The 2024 Lok Sabha elections have concluded with an NDA coalition government led by the BJP being sworn in as this is being written. Some would say that the fact that no party got a clear majority, or even an absolute majority is a problem because coalition politics will not allow business to be conducted “as usual”- e.g. passing bills drafted by the ruling party at the behest of the superrich who bankroll them without any discussion. Others would say that this is a strength of Indian democracy as this somehow represents the “true will” of the Indian people, and that this reflects the `checks and balances’ built into the system. Once a government is sworn in and the Lok Sabha is convened, it would mean that there is a continuity and that all is well in the system.

It may be recalled that the 2019 Lok Sabha elections gave an overwhelming majority to the Bhartiya Janata Party, and the Narendra Modi led government passed a large number of laws. Some of these important laws were tabled during the Covid period and ordnances introduced were passed into law with hardly a debate. In fact, quite a few bills were passed when a large number of opposition MPs were ‘suspended’! Discussions if any were perfunctory and the stance of the opposition was often simply brushed aside, and the brute majority was used to bring in laws that were evidently unpopular and in practice against the interest of large numbers of the working people.

Not the least among such laws were the Farm Laws which, in 2019, brought in many contentious features and spread widespread opposition amongst farmers. The government and ruling party did not even consult the members of their own party who represented regions of the country where there was mass opposition. This led to a stand-off between hundreds of thousands of protestors and the government, which dragged on for over a year. It is said that over 700 persons lost their lives during this struggle, including some farmers who were run over by the rogue son of a sitting MP. Members of government and the ruling party were quick to say that the opponents of the laws were foreign-funded agents and were called all kinds of derisive names. The entire attitude of the government was arrogant beyond doubt, and it became clear that there were no constitutional or parliamentary methods to really question the passage of the laws. The Supreme Court intervened and suggested talks and appointed some interlocutors. In the end the laws were abrogated by the government itself in face of the staunch and continued opposition – not in parliament, but from the millions who protested on the streets for months on end.

All the facts mentioned above are well known. That said it is worth noting that the Parliamentary system prevailing in the country is such that the will of the people is not reflected in the activities of the government and the parliament. While there are many sanctimonious noises across the political spectrum and indeed in the Constitution that the government rules in the name of the people, life experience shows that it is otherwise. Most of the laws passed and decisions of the government benefit only a small and powerful minority of industrialists.

The political parties are those which stoutly defend the interests of the richest and most powerful sections of the population. A lot of lip service is paid to the people in grandiose speeches of big political leaders in front of the masses. But in reality, they carry out the will of the superrich. The `opposition’ parties are also parties which are dependent on the superrich for funding. So, except for some loud noises in the parliament and outside, nothing is really resolved in favour of the people. The contentious farm laws were abrogated not because of opposition in parliament, but because of millions of farmers protesting outside for months together. Thus, life experience shows that the real opposition comes from the people on the street. This is one of the striking aspects of Indian democracy, and one which subjects the population to enormous risks since they do not have power and are often at the receiving end of a vociferous reaction from the ruling circles, their parties, their government and their state institutions.

The fact that a coalition government is going to be in place, maybe for five years, does not change any of the features above. The coalition partners and the largest party will have to concur on most laws and their passage, and the opposition will put up a mock fight, which, due to the parliamentary mechanisms, will rarely stop the passage of unpopular bills. The people of India must understand these basic features of Indian parliamentary life and begin a debate on how they might get out of this impasse. The end of the Lok Sabha elections of 2024 provides an opportunity to take this forward.

Source of image: https://www.cnbc.com/2020/12/03/why-india-farmers-are-protesting-three-farm-reform-bills.html

by BA and Venkatesh Sundaram

 

By admin