Tuesday, December 1, 2009

INDIA'S DEMOCRACY NOW ONLY 'BY THE PEOPLE'

If the Parliament is the supreme symbol of the model of democracy that we blindly copy-pasted nearly 60 years ago, then it is dead. And death has not come due to a sudden stroke or seizure; it has followed a long illness that has criminally been neglected and allowed to become fatal.

What happened during Question Hour yesterday indicates that the time to perform its last rites has come. It is too late to resuscitate it. Not that anyone is even thinking about it.

Two years ago, the then Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee saw death coming. After actively, but unknowingly perhaps, participating in the process of killing it for decades, he got illuminated only after he got a chance to see from his high chair on the other side what his fellow parliamentarian were actually doing. On that day, when he saw them, for the umpteenth time, rushing to the well of the house with aggressive intent, shouting like drunk men in a brawl do, he told them what struck him in the twilight of his career: they were working overtime to finish democracy.

Were his words ever going to have any effect so late in the day, when the benign tumor had already turned malignant and had rapidly spread into all vital organs of the body of India's democracy? That is why, a year later, even more agitated by their uncouth, uncivilised and unacceptable behaviour, he lost control, to tell them something they always knew: they were insulting the people and wasting public money. But the crowning shame was that it was he who had to back off and apologise to them for speaking the bitter truth; not one of them felt that an apology to the people of India was due. They had gone way beyond shame.

Yesterday, any doubts that anyone might have had about the total irrelevance of the Parliament were set to rest.

A mandatory hour, known as Question Hour, is that period of time in Parliament when an MP can question any minister about anything related to his ministry. Needless to add, this is the time when those chosen by the people get an opportunity to raise issues of concern to the people of their constituencies directly at the highest level, to get answers thereof quickly and provide authentic information to them. This is that vital feedback loop without which proceedings of Parliament have little meaning for the so-called aam admi about whom every politician keeps shouting to stay in business.

But yesterday, this hour became a joke and collapsed. As many as 34 MPs who had submitted questions were found missing when Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar called their names. This unprecedented apathy on part of these representatives of the people was the proof that Parliament was, for all practical purposes, a dead people's forum . A few years ago, the nation was shocked when a sting operation revealed that MPs were taking money to raise questions in Parliament. That expose possibly put brakes on that disgraceful practice. But it also took 'life' out of the Question Hour and exposed the total rot for what it is.

India's Parliament is now no more than an joint election platform that all political parties are using shamelessly to run their opponents down, as they do outside and in TV studios, during election campaigns. Meaningful discussion and debate on the many issues that this nation needs to address in a bipartisan manner have simply stopped taking place.

Those who have any doubts about how speedily things have deteriorated and reached this terminal point may like to look at the following statistics:
  • In the 11th Lok Sabha (1996 to 1998) 5.28 % of the total time was lost in pandemonium.
  • The above figure increased to 10.66% in the 12th Lok Sabha.
  • The figure more than doubled to 22.4 % between 1999 and 2004.
  • The 14th Lok Sabha recorded 38 per cent time lost in the first two sessions
  • The Rajya Sabha lost a whopping 46% time in the corresponding 201st and 202nd sessions
The basic reason for this precipitous slide is the completely flawed model of democracy that compels politicians to ruthlessly and quite horrifyingly cut the electorate into smaller and smaller pieces, along more and more dimensions. This, in turn, facilitates the birth and sustenance of dynasties at all levels due to which protection and promotion of family interests begins to take precedence over all else. This, let it be understood by all who think India, is what is weakening and hollowing the nation from within. When you add to this the fact that elections are now being held almost non-stop, politicians are left with little choice but to remain in a campaign mode inside Parliament all the time. Winning the coming elections by making disgraceful noises in Parliament and then in TV studios is what consumes them. No longer does one has any time for, or interest in, helping the government of the day run the nation by giving constructive criticism and feedback, or, as yesterday's shocker shows, in doing what he/she is expected to do by the people who have elected them.

India's democracy is now only 'by the people'. With the aam admi having been priced out of the election game which is now dominated by dynasties and criminals, it has ceased to be 'of the people'. And, as the death of the Parliament makes it clear, it is also no longer 'for the people'.

It is no accident that it is Dr Manmohan Singh, an honest 'non-political' politician with no family interests to promote, who has spoken about the failure of this model of democracy and expressed his apprehension about its survival.

I distinctly recall what Rahul Gandhi said last year when asked about the disgraceful manner in which parliamentarians shout each other down, and do worse, in Parliament. The young Gandhi said that he was proud that all MPs were able to freely express 'their' views in the House. Need more be said?