A measure of the desperation of the Congress party in 2014 is evident from its conduct in the 14th and 15th Lok Sabhas. In the last session of the 14th Lok Sabha in February 2009, the Congress took a conscious decision to avoid the tabling of any contentious bills. None of the Congress’ big ticket vote-catching ideas were forced upon Parliament by UPA-1 with the undignified haste that has been characteristic of the UPA-2 government. The MGNREGA and the Right to Information Act were passed in 2005, the farm-loan waiver scheme was announced in February 2008, and the Indo-US nuclear deal sewed up by mid-2007, long before it reached Parliament in July 2008. In contrast, the legislative record of UPA-2 from 2009 to 2013 has been dismal. Shaking out of a long slumber, the UPA-2 government has managed to ram through the food security, land acquisition and the Lokpal Acts in the recent monsoon and winter sessions. Without time to implement these legislations, the UPA-2 is left with bragging rights and little else.
Commitments are meant to be met, but not in the manner the Congress is going about it. Already burdened with its commitment to enact the communal violence and the Telangana statehood legislations before the Lok Sabha dissolved, came Rahul Gandhi’s belated desire to don the robe of an anti-corruption crusader. His promise to legislate six anti-corruption legislations should have been consigned to the drawing boards of the next government. The Congress is not in a position to derive any dividend from boarding the anti-corruption bandwagon at this late juncture. That opportunity had presented itself in 2011 during the civil society protests but the Congress missed the moment.
The Communal Violence Bill, while controversial, and significantly watered down in its present avatar, is an important piece of legislation. Its tilt towards minorities — legitimate — considering that most large-scale riots in India targeted minorities, has been rectified. But the question whether it allows the Centre to infringe on the states’ prerogative over law and order remains. On Wednesday, an important debate on this question in the Rajya Sabha was lost amid the din. A similar fate and a similar question hangs over the Telangana statehood bill. Can, and should, a state be bifurcated, amid threats of violence, by Parliament despite the legislative assembly rejecting the move? But the Congress does not have the luxury of asking such inconvenient questions. The electoral imperative of appeasing Telangana voters and securing their loyalties demands that the bifurcation cannot be put off for another, possibly non-Congress, government to reap political capital.
Though the BJP cannot be faulted for looking to deny the Gandhi scion and the Congress the satisfaction of having successfully pursued a cogent legislative agenda, this war of attrition has grave portents. If the Congress were to sit in opposition in the 16th Lok Sabha, and respond in the same coin, Parliament’s ability to check executive excesses and conscientiously arbiter legislations will diminish. The celebration of disruption as an antidote to governments using their legislative majorities to steamroll bills into law is destroying the foundations of our Parliamentary democracy.
Rather than well-articulated speeches, the preference for rushed debates by the treasury benches and for disruptive acts by the Opposition, are clearly evident in Parliament now. The same politicians who slam the anarchist tendencies of the Aam Aadmi Party may wish to consider whether their parliamentary etiquette is any better.