The Tribune - Spectrum


Sunday, June 22, 2003

Parliament: Image & performance
V. Eshwar Anand

The Indian Parliament: A Comparative Perspective
edited by Ajay K. Mehra and Gert W. Kueck. Konark Publishers, New Delhi.
Pages 459. Rs 800.

The Indian Parliament: A Comparative PerspectiveIT goes to the credit of the Indian Parliament that it has completed 51 glorious years since its inception on April 17, 1952. Its significance lies in the fact that India is not only the world’s largest democracy but also a functioning democracy in letter and spirit.

Not surprisingly, India has been playing a redounding role in the growth of the parliamentary institutions, especially of the members of the Commonwealth. More important, it is a leading member of the International Parliamentary Union (IPU). Over the years, delegations from other countries have been visiting Parliament and taking stock of its achievements in various fields. Encouragingly, some of the innovations introduced in our parliamentary procedures and practices have been emulated by other countries.

Our Parliament has also weathered many a storm. But such is its in-built strength that it has emerged stronger after every storm. Unfortunately, notwithstanding its manifold successes, all is not well with our Parliament. There is a big dichotomy between parliamentary theory and practice. This, in a way, has affected its image and performance.


Sadly, the conduct and the attitude of its members leave much to be desired. Most of the members do not take the proceedings seriously. They do not take down notes during the proceedings. Nor do they take pains to do the necessary homework before coming to Parliament.

The Question Hour is not being put to proper use. The Zero Hour too has lost its sanctity. The members seem to make use of this hour more for testing their lungpower than on raising issues of importance. Added to this is the thin attendance after the lunch recess. Precious time, money and energy are being wasted on meaningless arguments and quibbling equivocations. Parliament may be treated as a debating society by some members, but it is much more than that. It is a forum for effective interaction of views and opinions among the members, not an organisation for exchanging blows and fisticuffs. Walkouts at the drop of a hat and abstentions even when serious issues are discussed have marred the reputation of Parliament.

Even as Parliament grapples with the problems relating to its day-to-day business, its operational efficiency largely depends on the changing political permutations and combinations. The coalition governance at the Centre, for instance, has given a new thrust and orientation to the very concept and essence of parliamentary democracy. Coalition governments at the Centre have brought with them rights as well as duties for members in both the treasury and the Opposition benches.

Nowadays, the ruling party cannot ride roughshod over the Opposition. In fact, such is the situation that the BJP, the leading partner in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee-led National Democratic Alliance Government, will have to keep all the coalition partners in good humour for its own survival! At the same time, the Opposition too cannot afford to be complacent or act in an irresponsible manner. It will have to do its homework well in order to keep the government on its toes as also censure it from time to time for its acts of omission and commission.

The book does full justice to the theme. It has good articles on the various issues concerning Parliament, contributed by known writers. Journalists Pran Chopra and Harish Khare, former Union Home Secretary Madhav Godbole, Chairman of New Delhi’s Centre for Public Affairs Murlidhar Bhandare, a former IAS officer (Andhra Pradesh cadre) who is now Director of Hyderabad’s Foundation for Democratic Reforms, Dr Jayaprakash Narayan, have all penned well-documented articles.

In his article Fifty years of Indian Parliament, the late Vice-President Krishan Kant succinctly elucidates the various phases of Parliament and opines that it will not only evolve a "higher level of development, making the shortcomings a distant memory, but also rise up to the role history has assigned to it."

In his article Parliamentary reform in India, Prof S.K. Chaube, a former Professor of Political Science, Delhi University, raises some apprehensions on the suitability of introducing the German Parliament’s system of "constructive vote of no confidence" in India. However, this system is worthy of emulation. People are aware of how the 13-month-old Vajpayee government was defeated in the Lok Sabha just by one vote on April 17, 1999, plunging the country into political turmoil.

It is widely believed that there would have been no constitutional crisis or even the need for the 1999 general election had the German system been in vogue in India. Above all, this system will act as a deterrent on those who are bent on dislodging duly elected governments by hook or by crook, without suggesting an alternative leader who commands the majority support of Parliament.

The book will be liked by all those interested in the evolution and growth of our Parliament. More important, it is expected to serve as a good reference book for students of political science at the graduate and post-graduate level. The price of the book is prohibitive. It should have been reasonable for wider reach, especially students.