We need reforms in Parliamentary Proceeding

Today, the Lok Sabha was adjourned yet again. The question we must ask is “Do sincere MPs have enough tools in their hands to ensure the Lok Sabha remains in session?”

The combination of James Stewart and Frank Capra was a winning combination in Hollywood. While their combination gave us “Its a wonderful life” – one of the best movies ever made, it also gave us an excellent take on Senate in the US – “Mr. Smith goes to Washington“. Both of them being Republicans, they were clear in their thought process about what freedom of speech means and how a government should be. In Mr. Smith goes to Washington, Mr. Smith, played by James Stewart, uses the tool called Filibuster to make sure that not just the Senate but the whole nation listens to his concerns on a legislation. The US Senate provides its senators with a valuable tool called Filibuster to ensure that voices of those sincere are not muffled by those corrupt. The Filibuster is a form of obstruction in a legislature. According to the US State Senate rules

during a Filibuster, a member of the legislative can speak as long as they wish and on any topic they choose, unless “three-fifths of the Senators duly chosen and sworn”[26] (usually 60 out of 100 senators) brings debate to a close by invoking cloture under Senate Rule XXII

However, during the filibuster, the senator speaking is not expected to take any break, must speak continuous and should not yield the floor to the senate even if he is asked to do so. During this time, all the senators are expected to be present in the house to listen to the speech. There are occasions when senators held the floor for 2 days straight.

An aspect of a filibuster is the time it gives for house to re-think about a given legislation. However, the most important aspect, according to me, is that it brings the whole nation to a halt and brings the attention of the people to the issue that the speaker is raising. Of course, filibuster could be mis-used. Various countries adopted filibuster due to the superb advantages it brings though there are many disadvantages as well.

Parliament and continuous disruption of proceedings

In Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha too we see regularly that the house gets adjourned and disruptions are more than a norm. Most of the time, the reason is that “the opposition marches to the well of the house”. The question that has to be asked is “Why does a member or a group of members of the floor march to the well of the house?” Rather the question generally asked is whether or not it is a well mannered behavior. It is unfortunate. One must note that marching to the well of house, relenteless shouting have not always been the manner in which house proceeding were disrupted. Most often members used to stage walk out hoping that people notice their disappointment with ruling party in answering their questions through media.

However, apathy in citizenry in general and middle class in particular led them nowhere and thus started the story of house disruption. Unfortunately, some media persons who have not been vocal about house disruptions a decade ago, have been strong opponents of house disruption in recent times. While these eminent media persons ask “how can the opposition party continuously disrupt house and never allow any debate on issues to happen, the question that opposition parties ask is “how can the ruling party ignore our concerns?”. The problem is there are not enough tools like filibuster in the hands of our MPs.

There is a definite need to equip our MPs with such tools. With availability of such tools, it would at least ensure that the sincere voices are not left unheard.

What tools could be adopted?

Filibuster is only one example of such tools. Recently Shantanu B of @satyamevajayate too asked us to write to PM, President and all about adopting another tool in parliament. In this post, Shantanu brings to our notice an idea proposed by Rajiv Chandrasekhar – MP, Rajya Sabha.

Given that there is very little discussion on issues like this in Parliament or in Media, one of the suggestions that a group of Parliamentarians including me have made to the Speaker and Vice President – is to have Special sessions of Parliaments of 3-5 days, which will only discuss National Priority issues – with no disruptions’, No partisanship. Such a session will also serve to get the attention of ‘heavily distracted media’ to focus the nation on the REAL challenges facing us.

Mr. Rajiv’s idea is another very well thought out one. Such pro-active ideas must be adopted instead of leaving it to the judgement of MPs to hold decorum the house. It is also dangerous to adopt anything like a code of conduct avoiding protest, formal or informal, in Parliament. It would mean all the power vests within the hands of ruling party rendering opposition parties mere spectators waiting for their turn. Instead, ideas like Mr. Rajiv’s would help.

If parliamentarians do not respond to this requirement with some innovation, disruption will become norm, whoever the opposition may be. Can India afford a parliament which is disrupted regularly because the govt will not answer Oppn’s questions with seriousness? Of course no. So should members of oppostion party sit quiet? Again, no. So what should be done? Reform the parliamentary proceedings! Is it so difficult to do?

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2 comments

  1. Very apt post. The 3-5 days session is a good idea, but knowing our system, there will again be a tussle on what the “important” issue is – and the whole purpose will be lost. I find some opposition issues worth shouting for, but have also observed at times that the likes of Mulayam and Lalu with their limited numbers, also hold the entire house for ransom.

    That said – innovative protests are the need of the hour. The opposition could just walk in with a black cloth tied to their mouth. Or maybe resort to enmasse boycott. However, such kind of stuff should come from the opposition

    Like you mentioned, similar kind of innovation needs to come from the system too. Walking into the well, shouting slogans etc have become too frequent. Either stringent action needs to be taken against those who do it, or blocking proceedings must be equated with cuts in salaries/entitlements. I guess any kind of monetary loss will be a little difficult for most of our MP’s to digest :D.

    So far, these are what I could think of. The current problem is because of the apathy of the middle class voter. Let him/her come out and vote – and they will automatically stop these disruptions!

    -Sudhir

  2. @sudhir,

    Completely agree with you. To attract attention of the citizenry on important issues, innovative ways of protest are needed

    The ruling parties must realize that the responsibility lies with them too to be sincere in answering questions of opposition. Like you said, due to cheap tricks of Mulayam, Lalu etc, sincere MP will very soon be extinct species. Unfortunately, our media cannot and will not concentrate on bringing about change for good in our parliament but will only indulge into jeering at BJP. Unfortunate that many valid questions raised by the likes of Arun Jaitley are received with severe extreme hostility while the replies are mostly voluble and banal.

    Everything lies in the hands of the middle class voter who like you said can put an end to all this stupidity, if he chooses to! Lets hope that such a day will come about soon!

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