Pragmatic | Start with simple steps

To counter the danger of increasing contempt for politics

The parliament hasn’t functioned for the eighth consecutive day today. Here is how the events transpired in the Lok Sabha today.

In the Lok Sabha, trouble erupted soon after Speaker Meira Kumar made obituary reference to former member Harish Kumar Gangawar of the Congress and read out a message on World AIDS Day. But that peace was short-lived.

The government has refused to withdraw its cabinet decision to allow 51 percent FDI in multi-brand retail and 100 percent in single-brand retail and the opposition is equally unblinking, asking it to reverse the policy or face continuing disruptions. The Prime Minister is believed to have told allies again that the government won’t roll back its decision.

Trinamool Congress MPs were seen standing in the aisles protesting the FDI decision. Buoyed by the cracks in the ruling combine, BJP members, some of them smiling, were also up on their feet, raising slogans and demanding an adjournment motion on the issue.

Left members, ideologically opposed to any market reforms, also demanded that the policy needed to be reversed.

There were other issues as well.

Congress members from Telangana region of Andhra Pradesh raised the decibel level demanding a separate state of Telangana.

MPs from Kerala also walked towards Meira Kumar’s podium demanding a new dam downstream of the leaking Mullaperiyar dam. They say the leakage has threatened the safety of more than three million people living in five districts of the state.

AIADMK members from Tamil Nadu were on the other side of the podium seeking implementation of the Supreme Court order on raising the storage level of the Mullaperiyar dam to 142 feet.

Meira Kumar tried to take the Question Hour but the din led her to adjourn the house till noon. When the ruckus continued after the house met again, she adjourned it for the day.[HT]

On top of such behaviour, when members of parliament ask for an increase in their official status, including a right to have red light atop their cars, it doesn’t go down well with the masses. While calls in the media for instituting a ‘No work, no pay’ rule for the MPs may be meaningless, it does point to a greater danger — an increasing contempt for politics in this country. Even while everyone will continue to swear by democracy and publicly hold it in high esteem, he or she has an equal amount of disdain for politics and politicians.

Is it possible to be a firm believer in democracy while having contempt for politics? Let me quote Pratap Bhanu Mehta (The Burden of Democracy; Page 21):

A contempt for politics will be worse than the corruption of politics; a search for an answer to our discontent is doomed unless it goes through the dangerous process of politics itself. This is something I firmly believe in, and for me, to be a democrat and express contempt for politics, even with its sordid horse-trading, opportunism and feverishness, is almost an oxymoron.(The Burden of Democracy)

The answer to restoring faith in politics lies in radical social change. This is a big project which can take generations to accomplish. But there is something which can be done in the short-term to get the stalled parliament to start functioning.

C.V. Madhukar, director of PRS Legislative Research, argues that the parliamentary rules of engagement need an overhaul. He suggests that India could take a leaf out of the rule book of its former colonial ruler, Britain, where the opposition is allotted 20 days per year when it can set the agenda.[NYT]

We need more of such simple, and sensible solutions to break the stalemate in the parliament. Dum spiro, spero [While I breath, I hope].

DISCLAIMER: This is an archived post from the Indian National Interest blogroll. Views expressed are those of the blogger's and do not represent The Takshashila Institution’s view.