Indian Parliament Building
 
Parliament Logjam: Two Proposed Constitutional Amendments

Ultimately, it’s a revelation of the citizen’s helplessness as well as a sign of the…

Ultimately, it’s a revelation of the citizen’s helplessness as well as a sign of the hopeless state of our democracy. That’s what it is—the PIL filed by an NGO (Foundation for Restoration of National Values) pleading to the Supreme Court to frame guidelines that will prevent the future freezing of our Parliament in the manner it did in its recently concluded monsoon session.

Whether the Supreme Court has the powers to make laws for Parliament’s functioning is itself doubtful when it is the Constitution of India which created our Parliamentary architecture and the Parliamentarians themselves made the existing fat Rule Book on the subject.

And whether the new guidelines expected from the Supreme Court will be implemented at all by the timid Constitutional heads that are today expected to ensure smooth functioning of Parliament is even more doubtful considering that some crucial sections of our Parliamentarians now believe that they alone will decide whether the Parliament functions or not.

The tragic fact is that it is increasingly being believed that disrupting the Parliament is an intrinsic part of democracy.

A journalist who interviewed Pranab Mukherjee a little before he became India’s President has gone on record that Prananbda’s view was that the majority party had the mandate to rule and the Opposition had the right to disrupt, but nobody had the right to obstruct.

Sonia Gandhi

Sonia Gandhi

Today, our Members of Parliament can’t distinguish between “disruption” and “obstruction.” The English dictionary is clear that to “disrupt” is to “interrupt”, while to “obstruct” is “to deliberately impede the course of legal or legislative proceedings”.

But an Italian lady with only elementary knowledge of Cambridge English can hardly know that difference.

 

That is why Sonia Gandhi thought that asking for spotless Sushma Swaraj’s “resignation first and discussion later” was identical to what the BJP did when it asked for the resignation of UPA ministers, blamed by the nation’s Comptroller and Auditor General for looting the country with corruption in the sale of 2G Spectrum, coal allocations, and for being exposed for taking money in exchange for plum jobs in the Railway Board.

The tragedy also is the plunge in decency among our people, the erosion in “national values” for which an NGO has to be created.

A Pappu thinks nothing of saying in Parliament that the nation’s Prime Minister doesn’t have the guts to sit in his chair in the Lok Sabha, and that he has turned the proverbial story of the three monkeys into “See no truth.” Say no truth” and “Hear no truth.”

Pappu alias Rahul Gandhi thinks it’s not indecent to call the country’s External Affairs Minister a criminal before the TV cameras. We have reached the stage of seeing no wrong in flaunting placards in the temple of democracy or protesting raucously outside the home of the elderly lady Lok Sabha Speaker and threatening to burn her effigy.

Compounding this collapse of national values is the media’s hype on the fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression. Under these social circumstances, New Guidelines from the Supreme Court will make no difference unless those running the two Houses of Parliament are bold enough to control them all the way.

The tragedy also is the plunge in decency among our people, the erosion in “national values” for which an NGO has to be created.

That is why we must have a Constitutional provision to replace the present system of appointing the Lok Sabha Speaker and the Rajya Sabha Chairman. From the inception of our Constitution, the Speaker is elected by Members of the Lok Sabha, while the Vice-President of India (who is the second in the nation’s protocol) gets the silly job of disciplining the misbehaving louts among the 245 Members of the Rajya Sabha, which, remember, is the “House of the Elders.”

What is needed is to constitutionally lay down that a retired Chief Justice of India will be appointed as Lok Sabha Speaker and another retired CJI as the Speaker of the Rajya Sabha.

Each of them would have a couple of retired Chief Justices of the High Courts to serve as their Deputies. Such appointees will surely be able to implement the existing Rules of Parliament with an iron hand with the additional provision that the expulsion of a Rajya Sabha member will entirely depend on the Speaker and not on the voting on a motion in the House.

