Before Parliament congregated for its monsoon session, an all-party meeting was convened in which politicians unanimously proposed to send a “clear message” to the Central Information Commission and the Supreme Court that would reassert the “supremacy of Parliament”.
The CIC’s order bringing political parties under the RTI Act and the SC’s twin rulings disqualifying convicted legislators and forbidding jailed netas from contesting polls had provoked this closing of ranks. However, this meeting found few takers for the government’s new-found urgency to transact legislative business. It aimed to pass 33 bills, including the historic food security legislation and many others pending for years, at the onset of the monsoon session.
Instead, a by-now predictable narrative took over. Eleven MPs protesting against Telangana statehood have continually obstructed Lok Sabha functioning and created unruly scenes even as the government wavered on the strategy to adopt against them.
Three weeks into the session the government finally mustered the courage to move a motion seeking their suspension. Stumping the government further, the BJP which has supported Telangana statehood opposed this motion and successfully disrupted the house.
This descent of Parliament into a theatre of the absurd also saw a TDP MP pull out a whip to lash himself and another MP snatching the Speaker’s microphone.
The Rajya Sabha fared relatively better on Thursday after the government indicated that the Prime Minister might intervene on the missing coal block allocation files. For days now, the BJP has been making this demand but was rebuffed.
This has become a pattern for three years now. Several sittings were lost before the government acceded to the Opposition’s demand for a Joint Parliamentary Committee probe into the 2G scam. The BJP has been equally irresponsible. Last year’s monsoon session was washed out over its insistence that PM Manmohan Singh resign over the coal scam; a demand the Congress could never agree to.
From the beheading of a soldier to rising onion prices and special status for UP to Telangana, instead of pressing for discussion on these issues, the tendency has been to gain easy political capital by raising voices and disrupting house functioning. Perhaps, 24X7 news television where the propensity for loudness and aggressive posturing grabs eyeballs, has contributed too.
Despite Parliament finding it impossible to discuss the Food Security Bill, politicians have debated it in TV studios and are holding back-channel negotiations. Minor amendments have been made to make it palatable to favourably inclined parties like the Left, BSP and SP.
Most parties and states have differing views on the scheme’s net coverage, fiscal burden, foodgrain prices, assured quantity per household, and cash-transfers. To acquire public legitimacy, politicians must iron out such crucial aspects of this monumental bill in the legislature. If Parliament is to reign supreme, the conduct of its members must change.
Written and unwritten codes of conduct and time-honoured traditions have become diluted in this chaotic atmosphere. Like justice, which must be done and also seen to be done, the idea, and perception, of Parliament’s supremacy cannot be sustained if such be the real state of things.