In a world that is growing progressively topsy-turvy, it is no surprise that the uninterrupted functioning of the Rajya Sabha has become the target of criticism. Repeated adjournments and interrupted proceedings in Parliament seem to have become the norm, since most opposition nowadays takes the form of obstruction instead of debate. Members of parliament evidently do not feel accountable to the people who have elected them even when government business is held up day after day as they drum up a ruckus, cause adjournments or just walk out. Neither are there penalties for holding up a day’s session — no MP loses even his daily allowance. A functioning Parliament is now an exception, not the rule. Yashwant Sinha, the former finance minister and foreign minister and now a Lok Sabha MP, expressed his annoyance at the fact that the Rajya Sabha actually worked, when the Lok Sabha, evidently to his satisfaction, was held up regularly because his colleagues in the Bharatiya Janata Party “persistently pursued” their disagreements with the United Progressive Alliance government.
Even such a senior leader of the Opposition as Mr Sinha seems to be ignorant of proper parliamentary practice, where ‘persistent pursuit’ of contentious issues does not mean disruption of parliamentary business by planned aggression but reasoning and arguing through debate. The point is, of course, that he is not ignorant; he would be, if anything, especially conscious of procedures because he has been an Indian Administrative Service officer for 24 years. His endorsement of disruption of Parliament — more, his championing of it — bodes ill for India’s parliamentary democracy. In a general way, the attitude exposes the decline in India’s political culture since the loudest voice — or the greatest might — is expected to overcome reason, procedure and all sense of responsibility. More particularly, Mr Sinha’s strong-arming attitude represents the BJP’s approach to parliamentary democracy: if the BJP is in Opposition, the government must not be allowed to work. This has the charm of simplicity, although such an approach is disastrous for India. Now more than ever is it necessary to implement strict penalties for disruption, and other rigorous measures to ensure that Parliament can function as envisaged in the Constitution.