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Democracy in peril

Indian democracy has over time shown a resilience that has been marvelled at the world over. Yet, 67 years after its birth, the world’s largest democracy is faced with a crisis of faith too scarily large to be ignored. As the 15th Lok Sabha comes to an ignominious end, it is no longer possible to put off the question: are we a democracy only in name? Without a proactive course correction, India’s robust record in conducting elections could end up being just that — a ritualistic, five-yearly obeisance to democracy that hides the appalling state of the country’s institutions, in particular Parliament which today resembles a wrestling arena. In truth, the comparison would insult the sport of wrestling, which is governed by well laid-out rules and regulations. By contrast, parliamentary misbehaviour would seem to have no boundaries, with new lows marked in every session, and progressively higher levels of tolerance required of presiding officers, who have had to throw up their hands in the face of aggression by those they have been mandated to monitor.

Even by this abysmal standard, few could have bargained for what happened in the concluding session of the 15th Lok Sabha. An irate MP from Seemandhra used pepper spray, causing immense distress to fellow- parliamentarians. A dark chapter was added to this saga when the Lok Sabha passed The Andhra Pradesh Re-organisation Bill amidst a TV blackout. There cannot be a worse commentary on the state of democracy than the blackout of the proceedings of the lower House of Parliament where the collective will of the people is deemed to reside. It would seem only natural then that the 15th Lok Sabha should have recorded the worst performance in more than 50 years; productivity, which was 107 per cent in the third Lok Sabha, scaled a peak of 120 per cent in the seventh, only to crash to 61 per cent in the 15th; the outgoing Lok Sabha passed 177 of the 326 Bills scheduled for passage. Tragically, Indian parliamentarians are second to none in legislative acumen and debating skills — as was witnessed during the debates on the Lokpal and Lokayuktas Bill, 2011, as well as on the occasions when the Opposition skewered the executive on its interminable scams. The Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party also set aside their differences to help pass the Bills on the Lokpal and the Telangana state. This shows that with some will, Parliament can yet be salvaged. The time has come for presiding officers to redeem the pledge they have repeatedly made at countless conferences, to “evolve and observe” a “code of conduct” for legislators and create strong disincentives against disruption. The start for this has necessarily to be the realisation that India’s future is imperilled if its Parliament is imperilled.

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