- Mention the positive sides of parliament.
- Mention the imminent challenges.
The Indian Parliament is a very different institution from when Jawaharlal Nehru gave his memorable ‘Tryst With Destiny’ speech in 1947. In the 1950s, the Indian Parliament was often seen as an example for the countries that had just thrown off the colonial yoke. British political scientist W.H. Morris Jones had concluded his study of Parliament, published in the 1950s, by noting, “The story told here is unmistakably a story of success”.
However, there would be few takers now for such a view. Disruption of the proceedings is now routine, the number of hours that the Parliament sits and the volume of legislations passed have both seen a dramatic decline in recent times, as have debates and committee scrutiny.
Bright spots in India’s parliament:
- Representativeness : One of the brighter aspects is its representativeness. Post-independence, in 1952, the Parliament was mostly a stronghold of lawyers who were associated with the freedom movement.
- However, now the Parliament has become more representative of Indian society. This is partly due to reservation or quotas for the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. This is also due to the continuous deepening of democracy, which has been aided by a number of forces.
- The diversity has been accompanied, in recent years, by fewer members from minority religious groups, particularly the Muslim community. While the number of women members has increased, reaching an all-time high in 2019, it is still well below global standards.
- Multi-party composition: The political composition also saw an enormous change, from one dominated by Congress to the first non-Congress government in 1977 and subsequently, the growing presence of minority and coalition The transformation from a one-party dominant system to a multi-party one and now again to a nascent one-party system, under the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), has fundamentally altered the rules of engagement in the Parliament.
- Parliamentary committee system: Another reason for optimism is the functioning of the parliamentary committee system, which expanded significantly since the 1990s.
- Besides the financial committees, there are now 24 department-related standing committees (DRSCs), in addition to other standing and ad hoc committees. Unlike the adversarial politics played out on the floor of the Parliament, the committees, composed of members cutting across party lines and from both Houses, are meant to be more cooperative.
- Moreover, the committee system has been much more in the public eye following the setting up of investigative Joint Parliamentary Committees (JPCs) probing issues of national importance. Questions, however, remain on the functioning of committees and their efficacy & transparency.
Challenges of this decade:
However, there has been a significant change in the parliamentary norms and a sharp upturn in disruptions and protests within the House since the 1980s. While many dismiss such disruptions as a sign of an inefficient and dysfunctional parliament, disruptions need to be seen in the context of the changing social and political composition. The frequency of protests inside the House and the behaviour of MPs possibly represent a clash between the elite and mass cultures. They also represent the intrusion of the ‘politics of the street’ into the precincts of the Parliament, which have often adversely affected its deliberative and legislative functions.
It also raises the question as to whether the privileges of the Parliament are an impediment to accountability and whether there are institutional mechanisms to ensure that the privileges are not abused.
Moreover, criminality and corruption, which are increasingly associated with India’s political class, pose a severe challenge to the legitimacy & accountability of the Parliament. Indeed, as many as 43% of MPs in the 17thLok Sabha had pending criminal cases against their name. This has led the Indian Supreme Court to pronounce that the “lawbreakers have become the lawmakers.”
Another issue related to ‘corruption’ or the ethics of being a representative is the issue of defection and the ramifications of the 1985 anti-defection legislation. The debate over corruption also provides a window into the friction between the Parliament and the judiciary—a running theme of Indian politics.
Conclusion: In the past 75 years, the Indian Parliament has many achievements despite its growing unpopularity. The parliament reflects the deepening of democracy, which has also had an impact on its functioning. The Parliament has only fitfully lived up to its responsibility of deliberating on and crafting legislation and ensuring accountability and transparency in government.