Vice President M Venkaiah Naidu on Monday dismissed the idea that democracy is a Western import. “Democratic institutions existed in Vedic India,” Naidu said during a lecture on the “importance of legislatures” organised by PRS Legislative Research on Monday.
The event was held four days before the start of the winter session of Parliament, on December 15.
The vice president went on to cite the Vedic tradition of “sabhas” and “samitis” as precursors to democracy. “The Atharva Veda describes them as twin daughters of the prajapati,” he said, adding that the Vedas emphasised that a person could only ascend to the throne with the consent of the people.
BR Ambedkar had traced democratic traditions in Buddhism, Naidu said. “The Sanhgas knew and observed all the rules of Parliamentary procedure known to modern times,” said Naidu, quoting Ambedkar.
The vice president outlined various problems with the way Parliament functions currently. Legislatures meeting only for a few days, poor deliberation, attendance in Parliament, disruptions and low representation of women were some of the challenges he listed.
The number of sittings and bills passed has declined over the decades. “But can we infer that Parliament has been abdicating its responsibility?” he asked. “That would be wrong.” Departmental standing committees acted like “mini Parliaments”, he said, meeting and holding debates even when the House was not in session. Cross-party consensus had often been achieved in such fora, he continued. “In media, we try to score points,” Naidu said.
As for the other problems ailing both state and Central legislatures, Naidu asked that norms for minimum attendance be considered and disruptions, caused by members rushing into the well and shouting slogans, for instance, be notified.
Parties should take greater interest and monitor the conduct and attendance of their MPs, Naidu said while adding that the women’s reservation bill be taken up. Naidu expressed concern about the blurring of the “three wings of the Constitution”, the executive, legislature and judiciary. The judiciary had entered the domain of the executive and the legislature, he said, when it struck down the National Judicial Appointments Commission, or introduced a green cess on vehicles.
Naidu also urged voters to choose representatives wisely, according to the 4Cs: “character, calibre, capacity, conduct”. It was often replaced, he said, by the 3Cs: “caste, community, cash”.