What Indians are seeing today is an attempt by every player in the game to turn the idea of representative democracy on its head
A Prime Minister who speaks everywhere in the future tense but avoids responding to problems of the present in Parliament, an Opposition that uses the no-confidence motion as a tool to make the Prime Minister bend to its will and a Parliament which witnesses bills of seminal importance being passed without its scrutiny or oversight. What Indians are seeing today is an attempt by every player in the game to turn the idea of representative democracy on its head.
That Prime Minister Narendra Modi has not talked about the nearly three-month-old communal unrest in Manipur defies comprehension. It is no more a problem limited to the state; and is showing signs of impacting the lives of people outside it as well. This was only waiting to happen, given the complex and layered way societies are structured in India, especially in the northeastern parts. The government’s head-in-the-sand attitude and refusal to acknowledge the reality have only aggravated matters. It is not a point of prestige either for the ruling party or the Opposition; the country calls for pragmatic and decisive action from the part of the government, backed by the Opposition.
But nothing is forthcoming. The Opposition moving a motion in the Lok Sabha stating that the government is in want of confidence of the House may be a good strategy to make the Prime Minister speak on its floor on a key issue, but what if the Prime Minister comes up with a counter-strategy and speaks about the future of the country under him for a third term, asking his home minister to respond to the Opposition’s questions instead? The purpose of realpolitik is not to reduce the Parliament to a platform for the government to play dumb charades and brush important issues under the carpet.
The Parliament is the place where ideas, policies and actions are debated in the light of the popular opinion so that the executive remains connected with and responsible to the electorate. Legislation does not begin and end in Parliament; its process begins in society when people feel there is a need to have a new system or a change in the old one to address a contemporary reality. The Parliament’s job is to ensure that every piece of legislation meets popular requirements but also does not exceed them. This is made possible through the process of scrutiny happening there. When bills are passed without this process, it fails the very idea of why a Parliament is elected.
Prime Minister Modi talks at home and abroad about India’s glorious democratic traditions with its history of several centuries but he appears to believe that it is all about numbers. That’s the most erroneous idea one can get about democracy. As Mahatma Gandhi had forewarned, the law of majority has no place in matters of conscience. It is time the elected representatives in the government and in the Opposition listened to the call of conscience.