India’s Parliamentary Democracy on Trial, Madhav Godbole, Rupa & Co., Pp 432 (HB), Rs 595.00
THIS is one book which should be presented to every Member of Parliament and State Legislature with orders that they should read it in full, not so much to educate them – many, it seems, are ineducable anyway – but to let them know the extent to which they have failed to discharge their duties. No book before has presented such a complete record of the failures and shortcomings of our elected representatives and one only hopes that no such book will be needed to be written in the future, if only the current ones learn their lessons and transmit their learnings to generations yet to come.
The author, Madhav Godbole, joined the Indian Administrative Service in 1959, served the country in many capacities, especially as Home Secretary and Secretary, Justice, Government of India and has first hand knowledge of how Parliament and other parallel bodies operate. India basks in the glory of being the world’s largest, most vibrant and stable democracy for the last sixty odd years since its independence, but, writes Godbole, “within the country there is widespread disenchantment with the functioning of democracy and its institutions with several major institutions having perceptibly deteriorated and been deliberately undermined and undercut over the years”.
Godbole presents fact after fact of how this deterioration has taken place and corruption has entered into our democratic organisations. To give one instance: in 1958 the total expenditure incurred in the first Lok Sabha elections was around Rs 10.45 crore. In the 2009 elections to the 15th Lok Sabha, the amount had risen to an unbelievable Rs 1,500 crore, a hundred and fifty times’ increase. Corruption had become endemic. According to the Vohra Committee Report, a close nexus between criminals, politicians and bureaucrats has strengthened over the years to a mind-boggling extent. It is inconceivable, but 141 newly-elected members of Bihar Assembly have pending criminal cases against them on charges of decoity, murder, kidnapping and theft!
Two former Prime Ministers (Chandrashekhar and HD Deve Gowda) together owe as much as Rs 6.5 crore to the Indian Air Force for the use of state aircraft for private purposes. Few MPs (and MLAs) had good attendance records. In 2007, the Lok Sabha functioned for just 66 days, one of the lowest ever. Actually, the year 2008 should go down in parliamentary history as the year when Parliament held the lowest number of sittings – a mere 46 for the Calender year. Few cared two boots for the contents of Bills passed. On the last day of the winter session of the Lok Sabha in 2008, eight important Bills were rushed through in 17 minutes with no discussion whatsoever. And that, says Godbole, must have been a world record!
Actually in the 1999 Winter Session, Parliament met for less than 20 sittings but created a record of sorts by approving 22 bills, many of them of high importance, considering that they carried recommendations of far-reaching importance in economic policies. Disruption of proceedings was common. In the 14th Lok Sabha (2004-2009), nearly 24 per cent of the total time was lost in disruption. In April 2008, out of 533 members in the Lok Sabha, only 38 were present, in the Rajya Sabha, the position was no better. Out of a total strength of 239, only twenty members were present.
According to Godbole, “the Congress Party, which has been in power for most of the time since independence, had a miserable record of participation in debates in the House”. When Arun Shourie, the then Minister for Disinvestment, got up to reply to a 5-hour debate in the Lok Sabha in December 2002 on disinvestment in two Public Sector petroleum companies – Hindustan Petroleum and Bharat Petroleum – only 28 MPs were present in the House! For all that, MPs wanted all sorts of privileges. Can one imagine that one of the recommendations made by a Joint Parliamentary Committee stressed that “the provision for signing attendance Register for claiming daily allowance during a session be deleted”! Godbole’s book goes into great and stunning details into the selfishness and arrogance of MPs and MLAs and one wonders why all these facts have never before been brought to the attention of ignorant and innocent voters. MPs are given a generous grant each year of Rs two crore under the Members of Parliament Local Area Development Scheme (MPLADS). There has been a persistent demand by MPs to increase it to Rs five crore a year! All political parties profess commitment to observe the tenets of clean public life, probity and zero tolerance for corruption, but, according to Godbole, “the reality is quite the opposite”.
It is time voters get to know what their elected representatives are – and have been – upto. It is also time many of them are “punished”. Certain rules and regulations have to be enacted for better behaviour of MPs and MLAs but then how can one expect criminal MPs to pass rules against themselves? Godbole is utterly frank in what he has to say. It is hard to believe but it is true that in the 15th Lok Sabha out of 543 MPs, 300 were millionaires, with many with poor attendance record. But to whom are we to complain? Especially when voters can be ‘bought’ and a party like the DMK is reportedly capable of spending some Rs 5,000 crore in a state election?
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