By BA and Venkatesh Sundaram
In a recent article Mr. Manish Tewari has pointed out that Parliament appears to have become almost useless because of the provisions of the anti-defection law that do not permit members to vote across party lines. It is pointed out here that the main difficulty in Parliament is that it does not represent the will of the people. The process of selection of candidates and the political process actually does not empower the people in any way. A new political process is needed to meet these ends.
हाल के एक लेख में श्री मनीष तिवारी ने कहा है कि दल-बदल विरोधी कानून के प्रावधानों के कारण संसद लगभग बेकार हो गई है, जो सदस्यों को पार्टी लाइनों में मतदान करने की अनुमति नहीं देता है। यहां यह बताया गया है कि संसद में मुख्य कठिनाई यह है कि यह लोगों की इच्छा का प्रतिनिधित्व नहीं करती है। उम्मीदवारों के चयन की प्रक्रिया और राजनीतिक प्रक्रिया वास्तव में किसी भी तरह से लोगों को सशक्त नहीं बनाती है। इन लक्ष्यों को पूरा करने के लिए एक नए राजनीतिक जनादेश की जरूरत है।
திரு மனிஷ் திவாரி ஒரு சமீபத்திய கட்டுரையில், பாராளுமன்றம் கிட்டத்தட்ட பயனற்றதாகிவிட்டது என்று தோன்றுகிறது, ஏனெனில் கட்சி கட்டுப்பாடுகளுக்கு எதிராக வாக்களிக்க உறுப்பினர்களை அனுமதிப்பதில்லை. பாராளுமன்றத்தில் உள்ள முக்கிய பிரச்சினை அது மக்களின் விருப்பத்தை பிரதிநிதித்துவப்படுத்தவில்லை என்பது இங்கு சுட்டிக்காட்டப்படுகிறது. இன்றைய வேட்பாளர்களைத் தேர்ந்தெடுக்கும் செயல்முறை மற்றும் அரசியல் செயல்முறை உண்மையில் மக்களுக்கு எந்த விதத்திலும் அதிகாரம் அளிக்கவில்லை. இந்த நோக்கங்களுக்காக ஒரு புதிய அரசியல் அமைப்புமுறை தேவை.
Source of image: https://parliamentofindia.nic.in/
Many people who have been observing political affairs in India might ask the above question in frustration, since the Indian Parliament has done arguably little to improve the lot of the common people in all its decades. What makes the question interesting is that it was posed by a veteran of the political system, a person who has been an MP a few times as well as a Union Minister and is a well-known practicing lawyer to boot – Mr Manish Tewari.
Mr Tewari posed the question in the light of the restrictions imposed on the conscience of Members of Parliament in the wake of the legislation popularly known as the ‘Anti – Defection Laws’ officially known as the 10th Schedule of the Indian Constitution. It was supposed to stop politicians from ‘defecting’ to another political party after being elected to office on the ‘ticket’ provided by a different party (often for pecuniary considerations in what is popularly termed “horse trading” – a euphemism for accepting money to change sides).
However, he says, in the past 35 years of its existence, this has only ended up raising the bar of defection from “retail” to “wholesale” meaning that instead of individual legislators switching sides, a whole group (at least one third) needed to switch sides at one time. But he says, the law has turned legislatures into halls of whip-driven tyranny where MPs and MLAs are precluded from exercising their wisdom in terms of their conscience, common sense, and constituency interests. Thus, the political party that gives any person a ticket to contest on its symbol exerts complete control over their mind and soul.
There is some substance in what Mr Tewari says – about the stranglehold which major political parties – incidentally he has been a spokesman of one of them which ruled for over fifty years. But there is much more to the uselessness of Parliament to the common people than this. In fact, even when the houses of Indian Parliament – the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha – were in fact functioning as the ‘founding fathers of the Constitution’ wanted them to, let us say for the sake of Mr Tewari from 1950 to 1980 – they did precious little to solve the real problems of the toiling people.
