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Lend voice to Parliament
As the Monsoon Session is set to begin, one hopes that history does not repeat itself. Leaders must shun a political slugfest and focus on transacting business
The Monsoon Session of Parliament is scheduled to begin from July 18 and will conclude on August 10. Already speculations are rife that this Session, like previous ones, will head for a complete washout. This has been the norm for almost two decades now as the Parliament failed to function. For instance, this year’s Budget Session was the least productive since 2000, according to a Delhi-based think-tank, PRS Legislative Research. The entire Budget, which is estimated to be around Rs 24 lakh crore, was guillotined. The Lok Sabha even passed the Finance Bill 2018 without any discussion. The Speaker failed to take up the no-confidence motion pitched by the Opposition against the Modi Government citing disruptions in the House. Incidentally, it costs about Rs 2.5 lakh per minute to conduct a Parliament Session. This makes the loss incurred for every wasted hour Rs 1.5 crore.
What exactly are the roles and responsibilities of our MPs? They are the lawmakers who oversee the functioning of the ruling Government. They are the ones responsible to scrutinize and pass the Budget. They represent the concern of their respective constituents in Parliament. They are also eligible to elect the President as well as the Vice President of India. An Opposition is meant to not just oppose every move of the Government but to question the Government of the day and hold them accountable. The Government, on its part, is answerable to the people. It is unfortunate that while on the one hand, opposition parties indulge in protests, dharnas, slogan shouting and fist fights, the Treasury Benches have failed to reach out to the Opposition. The Telugu Desam Party has already planned to continue with its protest in the upcoming Session over the issue of special category status to Andhra Pradesh.
Are our MPs performing their duties? According to official statistics, Lok Sabha spent just eight hours to review the budgetary allocation of Rs 77, 000 crore this year as compared to 8.3 hours in 2017 and 6.4 hours in 2016. It is regrettable that the number of annual sittings has been reduced from 125-140 days in the 1950s and 1960s to almost half the number in the past two decades. It is not surprising, therefore, that the ensuing Monsoon Session will be washed out.
First, the functioning of the Parliament has now gradually been dependent on the Assembly polls, before or after the Session. Already, the BJP and the Congress are getting poll-ready for crucial elections this year. Three BJP-ruled States — Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Chhattisgarh — as also Congress-ruled Mizoram are going to polls by the end of the year. While it is crucial for the BJP to retain its States, it is essential for the Congress to snatch those States from the BJP as it will boost their morale ahead of the 2019 General Election. In all likelihood, neither the ruling BJP nor the opposition Congress intends to cooperate in Parliament.
Second, political parties seem to be more concerned about their political slugfest than discussing and debating burning issues concerning the nation like unemployment, agrarian crisis, growing mob lynching incidents or the Jammu & Kashmir problem.
Third, the Opposition and the Treasury Benches are not making any effort to ensure smooth functioning of the Parliament. After all, it is for the Government to ensure that the business is transacted. The Opposition is expected to give constructive cooperation to it. As of now, neither is interested in this.
Fourth, Opposition unity is growing to take on Prime Minister Modi. The grand show of strength at the swearing-in ceremony of Karnataka Chief Minister HD Kumaraswamy was an indication in this regard. Ever since there have been several moves to take it forward. The Monsoon Session will show whether the Opposition is united on the floor of the House or not.
Fifth, the ensuing elections for the Deputy Chairman of Rajya Sabha will be keenly fought. The BJP might concede the post to its ally Shiromani Akali Dal. But the Opposition is keen on a consensus Opposition candidate. The Trinamool Congress (TMC) is keen to push its candidate Sukhendu Shekhar Roy for the post. If elected, this will be the first Constitutional position the TMC will occupy in Parliament. The Congress is in a mood to support a larger Opposition candidate. At the time of Presidential and Vice Presidential elections last year, UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi organised a meeting in which 20 opposition parties participated. This time too, this issue will be decided at a meeting to be held on July 16 and 17. It is not clear where the BJD (9), YSRCP (2) and TRS (6) hold the key.
Meanwhile, what happens to the business in Parliament? According to Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Vijay Goel, 68 Bills are pending in the Lok Sabha and 40 in the Rajya Sabha. While Goel has proposed to meet the Opposition leaders and has already called upon former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, it is not clear how much he can succeed. It all depends on the leaders of all political parties. They can still do it if they decide that Parliament functioning is more important than their political slugfest. But will they? In short, Parliament needs to find its voice.
(The writer is a senior political commentator and syndicated columnist)
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