THE winter session of Parliament has ended without transacting any business. The usual pundits are busy working out the so-called loss suffered by the tax-payer and all kinds of sums are being bandied about. It is said that at the rate of Rs six crore a day, the loss amounts to Rs 146 crore, as if the Parliament was some kind of a factory to grind out laws at the rate of so many laws an hour and since not a single law was passed, the session was a total loss.
Nothing of the kind has happened and nobody has suffered any loss, for Parliament’s main business is not to pass laws, but to conduct a dialogue between the Government and the Opposition. This is why the two parties face each other in the chamber and shout each other down whenever possible. This is precisely what the Parliament is supposed to do, and this is precisely all Parliaments all over the world do, including the so-called Mother of Parliaments in London, and this is what our Parliament did in the recent session, for everything else is secondary, including the usual debates on this and that.
Debates are not everything. You can have debates in the Parliament on one bill after another and, as soon as you leave the chamber, do exactly the opposite of what is contained in the bill. The Minister of Telecommunications looked the picture of innocence in the Parliament, but as soon as the MPs’ back was turned, he went away and did what he wanted to do at the cost of the exchequer, which means you and me, and nobody questioned him until the newspapers began shouting. And what did the Parliament do? Precisely nothing, and the government still is not willing to discuss the matter in the chamber or appoint a Joint Parliamentary Committee.
It is obvious that dark forces are at work not only in the government but also in and around the Parliament and the minister is being protected. So what role does the Parliament have in such affairs? And if it does not have any role, what use is it if the Parliament sits for an hour or a whole day, or even a fortnight?
If you measure the efficiency of the Parliament by the number of hours it sits, then dictatorial nations like China must be operating the most efficient and dedicated parliaments. The Chinese Parliament, whatever it is called, meets once a year, sometimes in two years, and the MPs assemble in a sombre hall in Beijing, all dressed alike in mourning black, and stand up in unison, like an army squadron, when asked to, and say “Yes” every time their so-called “Vote” is called for. There are no speeches from the floor except by some selected MPs, and everybody raises his or her hand when asked for. There is no discussion even on the five-year plans, for the plans are framed by the government, and who dares point out they are not up to the mark? It is all very efficient and very methodical, just as our pundits would like here in India, and the number of bills passed must be astronomical. But whatever it is, it is not Parliament – and it is not democracy.
During the last World War, though the Labour Party was a partner in the national coalition government, many Labour Party MPs continued to criticise the government as the bombs dropped on the Parliament, the most prominent among them being Aneurin Bevan, a fiery socialist, who later became Health Minister under Clement Attlee when Labour formed the government after the war ended. During the war, Bevan continued to attack the government right and left though the main task was to fight Adolf Hitler and everything else was secondary.
Nobody said that Bevan was wasting time and acting in a manner not calculated to help the war effort. His main argument was that democracy was democracy, and it always come first and it was the function of the Parliament to promote it. In fact, just like our pundits, some MPs criticised the waste of time which Bevan & Co were responsible for, but this did not prevent the Labourites from disturbing the Parliament.
Even today, the British Parliament is at its best on Fridays when the Prime Minister has to respond to queries from the Leader of the Opposition face to face for at least an hour. It can be on any topic and the Prime Minister has to be ready with the answers. It is Parliament at its best and the cut and thrust of questions and answers decides not only the fate of the government but also the opposition.
The word “Parliament” comes from the French word “Parlez” which means “Talk”. There is no Parliament if you, or your opposition, cannot talk. That is why there are no parliaments in China or North Korea or Cuba, or in Islamic dictatorships. If MPs are not able to speak, defy the party in power on the floor of the House, or stage noisy walk-outs at the drop of a pen, then there is no Parliament in real sense. Parliaments where everything is orderly is not a Parliament at all. Legislation is a secondary function; the primary function is to make things as difficult as possible for the government and upset its calculations.
Take the latest proposal to have a nuclear power station in a coastal village in Maharashtra. Politicians are very enthusiastic about it, just as they were enthusiastic about Enron, but the man in the street is not. On paper, just like Enron, it is a perfectly legitimate proposal, but everything about it is suspect, also just like Enron. The project is likely to be handed over to a French company which, like Enron, stinks. The chief of the French company is a friend of Nicholas Sarkozy, who came all the way from Paris to promote it.
The project is going to cost billions of dollars and take maybe twenty years to complete. However, it will cost four or five times the estimated cost, since everybody is going to make money out of it, just as they did out of Commonwealth Games. It is not so much a project as a racket, which means the same people who were involved in Commonwealth Games and 2G spectrum are so keen on it.
Will there be a debate on it? No, because nobody in the government would want a debate on a project that will make them, as in the ease of 2G, very rich. And if the opposition asked for a debate, it will be shouted down, and told that it is wasting the time of the Parliament. Parliament is not a taxi with a meter you have to keep running all the time. It is the voice of the people, particularly people of the opposition, and if the people cannot speak, there is no point in having a Parliament!