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The failure of the budget session of Parliament to transact any business for nearly three weeks has heightened concerns about the future of the democratic system which India prides itself on. 

Of the three limbs of the state which free India inherited from the colonial administration, the Legislature was the one that underwent the most visible transition as an instrument of democracy. Yet today it is the weakest of the three.

In place of the Central and provincial legislatures elected on limited franchise in the British period, the Constitution provided for a Lok Sabha, as the lower house of Parliament, and State Assemblies, all elected on the basis of universal adult suffrage. Elections have led to smooth and peaceful changes of government both at the Centre and in the States.

The forms of democracy are intact. But there is a woeful lack of substance as their chief instruments of the Executive, the bureaucracy and the security forces, have not been transformed into fit tools of democracy. Their colonial traditions often get reflected in their day-to-day work.

There was no serious effort to democratise the Judiciary. Over the years, ambitious judges, exercising the Judiciary’s exclusive right to interpret the provisions of the Constitution, have virtually turned it into a self-perpetuating entity. The total absence of members of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes and the scant representation of women in the higher courts show how far removed the Judiciary remains from the constitutional ideals of social justice and equality nearly seven decades after they were proclaimed. 

The weakening of the Executive and the Legislature as a result of fragmentation of the polity in the post-Nehru period have rendered them incapable of performing their legitimate roles in the system of mutual checks and balances.

In a democratic set-up, a strong Executive and a strong Legislature go well together. A strong Executive and a weak Legislature make a combination that can breed autocracy. Viewed in this light, the decline of Parliament is a matter of concern. 

Both the government and the opposition share the responsibility for this situation. 

In the early days of Independence the Congress enjoyed overwhelming majority in both houses of Parliament. Conscious of the Opposition’s role in the fledgling democratic set-up, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru was attentive to its needs. The standards of democratic practice started deteriorating under his successors. 

Prime Minister Narendra Modi came to power four years ago with the slogan of “Congress-free India”. Interestingly, his ideological mentor, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh chief Mohan Bhagat recently distanced himself from that slogan, saying it was political. 

There has been a fall in the duration of the sessions of Parliament since Nehru’s days. Both the Central and state governments now tend to limit the length of sessions of legislative bodies to the minimum required to stay on the right side of the Constitution.

Elected representatives of the people have been making their own contribution to the continuing decline. Instead of using the parliamentary forum to present their views on issues of interest to the people, they often disrupt the proceedings to air their feelings or those of groups whose causes they champion. 

During the budget session of Parliament, which ended last Friday, the Lok Sabha lost 127 working hours and the Rajya Sabha 120 hours as members of small regional parties adopted disruptive tactics. Statistical data shows that loss of working time due to disruptions is increasing. 

Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan refused to take up the no-confidence motions against the government, for which notices had been given by several parties, including the Congress, saying she could consider them only when there was order in the house. 

A section of the Opposition believes that a regional party disrupted the proceedings of the House at the instance of the government to prevent consideration of the censure motions. One opposition leader insinuated that the disruption was sponsored by the government.

Since the government continues to enjoy majority support in the house there was no possibility of a no-confidence motion succeeding. However, the debate on a censure motion could have provided an opportunity for increased opposition unity. 

The decline of the Legislature puts the parliamentary system on trial. The development has to be viewed also against the fall in the standards of elected representatives. According to the Association for Democratic Reforms, an NGO which regularly analyses the affidavits filed by candidates at the time of fling of nomination papers, one-third of the members of the current Lok Sabha were facing criminal charges when they stood for election.

 The author is a political analyst of reckoning
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