It’s my belief that such a Constitutional amendment will sort out matters because, thank God, even the goons of our society fear and respect judges.

The second Constitutional amendment necessary to bring sanity back to our Parliament is to discontinue the power of the Rajya Sabha to vote down every legislative Bill excepting a Money Bill as defined in Article 110 of our Constitution.

Rahul Gandhi

Rahul Gandhi

It is ludicrous that the 245-member Rajya Sabha, comprising members indirectly elected by the very limited numbers of each State Legislative Assembly, has the power to vote out a legislative Bill based on specific election manifesto promises of the political party that came to power on a majority in the 545-strong Lok Sabha where all, except two, were elected by the voters across the length and breadth of this country.

“Manifesto Bills” should have their own status of being outside the control of the Rajya Sabha whose power in the case of such Bills should be restricted to making suggestions for amendments to the Lok Sabha.

This is precisely the situation today in the United Kingdom where its democratic history in the bicameral system was created by two statesmen in 1945.

That was when the when the British Labour Party secured an unprecedented majority in the House of Commons, but had only 16 Lords left in the House of Lords whose strength stood over 700 then.

The Labour Party of Clement Atlee was thus faced with a humongous problem. Its very real fear that it could not implement its promise of a welfare state if the much bigger strength of the House Lords was empowered to make and vote on its amendments as it would wreck the proposed legislations of the new party in power.

It was then that a milestone was embedded in the history of the world’s political democracy. And it was done by two statesmen who put peoples’ aspirations far above self interest.

Lord Addison and Lord Salisbury, the Conservative leaders in the House of Lords from 1942 to 1957, agreed that anything promised in a majority’s party’s manifesto would eventually pass; anything else would be subject to full debate.

In its modern form, the convention still permits the offering of reasoned amendments to a Government bill, provided such amendments are not designed to destroy the bill.

Despite several debates thereafter, the Salisbury Doctrine has continued, and is valid even today. In case of a coalition government formed by a set of political parties, the common points in the manifesto of those parties are treated by the UK Parliament as eligible for being treated as a “Manifesto Bill.” Only suggestions are permitted to the Lords but not the voting right.

To sum up, what our Parliament therefore needs now are:

  1. A Constitutional Amendment providing for the appointment of a retired Chief Justice of India as the Chairman of each of the two Houses of ParliamentThis would prevent the allegations of the Speaker being partial to the ruling government’s side. Another benefit would be that the Speaker, generally a senior politician, will be grafted into a ministerial position if belonging to the ruling political party, and permitting the country’s Vice President to be given more onerous responsibilities than merely trying to bring order in a chaotic Rajya Sabha besides carrying out the gamut of other Parliamentary responsibilities.
  1. A Constitutional Amendment to define a “Manifesto Bill” and permit the Rajya Sabha only to suggest amendments to it but not vote on that Bill – just as is done for a Money Bill mentioned earlier—This will prevent the frequent rift between the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha. A beneficial side effect of a Salisbury type of doctrine will be that the Election Manifestos of our political parties will stop being vague. Their prior approval by the Election Commission will be the kind of endorsement required of it. If needed, put a ceiling on the number of such Manifesto Bills to be introduced in the Lok Sabha. All political parties will approve this readily provided the amendment becomes effective only from the announcement of the next general elections.

Meanwhile, the existing Heads of the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha should look at national values and not at the placards flaunted and the noise generated around them.

If they do that and start suspending and expelling the errant Members who violate the existing Rule Book, they will help considerably to restore some dignity to our Parliament’s functioning.

And much help can be rendered by our media if our media emphasises the difference between “disruption” and “obstruction.” The Supreme Court is already overburdened; we don’t need to add to it when the solution is with us, the people of India.

Arvind Lavakere has been a freelance writer since 1957. He has written and spoken on sports on radio and TV. He currently writes on political issues regularly. His writings include a book on Article 370 of the Indian Constitution.