NEW DELHI: A part of the unanimous resolution that the Lok Sabha adopted on September 1, 1997 at the conclusion of a special session convened to mark 50 years of India’s Independence may now sound like an idealistic formulation from a classical parliamentary textbook of rules:
“That the prestige of the Parliament be preserved and enhanced also by conscious and dignified conformity to the entire regime of Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business of the Houses and Directions of the Presiding Officers relating to orderly conduct of business more especially by:
Maintaining the inviolability of the Question Hour;
Refraining from transgressing into the official areas of the Houses or from shouting slogans; and
Invariably desisting from any efforts at interruptions with the address of the President of the Republic.”
During the last decade, this commitment has been virtually discarded, and it was actually shredded during the tenure of the 14th Lok Sabha, when disruption of proceedings and both Houses adjourning without transacting any business became common occurrences.
As a matter of routine, the sprit of this commitment has been invoked once again with leaders promising the new Speaker, Meira Kumar, the cooperation of their parties in conducting the proceedings of the House smoothly.
That the commitment is not new will not be lost on Ms. Kumar. She was a Cabinet member during the tenure of the previous Lok Sabha, which saw one of the most tumultuous periods a full-term House has had since that 1997 resolution. And, she was a party to the historic document itself.
This time the onus is both on the Speaker and the House to make a conscientious effort to breathe life into the resolution by insisting on its implementation in letter and spirit and making a break from the past.
Continuity in governance and stability were two aspects that political pundits saw reflected in Verdict 2009 and in the formation of the Council of Ministers. But, these are but a part of what the people have voted for.
The responsibility to implement the second and more important component of this mandate rests with the new members who have begun their innings in right earnest. The stakes are high for the 300–odd members who have entered the House for the first time. The 2009 verdict is also seen as a verdict of the youth, who came out in greater numbers to elect politicians from a generation they are comfortable with.
Seen in its totality, the underlying message for the new Lok Sabha is to get down to work. Nobody seems to have sensed this better than the first woman Speaker, who has highlighted the fact that the House has to accord priority to the aspirations of the youth.
The current Lok Sabha offers an opportunity to the new members to cast off the burden of the past when disruptions and noisy protests had become virtually a part of regular proceedings. It would appear that disruptions were being seen as a political necessity. There was hardly any realisation that the interruption of parliamentary work represented a gross violation of the rules.
It is time the new members built a bipartisan coalition to inject a different political culture in Parliament. To start with, they should take a pledge not to disrupt the proceedings, and to persuade others not to do so.
These members can take inspiration from an innocuous move by a group of freshman parliamentarians in the last House that gathered momentum, resulting in a ban on smoking inside Parliament, much before the legislation banning smoking in public places came into effect.
The younger generation should take the lead to blunt the thinking of certain party leaderships that disruptions, storming the well of the House and vocal protests are better means to gain political advantage than civilised dissent and disagreement.
Take, for instance, the candid admission by former RJD MP Ranjeet Ranjan last year. The Bihar MP felt she was letting down her State when party leaders insisted that she join other MPs in stalling the proceedings when she actually had wanted to highlight the plight of the people suffering the effects of the unprecedented degree of intensity of the floods in the Kosi.
Protests and walkouts are legitimate tools in the hands of the Opposition, but when members collectively and consciously prevent the transaction of normal business, they inflict great harm to parliamentary democracy.
The first branch of parliamentary democracy, the Executive, is already up and running promising to deliver measurable achievements by the end of 100 days.
It is the turn of the second branch, namely Parliament, especially its new members on both sides of the political divide, to draw up an agenda and enforce parliamentary scrutiny of every act of the executive. And to ensure that it happens, the basic requirement is that Parliament be allowed to run.
Corrections and Clarifications
In an article "Challenge and opportunity before the new Lok Sabha" (June 6,2009) there was a reference to former RJD MP Ranjeet Ranjan. She was MP ofthe Lok Jan Sakthi party and won from Saharsa, Bihar.