Agra: Has the
functioning of the Indian parliament been able to foster
democratic values and strengthen participatory institutions down
the line or has it been a failed experiment?
These are the questions being asked as our Westminster-modelled
parliamentary democratic system celebrates its 60th anniversary.
"From panchayats and nagar nigams to the assemblies and the two
houses of parliament you only have rabble rousers, playing to the
galleries. One does no longer hear enlightened debates
interspersed with wit and sarcasm, as was the case till the 1977
Janata Party experiment," political commentator Paras Nath
Choudhary told IANS.
Former socialist leader from Lucknow Ram Kishore, says: "The likes
of Raj Narain, Madhu Limaye or even Piloo Mody, made parliament a
vibrant democratic institution. The 'firing range' comprising H.V.
Kamath, Subramanian Swamy, S.N. Mishra, Shibban Lal Saxena and
Kunwar Lal Gupta was ever alert during the 1970s to government
lapses. Their questions and points of orders were dreaded and
ministers never made a mistake of coming to parliament without
doing adequate home work."
During the 1960s and 1970s, the performance of parliamentarians
was generally of a high order and the media relished the quotable
quotes. As long as Ram Manohar Lohia was in the house, one was
assured of sparkling fire-works. Madhu Limaye, Nath Pai, N.G.
Gorey, Ashok Mehta and others carried the tradition forward.
"In 1977 there were so many heavy weights, each an institution in
himself. Today's parliament is no match. One finds pathetic lack
of ideological commitment today, especially among the younger
parliamentarians. They hardly go to the library and prepare notes.
There is a shocking qualitative degeneration in democratic
institutions at all levels," Ramji Lal Suman, former deputy
minister in Chandra Shekhar government, told IANS.
Young politicians if groomed properly and infused with a degree of
ideological professionalism could still change the depressing
scenario, Suman added.
In sharp contrast to the composition of the two houses in the
1960s or the 1970s, the present house is dominated by amateurs who
are better fighters than debaters. Many make public speeches
rather than try debating a point.
"If we have a parliament we must also have able parliamentarians
who not only expose the scams but also contribute to the policy
making and enliven the proceedings through literary quotes and
witticisms. Giving speeches like one was addressing a street
corner gathering is easy, but to hit the headlines in the next
day's newspapers or making valuable contribution to debates
requires a lot of mid-night oil-burning and a professional
approach," says social activist Shravan Kumar Singh who worked
with many leaders in Bihar.
Indian parliament is an important democratic institution, for it
combines both the legislative and executive functions. By and
large it has responded to changing public moods and mass
aspirations, say ruling Congress party leaders.
Former Congress MLA Satish Chandra Gupta says, "I have nothing to
feel cheerful or happy about the general working of the
institutions. The intellectual level of politicians has generally
During the 1975-77 emergency when most of the opposition leaders
were detained, parliament was reduced to a "walking corpse" -
surviving more in form than in vitality.
The Janata Party experiment could not last long enough as there
were too many heavy weights pulling the cart in different
"The Congress Young Turks, the egoistic three seniors Morarji
Desai, Choudhary Charan Singh, and Babu Jagjivan Ram, in addition
to a whole line up of Socialists including Madhu limaye, kept
pulling one another down and Raj Narain playing the joker added
intriguing dimensions to the survival of a government that was
bedevilled by the dual membership controversy that irked the BJP
and the RSS," recalls senior ex-Janata party leader Vinay Paliwal.
Clearly, the functioning of parliament in the past decade
particularly has been affected by the quality of people that have
been elected. Many are believed to have criminal background, if
reports released by various pressure groups are to be relied upon.
Those who thought introduction of TV cameras to cover the
proceedings would usher in desirable changes in performance feel
Veterans in parliament have a duty to groom the freshers.
Old-timers say the MPs should spend more time in the house and the
library than in their individual constituencies. "The
discretionary funds for development available to MPs has been a
huge distraction," says senior media person Rajiv Saxena.
(Brij Khandelwal can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)