The records of 2023 paint a gloomy picture of the decline of democratic principles within the esteemed halls of the Indian Parliament. In a year where a new Parliament building was inaugurated, the focus shifted not only to the architectural change but also to the regrettable neglect of the enduring values that have defined the Indian Parliamentary system throughout history. The year exposed the lack of mutual respect, unity, sanctity, privileges, and decorum that have long been integral to the democratic spirit.
The deadlock within the parliamentary ranks reached its peak in the strained interaction between the government and the Opposition. The latter, tasked with overseeing executive power, displayed an unfortunate inclination for stubbornness, often presenting inflexible demands that hindered the smooth functioning of parliamentary proceedings. The crucial principle of finding common ground, a cornerstone of democratic governance, was regrettably absent, leading to a stalemate characterised by discord rather than constructive dialogue.
Equally troubling was the apparent transformation of parliamentary proceedings into a clash of egos, with the ruling government, particularly led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), exerting undue influence through presiding officers. This resulted in a suppression of Opposition voices, turning parliamentary debates into monologues rather than nuanced exchanges of ideas. The repercussions of this shift extend beyond partisan politics, posing a threat to the fundamental democratic principles that rely on the symbiotic relationship between the government and the Opposition.
The climax of this contentious dynamic became evident in the unprecedented mass suspension of Opposition Members of Parliament during the winter session. This action, seemingly punitive, indicated a concerning culture of arrogance within the ruling party. It not only marginalised the Opposition but also displayed a disregard for a fundamental tenet of a healthy democracy — recognising dissent as an essential component of governance.
Ramesh Bidhuri and Meenakshi Lekhi, prominent members of the ruling party, exemplified how their provocative remarks and confrontational language contributed to the erosion of parliamentary sanctity, and they are not alone in this. However, the lack of significant actions against them indicates a technical negligence, implying that the government is not even pretending to be unbiased, and neither are the presiding officers. These incidents were not isolated transgressions but symptomatic of a broader trend suggesting a systemic indifference to the decorum appropriate for Parliamentary proceedings.
The core of Parliamentary democracy, rooted in thoughtful deliberation and scrutiny of proposed legislation, encountered a significant challenge in the recent parliamentary discourse. The government’s seemingly hesitant approach to engaging in substantive debates on bills and laws has prompted crucial questions about the integrity of the legislative process. The shift towards a preference for imposition over discussion contradicts the democratic imperative of transparent governance through thorough deliberation.
An unfortunate outcome of this turbulent period has been the halt of substantial debate and discussion within the revered chambers of Parliament. Instead of cultivating an atmosphere where diverse perspectives engage in meaningful clashes and convergences, the current environment has shifted into a space where majority decisions are swiftly secured through voice votes, diminishing the nourishment of the democratic spirit.
The concerning trend of suspending Opposition MPs, which reached unprecedented levels in 2023, signals a significant deviation from democratic norms. The pivotal role of the Opposition’s voice as a counterbalance to the ruling government is a cornerstone of parliamentary democracy. Suppressing this dissent not only weakens the democratic fabric but also deprives the nation of a vital mechanism for scrutinising executive actions. An egregious incident highlighting the erosion of Parliamentary sanctity was the expulsion of TMC MP Mahua Moitra, influenced by an ethics panel with questionable jurisdiction.
In a surprising turn, an incident of mimicry involving TMC MP Kalyan Banerjee outside the Parliamentary arena drew the ire of Vice President Jagdeep Dhankar, perceiving it as a personal affront. The subsequent passage of a government-backed resolution on the matter exemplifies an unprecedented intrusion of personal grievances into Parliamentary proceedings, compromising the very sanctity that should define the functioning of this august institution.
This perceived transgression was weaponised against members, reflecting the personalised nature of Parliamentary affairs and the blurred lines between personal and institutional grievances. While the norm dictates that incidents outside Parliament, except for issues of national importance, are not discussed inside the House, the lack of response from the PM to the Opposition’s demand for a statement on the ongoing civil war in Manipur adds another layer to the complex dynamics.
The unfolding events of 2023, both within and beyond the hallowed halls of the Parliamentary chambers, have left an enduring mark on the canvas of Indian Parliamentary democracy. A year marked by a convergence of factors — whether it’s the suspension of Opposition MPs, the polarising rhetoric within Parliament, or the incident of an attack within its very precincts — now stands as a somber chapter in the records of democratic governance.
As we reflect on the bygone year, there’s an imperative to summon a collective optimism for a more promising 2024. The new year should symbolise a herald of transformation, a revival of democratic principles, and a reaffirmation of the sanctity that should permeate the corridors of power. The Indian Parliament, being the crucible of democratic governance, must rekindle the essence of mutual respect, embrace the multitude of opinions, and cultivate an environment where Parliamentary debates are characterized by substance rather than acrimony.
It now falls upon the shoulders of the people’s representatives to chart a course away from the turbulent currents of 2023. The mandate for 2024 is unequivocal: to uphold the authentic essence of democracy by reinstating the time-honored Parliamentary traditions that have long characterised India’s democratic odyssey. The responsibility lies in the hands of those shaping the nation’s destiny to rise above the discord of the past year and forge a path leading to a more dignified, contemplative, and democratic future within the Parliamentary realm.
(The writer can be reached at email@example.com)