Our tryst with democracy

S Madhusudhana Rao

We are celebrating 69th Independence Day today (August 15, 2015). The usual fanfare of school children saluting the Tricolour and singing the National Anthem, chief ministers inspecting a guard of honour in their respective state capitals and delivering inspiring or insipid speeches and the prime minister reminding the country of the challenges ahead from the ramparts of historic Red Fort in Delhi have become more ritualistic than altruistic.

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S Madhusudhana Rao

Nonetheless, we go through these motions year after year knowing full well that what we need in the 21st century is a new thinking at every level and inspiration and motivation to move forward in a complex world that is becoming fiercely competitive. It is important, of course, that new generations should know the sacrifices our forefathers had made to unshackle India from the clutches of colonial rulers and the contributions made by leaders to develop India post-Independence. Ignoring or belittling them is betrayal. At the same time, trying to bask in the glory of somebody and live in borrowed clothes is fooling the public and may prove to be self-defeating.  Both traits, unfortunately, have become national and they are more pronounced now than at any other time.

If we go back into history, in the first two-three decades of free India, zeal, enthusiasm and national pride had fired the imagination of people and leaders. Freedom fighters, irrespective of their caste, creed and religion, stood by their principles, lofty ideals of rebuilding the country and gave little weight to their differences. Their guiding spirit and goalpost was one and the same: To make India great, modern, democratic and secular. The Indian Constitution is a living example of all these.

Half a century later,  the generation of leaders who sacrificed their blood and sweated for the country’s development by choosing political and economic models that they thought would serve the country’s interest best, were all gone and a new crop of leaders — some  might have been born just before the Independence — have taken over. But the legacy they profess to follow is seen only in words, not in deeds. In fact, the unity of purpose the leaders of yore had exhibited is hardly visible now.

The just-concluded monsoon session of parliament is one example. The three-week session was a washout. In fact, it was predicted even before the session opened on July 21. If debate is an essential element of democracy, it was replaced by confrontation in both Houses of Parliament. Single-mindedly and with one-point agenda to disrupt parliament proceedings, Congress president Sonia Gandhi and her son and party vice-resident Rahul Gandhi had succeeded in their pincer attack on the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party in and outside the parliament with protests and personal invectives.

While the Lok Sabha managed to work just about half the allotted time, that too without 25 Congress members who had been suspended for five days for unruly behavior by the Speaker, the Rajya Sabha functioned just about nine per cent of its allotted time.

Disruptions are not new to Indian parliament. For over a decade, every session has been seeing disorder in one form or the other. However, in the recent session, people’s representatives had crossed all the boundaries of civilized behavior, prompting veteran parliamentarian and National Congress Party leader Sharad Pawar to say that he had never witnessed such rancor and personal vendetta as shown in the House during his entire political career.

After watching tit-bits of parliament proceedings on the TV, should we, ordinary people of India, have to hang our heads in shame or applaud those for paralyzing parliament in the name of upholding justice and forcing the government to remove the allegedly tainted heads of two state governments and union foreign minister? Arguments and counter-arguments, merits and de-merits of holding up parliament can be innumerable. Depending on which side of the political spectrum one is, one can go to any length to denounce Congress leadership for its vituperative and un-parliamentary language and decry BJP leaders’ reticence to come out clean on the issues raised by the opposition. But, what is clear is Congress is trying to turn the tables on ruling BJP by adopting the same tactics the saffron party had used during the 10-year UPA rule. It’s a tit-for-tat political strategy. With slim strength in Lok Sabha, Congress could feel satisfied that its sound and fury tactics had paid off. Moreover, it had managed to stonewall Modi juggernaut inside parliament which the grand old party had miserably failed to do in the last general election.

Who is the beneficiary and who is the loser? The Congress leadership may be beaming for outmaneuvering its bête noire and has promised to do it again if the government does not concede its demands. Needless to say, the aggressive attitude and posturing is aimed at reviving Congress political fortunes. If we leave the party’s future to voters without pre-judging the impact of its current actions on them, the backlash can be disastrous.

The loser in the political game of one-upmanship is the country, the people, the tax payers and the aspirational young men and women. Every parliament session costs the country crores of rupees (estimates vary). Besides loss of time and money, stalling parliament is no solution to the country’s multitude of problems. If the national parties keep reenacting the parliamentary drama every five years, what’s the recourse for hapless people? Will petitions signed by industrialists and intellectuals, PILs urging the Supreme Court to intervene or public rallies calling on elected representatives to work for the people change the scenario?

The larger issue is not the monsoon session was a near washout without any major bill such as the land legislation or Goods and Services Tax (GST) bill being taken up because of logjam but can we afford inordinate delays in enacting laws? It doesn’t matter which party is in power. When a particular party is given a five-year mandate, it is incumbent upon other parties to be watchdogs of the ruling dispensation. Though in reality it is a utopian vision at state and central level, the least we expect is to let state legislatures and parliament function in a dignified manner.

When it is not happening for whatever reason, people lose faith in the institution of democracy. It doesn’t augur well for the polity. So, before saying Jai Ho or Jai Hind, people and their leaders need to introspect and think about the future of the country rather than selves. In this context, it is worth recalling the words of the first Prime Minister of Independent India Jawaharlal Nehru. He said in his famous Tryst with Destiny speech on the midnight of August 14-15, 1947: “Freedom and power bring responsibility. The responsibility rests upon this Assembly, a sovereign body representing the sovereign people of India …”

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