The Westminster model which the Indian Parliament has followed at best ensures that there is a lot of debate on the bills that are being passed, and other matters which members bring up. Parliament in reality has limited powers. It is very rare that a bill is passed that is not tabled by the Government and conversely, especially in situations where governments have brute majorities, it is very rare that bills tabled by the Government are not passed. In times when the ruling parties have large and absolute majorities, the democratic process is practically a dictatorship of the ruling party. There have however been a few exceptional cases when Parliament and Legislative Assemblies have voted out governments.
It’s quite clear that the people are totally deprived of power in this system since their only opportunity is to press a button every five years. After that, the MPs or MLAs who are elected are not accountable to the electorate in any way and in fact do not need to face the electorate again till the next election (if that is, their party is sufficiently pleased with them to give them a ticket again). Here what Mr Tewari says is true – they need only be loyal to the political party which gives them the ticket. Elections are hardly fought on principles or even manifestos. They are fought on money power, on the basis of various divisions which the political parties exploit among the polity and are won on “electoral arithmetic” – a euphemism for manipulating the divisions in a crafty and eventually successful manner.
The function of the parliaments in India and for that matter in UK and several other countries is to provide a forum where debates can happen, where sound bites can be created for the electronic and print media so that the electorate can see that their representatives are “working in their interests”. If Parliament is functioning “well” it means that debates are heated and discussion is vigorous, and people are in fact fooled into thinking that their “elected representatives” are in fact working in their best interests. These “representatives”, far from being people’s representatives, are in fact representatives of the rich and super rich who bankroll the elections and later make the governments work in their best interests.
The real power is in the hands of the Cabinet of Ministers – within which the Prime Minister or Chief Minister holds the reins. Control is shared, depending on the nature of the party or parties that come to power, with a few more colleagues from her own or allied parties. That power is really in the hands of the Cabinet can be easily seen from the fact that it can issue Ordinances to rule – which are valid for six months if not turned into Acts or issued again – without discussion in Parliament (Union or State legislatures). It is the Cabinet which initiates most of the legislation. Common citizens in India cannot initiate legislation, and for the most part it is rare for bills tabled by private members of Parliament to become Acts. This concentration of power ensures that the Government always works in the best interests of the rich and superrich who control political power through it.
Sometimes, as at the present time, circumstances are such that even the charade of debate and discussion is not deemed necessary, and bills are passed perfunctorily with hardly any debate. The recent monsoon session has seen 20 bills passed in both Houses of Parliament, either without discussion or minimal, limited to treasury bench MPs speaking on the legislation. The Rajya Sabha has passed nine bills since the House convened on 19 July 2021 and clocked nearly 17 minutes per bill for discussion and passing. This is when people like the Hon Mr Tewari bemoan the fall of values and the lack of debate in Parliament – because they are not happy with the manner in which the system is getting exposed in front of the people.
The “solution” to this however is not merely to relax the onerous provisions of the 10th Schedule of the Indian Constitution as Mr Tewari proposes to free members “from the stranglehold of the political parties”. This will only enable them to continue the charades and make out as if they are serving the people when in fact, they are serving their rich masters.
We, the people need to think of a solution in which the political power is actually vested in the hands of the citizens at large. Today, a slate of candidates is presented by the major political parties in the fray, and the people of the constituency have no say whatsoever in deciding who gets to be on it. Although in principle, independent candidates can contest elections as is often the case, they rarely win as they do not have the financial or logistical ability to mount a real challenge. Therefore, in practice what prevails is the dominance of large and established political parties. People residing in a constituency, rather than political parties ought to be able to select a few candidates who may contest the election from that constituency.
We need a legislative system in which our representatives are fully accountable and be able to recall them if they do not perform in our best interests. Common citizens ought to be able to initiate legislation, not merely those in power or those elected to legislatures. Many more ways must be thought of and implemented to ensure that we the people actually wield political power, and the legislatures are controlled by and work for the people.