(Re-used without permission from Rediff.com, so I recommend you click this link to read it and not the text below. Your choice.)
Gandhiji wrote this about the British parliament in Hind Swaraj in 1908:
‘That which you consider to be the Mother of Parliaments is like a sterile woman and a prostitute. Both these are harsh terms, but exactly fit the case. That parliament has not yet, of its own accord, done a single good thing. Hence I have compared it to a sterile woman… It is like a prostitute because it is under the control of ministers who change from time to time…’
‘As a matter of fact, it is generally acknowledged that the members are hypocritical and selfish. Each thinks of his own little interest. It is fear that is the guiding motive… When the greatest questions are debated, its members have been seen to stretch themselves and to doze. Sometimes the members talk away until the listeners are disgusted. Carlyle has called it the “talking shop of the world”.’
‘Members vote for their party without a thought. Their so-called discipline binds them to it. If any member, by way of exception, gives an independent vote, he is considered a renegade… Parliament is simply a costly toy of the nation. These views are by no means peculiar to me. Some great English thinkers have expressed them.’
It would be useful to examine how much of Gandhiji’s observations about the British parliament applies to the Indian Parliament today.
India is said to be the biggest democracy in the world. It is the biggest just because we are the most populated country. But is it really a democracy? Do people have any say in governance other than voting once every five years? So we have universal adult suffrage, but can just that be called democracy?
I elect someone once in five years. But in the next five years, neither do I have any say nor does my representative have any say in Parliament. That representative never gets back to me or consults me before voting in Parliament. After elections, he is under statutory obligation to take orders from his party and vote in accordance with the whip issued by his party on various issues.
MPs are reduced to bonded labour of their parties. If anyone dares to speak against his party, he could lose his membership.
For instance, the Congress has 207 members in Lok Sabha today. None of them can vote independently. They will have to vote according to what (Congress President) Sonia Gandhi [ Images ] decides. Likewise, the Bharatiya Janata Party [ Images ] has 114 members in the Lok Sabha. They will have to vote according to what (BJP President) Nitin Gadkari [ Images ] decides.
Ilyas Azmi, a former MP, says the Lok Sabha is a chessboard with 542 pawns who are controlled by the leaders of a few political parties.
Doesn’t India become a dictatorship of the leaders of the ruling party in between two elections? These few men and women control Parliament and the executive for the next five years. They are influenced, either through money power or some other influences, by various lobbies.
Who are these leaders accountable to?
They are accountable to none. This is a very dangerous situation. So, we have a pretence of elections every five years, through which we hand over the country’s control to a few individuals. And there is a very good understanding among the leaders of all parties.
They are different and separate only in name and for public consumption.
Behind the scenes, they are all the same, united and together. They publicly curse each other, but never punish each other when they come to power.
Else, how do you justify that the Bofors scam never reaches its logical end after several decades despite governments of all parties having been in power? Those from the Opposition are also well taken care of by the ruling party by giving contracts to their kin.
So, parliamentary democracy, as it exists today, has become a very well-oiled system to systematically loot the country. Public interest is incidental.
Is Parliament as sensitive to the pains and sorrows of the people of India as it is to its own members? When (Agriculture Minister) Sharad Pawar [ Images ] was slapped, Parliament moaned for two precious hours.
But when farmers commit suicide, when farmers died recently in police firing, when Narendra Kumar (the IPS officer) was murdered, the same Parliament did not spend even a few minutes on it.
They debate the Lokpal Bill for 42 years, yet don’t pass it. But they pass the Bill to increase their own salaries within a few minutes.
Now, let us look at the character of the present Parliament. One hundred and sixty-two MPs in the Lok Sabha and more than 40 in the Rajya Sabha have pending criminal cases against them, and several others face serious allegations of corruption.
How can we expect them to ever pass Bills to strengthen the criminal justice system or to punish corruption? There is a direct conflict of interest.
And if you raise these fundamental questions, you are threatened with parliamentary privilege.
The biggest problem is that Parliament is completely disconnected with the people of India. There is no mechanism for the people to intervene in the affairs of Parliament, to direct Parliament to enact laws on particular subjects, to prevent it from passing certain other kind of laws.
The People are supreme, not Parliament.
But unfortunately, in the Indian system, people do not have any control, whatsoever, on the functioning of Parliament.
In several countries, through the mechanism of referendums, people are able to amend or nullify the laws passed by parliament. Through the mechanism of initiative, people are able to initiate enactment of laws. This not just enables people to directly intervene, it also keeps parliament on its toes and under check.
In India, as a beginning, why can’t each MP be required to send a copy of a Bill to all the villages and municipal wards falling under his constituency? We can make a beginning with only certain types of Bills which have far-reaching consequences.
Let the people in each village and ward assemble as gram sabhas or mohalla sabhas, discuss the contents of the Bill and give their feedback to their MP. The suggestions received from all gram sabhas and mohalla sabhas could be compiled by the MP and presented as his opinion in Parliament rather than the dictates of his party.
That would be real democracy.