India’s parliament gets its groove back, at least for now

August 28, 2013

(Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters)

India’s notoriously disruptive parliament has been going through a productive phase in the past two days. Bills are getting passed, politicians are discussing the state of the economy and for a change, members are listening to each other as they deliver well-researched speeches.

For a house with one of the poorest records of accomplishments in Indian history, the last two days were downright atypical.

On Monday, parliament debated a $20 billion plan for nine hours to provide cheap food to two thirds of the population. For a change, the government got the main opposition party on board by incorporating some of the changes that its opponents proposed.

A similar script played out on Tuesday. Politicians from all parties discussed the state of the economy, reeling under a widening current account deficit, slowing growth and a falling currency.

The opposition party’s well thought-out arguments moved Finance Minister P. Chidambaram to admit that domestic factors indeed have played a part in creating the dismal economy, a rare statement coming from the man who usually blames the global financial meltdown for India’s woes.

Chidambaram on Tuesday urged parliamentarians to work together.

“If parliament is not able to point to the direction in which the country’s economy will go, parliament is not able to agree on, say 10 steps which the government should take today … what kind of a message will it send to the rest of the world?” Chidambaram asked the house.

“The fact is, polity of this country is divided on economic policies and that is understandable … My plea to everyone, despite our differences, can we agree upon some measures which have to be taken in order to lift the country’s economy from what it is today,” he said.

Politicians are taking note. Derek O’Brien, the famous quizmaster who is now a lawmaker from estranged government ally Trinamool Congress, tweeted: “When #Parliament works we are very,very good.(like today)…but when we are bad we are horrid.”

The Lok Sabha, the lower house of India’s parliament, led by a minority Congress-party coalition government, has a rather dismal track record. Before the ongoing Monsoon session, it passed just 39 percent of tabled bills. In five years, the Lok Sabha has passed just over 150 bills, in contrast to an average 317 bills passed by any other lower house completing over three years.

The last two days have been different. This is what voters expect their representatives to do. If lawmakers keep it up, we might have one of the most successful sessions in recent memory. One would hope that the mood extends itself into the hurly burly of the 2014 campaign season.

What remains unanswered is what changed overnight and why the opposition parties suddenly stopped disrupting the house. It would be good to know. Whatever be the reason, one hopes that the country does not go back to when “Lok Sabha, Rajya Sabha adjourned for the day” was probably the most frequent breaking news headline on TV screens.

(Follow Anurag on Twitter @anuragkotoky)

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