and also led to hundreds of business hours being wasted.
The prime minister’s concerns may not be off the mark given how noisy protests stalling parliament business have increased in the last years with the winter session in 2010 getting washed out entirely.
Besides, the number of sittings has also gone down over the years (see box). Perhaps with these statistics in mind and his own 21 years of experience as a lawmaker, Singh appealed to members to “write a new chapter and restore to it the sense of dignity and decorum that is expected of” parliament.
He said MPs should “reflect with concern on the repeated disruptions of proceedings and a regrettable unwillingness, on occasion, to engage in informed discussion”. “Therefore,” the prime minister said, it was “incumbent upon all of us to respect the great institutions of our democracy and respect the spirit of what is expected from the elected representatives”.
Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, who is also the leader of the Lok Sabha, also lamented that a handful of members were strangling the “silent majority”.
“On many occasions, this house has been tumultuous, tempers ran high, but disruptions were the least this house has adopted. Because when we disrupt the house then it serves no purpose. We cannot hear. We cannot speak,” he said.
Matters of pride
However, there were moments of sharing pride on India’s democracy that has made the country an example in the world despite problems like poverty and terrorism.
Parliamentarians spoke of India’s unflinching commitment to democracy.
Participating in the debate, Leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Arun Jaitley hailed India’s growth to the stature of the largest democracy. “Social justice, elimination of poverty, healthcare, women’s empowerment, these are all greater challenges in the decades to come,” Jaitley said.
At the end of the daylong sitting MPs resolved to uphold parliament’s “dignity, sanctity and supremacy” to make it an effective instrument of change.
In a unanimously adopted resolution in the both houses, they also vowed to enhance the government’s accountability through parliament’s oversight mechanism and rededicate themselves “completely to the sacred task of nation building”.
>> The Lok Sabha sat for an average 127 days and the Rajya Sabha for 93 days in the 1950s, according to PRS Legislative Research, an independent think tank.
>> In 2011, the number of days of sittings for the both houses was 73 days.
>> The first Lok Sabha in the 1950s passed an average of 72 bills each year but the 15th Lok Sabha has only passed an average of 40 bills a year.
>> Parliament passed the highest number of bills — 118 — in 1976 when the nation was under the Emergency. The lowest number of bills — 18 — were passed in 2004.
Parliament worked smoothly back then, says oldest member
Lawmakers should utlise parliament’s time instead of wasting it, said one of country’s first members of parliament, 92-year-old Rishang Keishing.
“In those days, every thing was peaceful and the system was functioning smoothly,” the MP from Manipur said during the debate. “The speeches were so peaceful. People paid attention. Interaction was cordial. The Question Hour was always important... We did not see an occasion when members rushed to the well of the house,” he said. “But today, I feel a lot of precious time is being wasted on matters not related to the country,” he said. Keishing was a member of the Lok Sabha from 1952-1957 and 1957-61. He is now a Rajya Sabha member.