Disruptive opposition blames government for parliament woes
A lack of accountability from Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, a failure of consultation by his ruling Congress-led coalition and too few days of legislative business, rather than opposition protests that smothered months of legislative debate, are to blame for the paralysis of India’s parliamentary democracy, the leader of India’s opposition party wrote on Monday.
Making no reference to the weeks of protest by his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) that saw opposition members shouting, chanting and waving placards in the well of both houses to force the cancellation of an entire legislative session and threaten the passage of the 2011-12 budget, Arun Jaitley called for more “proper conduct” from Indian MPs in an opinion piece in The Indian Express that appeared to lay the blame of parliamentary disruption at the government’s door.
“In the last few decades the participation of prime ministers in parliamentary debates has declined. Their effective intervention is confined to reading written texts prepared by their offices. This is unacceptable… The PM has to be the most accountable in a democracy. His depleting presence in Parliament compels one to suggest (the British system of Prime Minister’s Questions) be successfully replicated in India,” Jaitley wrote.
Reticent Singh is typically media-shy, but a slew of corruption charges against his party compelled him to hold a rare press conference live on national television in February, where he vowed he would not step down despite increasing pressure from Jaitley’s party.
“To meet for less than 70 days in a year is inadequate. Short durations lead to paucity of time available for debates, issues of public importance and legislation. When members, particularly from the opposition, want to raise several issues, the privilege is denied for paucity of time. The gagging of debate leads to obstructionism. Parliamentary obstructionism then becomes an acceptable mode to highlight an issue of public importance,” Jaitley wrote, without making reference to the BJP protest of parliament.
“The government and the opposition both have a key role to play in Parliament. Conflicting opinions and at times even tensions between the two bring out the best in Indian democracy. However, there must be healthy communication between the political leadership in government and the opposition,” Jaitley continued.
“Of late, there is a decline in this consultation. The initiative for this consultation must come from the government. This consultation has to be real rather than formal. It is for the government of the day to consider whether the decline in this consultation is deliberate or attributable to the introvertish character of the UPA’s political leadership.”
Time will tell whether Jaitley’s words signify a shift in the BJP’s approach from noisy demonstrators to legislative partners, or merely mark a new salvo in the deepening trend of bitterly partisan mud-slinging.