The absurdity of aiming to pass 33 bills in 12 days signifies what Parliament has been reduced to. In between adjournments and disruptions, several sittings and sessions of the 15th Lok Sabha were washed out. In the resulting decline of Parliament’s influence over the government, politics and politicians have ceded legitimacy to civil society, judiciary, and the media. Without being able to find their voice in Parliament or decisively intervene in the pressing issues of the day, politicians are finding it tough to live up to their calling cards as people’s representatives.
In this context, the UPA government should see the wisdom in the Opposition demand for an extended winter session of Parliament. The bills under consideration like the Women’s Representation Bill, the Communal Violence Bill, the Telangana statehood legislation and the Nuclear Safety Regulatory Authority Bill have long-term consequences for the people. Rushing them through Parliament without debate seems to be the game-plan of the Congress.
Take the example of the Telangana statehood bill. On Wednesday, a Group of Ministers approved the draft bill. The Cabinet met on Thursday and forwarded it to the President who will have to hastily refer it to the Andhra Pradesh assembly for consideration through the state governor. The President has discretion over the time-frame that the AP assembly gets to consider the legislation. But the Centre’s indecent haste to pass the bill in this winter session could constrain the President’s options. The AP assembly convenes on December 12 but in all probability the assembly session will be washed out. Another bill, the Women’s Reservation Bill, has been pending for three-and-a-half years in the Lok Sabha after the Rajya Sabha passed it. Similarly, the Communal Violence Bill has been in the works for two years now. There are several financial, anti-corruption and regulatory legislations pending too.
The Prime Minister’s statement soliciting consensus on passing these bills is divorced from reality. What the PM is, probably, seeking is selective issue-based support to the UPA government. So the UPA will lean on the BJP and the Left parties to support the Women’s Reservation Bill and offset the opposition from the Samajwadi Party. But on the Communal Violence Bill, the SP will be a handy ally to ward off opposition from the BJP. On very few bills has the government attempted to build genuine across-the-board consensus. The Indo-Bangladesh Land Boundary Agreement is an honourable exception where the Congress worked hard to convince the BJP to drop its objections. But the idea of the government seeking consensus has a farcical ring to it. The Joint Parliamentary Committee report on the 2G scam was tabled in an autocratic manner by chairperson PC Chacko of the Congress casting all parliamentary niceties aside.
The brief winter session is the last opportunity for the UPA government and the Opposition to make an impression on undecided voters. The biggest takeaway from the conduct of business in the 15th Lok Sabha is that over 100 bills are in various stages of consideration in both houses of Parliament. Unless passed, the bills pending in the Lok Sabha will lapse. Paralysed by scams and ridden with differences on policy matters, the defensive, but defiant, government and an unflinching Opposition chose Parliament as a site of confrontation. The Congress failed to realise that the postponement of legislative agendas was hurting it more than the BJP.