“The only thing I want is that Parliament should run. This sends out a poor message. A complete washout is something we should not allow,” BJP patriarch LK Advani told a few senior party MPs after Parliament was disrupted once again on Thursday. So agitated was Mr Advani that he kept sitting in the Lok Sabha for nearly 15 minutes even after it had been adjourned for the day and said that he felt like resigning from the House. Mr Advani has every reason to be agitated: This winter session of Parliament, which ends today, was the worst among all sessions since the NDA government came to power with a thumping majority in 2014. No matter what happens today, this session will be termed as a ‘washout’. Last week, President Pranab Mukherjee was equally critical of the MPs, saying: “For God’s sake, do your job. You are meant to transact business in Parliament. Disruption of Parliament is not acceptable at all.”
The reasons for such a poor show by parliamentarians are not difficult to ascertain: First, there is a severe trust deficit between the BJP and the Opposition, which has been exacerbated after the decision to demonetise high-value currency; second, there is no channel of communication open between the two groups; and third, apparently, the Speaker has not been able to bridge the gap that now exists between the ruling party and Opposition. Unfortunately, the 16th Parliament also lacks an elder – other than Mr Advani – who commands the kind of respect that a Chandra Shekhar, Madhu Limaye, Indrajit Gupta or AB Vajpayee had in the House.
In their heyday, these leaders could bring warring factions to the table by dint of their stature, prestige and non-partisan approach to tackling difficult issues. This House also suffered because the assembly elections in five states are round the corner, including the critical Uttar Pradesh polls. This meant that all political parties used this platform, unfortunately, to further their agendas. Unsurprisingly, there were no debates, only shrill and aggressive rhetoric.
The damage has been huge: The winter session, which began on November 16, had 22 sittings and the government had listed 10 pieces of legislation to be discussed and passed, including crucial Bills related to the Goods and Services Tax or GST. But only four Bills have been passed, most of them rushed through amid sloganeering and adjournments. The Lok Sabha has been operational only about 15% in this session so far, while the Rajya Sabha has seen 17% productivity.
The Opposition has blamed the ruling party and vice versa for this situation. While it always takes two to tango, it’s never a 50-50. Traditionally, a greater responsibility devolves on the Treasury and the Chair to make the House function. And that did not happen despite the BJP enjoying a comfortable majority. In India, political parties have been losing their appeal thanks to corruption scandals and loss of credibility of their leaders and now such successive adjournments will only erode the House’s prestige further.