The Big Story: House rules?
In the Westminster system, legislatures lie at the heart of government. Legislators are elected directly by the people, frame laws and the government depends on their pleasure for its survival. In India – which, on paper, follows the Westminster system – though, legislatures have actually been downgraded in importance. A key outcome of this downgrading is that politicians care little about the business of legislating.
The Opposition has often used Parliament not as a place to debate and pass laws but as a forum to drawn attention to their political agendas by stalling business – a legislative equivalent of the city hartal, where commerce is stopped to protest a problem. Till now, the Union government and the MPs who support it – the treasury benches – have always seen value in Parliament functioning. Not only are laws piloted by the Union government passed by Parliament, the administration is itself responsible for its functioning and, indeed, draws legitimacy from Parliament itself. Yet, the on-going winter session of Parliament has seen something remarkable: the business of both the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha has been stalled by MPs of the ruling party.
The fact that MPs now don’t take Parliament seriously if often seen as a disease but it is merely the symptom of the loss of power of legislatures – which can, therefore, only be used as a soapbox. Both Union and state legislatures have been constantly devalued in the Indira Gandhi era and after. Westministerian concepts like Parliamentary sovereignty – where the directly elected legislature is supreme – have been undermined by the judiciary, which has placed legislative bounds on Union and state legislatures using concepts like the “basic structure” of the Constitution. Moreover, the 1985 Anti-Defection Law killed what could be called the most important function of MPs: voting. The Anti-Defection Law binds legislators to vote as per the orders of their party whip. The law, therefore, stands in direct opposition to representative democracy, where as representatives of their constituency, legislators are supposed to channel its voice in legislatures. Instead, the law forces to them to listen to party high commands, which are mostly constituted without a semblance of democracy.
Matter are even more grave in the states. The policy think-tank PRS pointed out that in the 12th Gujarat Assembly, which ran from 2007 to 2012 with Narendra Modi as chief minister, “over 90% of all bills were passed on the same day as they were introduced”. The same Assembly sat on an average of only 31 days per year. Even when it did convene, the speaker, acting blatantly in favour of the treasury benches, simply suspended Opposition legislators at will, making a mockery of democracy.
This is an alarming trend for India. That even the ruling party can disrupt the Union parliament and not face any public backlash shows how much legitimacy Indian democracy has itself lost in the process.
The Big Scroll
- Why our Parliament is so dysfunctional (and how we can fix it).
- No debate, please: The devaluation of Parliament is an alarming sign for Indian democracy.
- A day after Rahul Gandhi claimed that he had “information” about “personal corruption” involving Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the Congress vice-president continued to keep his cards close to his chest, leaving many of his party colleagues and other Opposition leaders in the dark.
- Several top Bharatiya Janata Party leaders were arrested in Kolkata while taking out a rally to condemn the comments of the Shahi Iman of Tipu Sultan Mosque, who had recently issued a “fatwa” against West Bengal state party chief Dilip Ghosh.
- The Bharatiya Janata Party continued its winning streak even in the second phase of polls to municipal councils in Maharashtra, getting the maximum number of council presidents elected, and coming second in terms of total seats, making inroads in the areas, traditionally seen as Congress-NCP bastions.
- Fifteen lakh citizens opting to make cashless payments for transactions between Rs. 50 and Rs. 3,000 through RuPay cards, Unified Payment Interface, the Aadhaar-enabled payment systems and USSD will get Rs. 1,000 in a cash-back incentive under a lucky draw scheme announced by the Union government.
- In the Indian Express, Rana Banerji explains how the Pakistan army chief’s choice of officers reflects dynamics within the army – and with civilian administration.
- The states need to be more involved in higher education, argues CN Krishnan in the Hindu.
- Bangladesh victory day: In Dawn, Asif Noorani writes about what Pakistan’s film industry lost in 1971.
- The Great AI Awakening: In the New York Times, Gideon Lewis-Kraus explains how Google used artificial intelligence to transform Google Translate, one of its more popular services – and how machine learning is poised to reinvent computing itself.
Gujarat matches the fingerprints of the poor before giving them food. Anumeha Yadav explores if the system works.
“In places with sufficient network connectivity, the beneficiary can provide their fingerprints directly at the ration shop, receive a coupon with details of their entitlements, and collect the foodgrains.
But Gujarat government data shows the system is not functioning smoothly.
Of the 1.2 crore ration cards linked with the state biometrics database, only 83.7 lakh cards recorded transactions in October 2016. Of these 83.7 lakh cards, fingerprint authentication failed for 24.6 lakh cards – nearly one in three families.”