The truism that time is precious takes on a different edge of meaningfulness in two institutions — Parliament and the courts. And the budget session of Parliament is going to be a particularly hectic affair. So, it is reassuring to learn that the Union home minister and the Opposition have decided to bury the hatchet and get on with things in the House in what appears to be a civilized manner. The home minister had made a rather unconsidered public remark about the link between terrorism, a certain religion and some loosely political outfits. The religion and the outfits are close to the Opposition’s heart, and the home minister’s comments do seem to be rather avoidable. He met the leader of the Opposition (who, as a leading member of the Bharatiya Janata Party, was particularly cut-up) and the parliamentary affairs minister, and then came up with a clarification generously tinged with “regret”, which seems to have worked. The Opposition has decided not to be too obstructively oppositional about the matter, for there are very many more important things to oppose during this session.
This is not only good time management, but also raises flagging hopes about the fate of parliamentary ethics in India. There is a crucial difference between a democracy that is genuinely parliamentary and one that is not so: the former tends to be more civilized and less mindless than the latter. Meaningful discussion and debate, the moving of a busy agenda, and a concerted use of good sense and manners in coming to crucial decisions have to be at the core of parliamentary behaviour. But what usually happens in the House, and in the state assemblies, does not always bode well for the future of parliamentary conduct in India. And even gladiatorial behaviour could have various levels of effectiveness. Just holding up important business, venting outrage or trading insults is more than a waste of time. These things seriously bring down the levels of political action on which a modern democracy moves forward. This budget session has nearly 60 bills to introduce, consider or pass, apart from the budget and the economic survey. For the United Progressive Alliance, the 2014 elections mean that it would have to act fast on matters like land acquisition, food security and women’s reservation. So civilized conduct that breaks patterns of disruptive behaviour becomes all the more important.