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Remnants of a Parliamentary System

It was a cold winter morning in Delhi on 26th November 2021, the Prime Minister of India was addressing dignitaries in the central hall of Parliament house to commemorate the 72nd anniversary of adoption and enactment of the Indian constitution. While paying homage to the framers of the constitution, the PM had repeatedly mentioned that India is a federal parliamentary system. But the question arises – are we really a full-fledged parliamentary system? And is the constitution, whose preamble starts with “we the people” and ends with “give to ourselves this constitution”, really preserved by its keepers?

Before discussing any further in comparing the present day condition of the Indian parliamentary system and how it was supposed to be, let’s first have a look at one of the architects of the constitution, that is, Dr. B. R. Ambedkar’s views on preserving and protecting our constitution. It was the same building (the Parliament house) in Lutyens’ Delhi, when on the eve of adoption of constitution, 25th November 1949, Dr. Ambedkar delivered his final address in the constituent assembly. In this speech, commonly known as the ‘Grammar of Anarchy’, Bababsaheb mentioned three points that should be followed to keep the basic principles of our constitution intact.

Credits: swarajyamag

Dr. Ambedkar started off his address with a concern and a question. The concern was that the constitution of India may turn out to be bad if its interpreters do not discharge their duties. The question was whether India would maintain her independence or lose it? Later he mentioned three edifications for upcoming generations to follow so as to uphold the idea of India conceived by our founding fathers. Firstly, one must not opt for the way of anarchy to put one’s demands before the government when there are constitutional alternatives available. Secondly, we must not surrender our freedom at any person’s feet no matter how great they are – personality cult and blind faith may lead a country towards dictatorship. And lastly, political freedom must not suffice us and we shall strive for social freedom. The trend of personality cult or Bhakti in Indian politics is now higher than ever before. Regarding this, Dr. Ambedkar had said:

“…. no nation can be grateful at the cost of its liberty. This caution is far more necessary in the case of India than in the case of any other country. For in India, Bhakti or what may be called the path of devotion or hero-worship, plays a part in its politics unequalled in magnitude by the part it plays in the politics of any other country in the world.”

The very next day of when this speech was delivered the constitution was enacted and it came into force after two months, on January 26th, 1950. The Parliament or Sansad was established as the most powerful institution in Indian democracy by the constitution. The provision of three parliamentary sessions in a year was introduced so that members may meet and decide the course of the country. The legislature was also given the power to turn any bill, brought by the executive, into a law or reject it; it can also amend the constitution if it finds it necessary. The executive was held accountable to the legislature; 788 members of parliament can ask questions to even the head of government and the Prime Minister is bound to answer them. The central legislature of India is empowered to impeach the head of the state of the world’s largest democracy. This trust was vested in the legislature because the constituent assembly believed that there would be representatives of the people sitting in the house and they wanted direct interference of people’s opinion in the lawmaking of the country.

For the past few years the founding ideas of the Indian parliamentary system seem to have been sidelined by its own members. The ruling party has more than a special majority in the lower house. Resultantly, they are not relying on other parties for forming quorum and passing even those bills which require special majority. Even the opinions of coalition parties are not entertained by the government.

The parliament met in September 2020, first time after the pandemic, in the 4th session of the 17th Lok Sabha. The Narendra Modi government introduced three farm bills and despite heavy resistance by the opposition and even the constituent parties of NDA, the bill was approved by the Lok Sabha. What is even worse is that these laws were passed in the Rajya Sabha without any discussion through voice voting. Later, the government scrapped the winter session of the parliament without any satisfying justification. These facts are enough to suggest that the legislature has become a puppet in the hands of the government and India is heading towards becoming a one party state.

The monsoon session of 2021 also turned out to be one of the most unproductive sessions of the Parliament. Fourteen bills were passed by the Lok Sabha with the debate spanning less than 10 minutes; no bill was sent for scrutiny to the parliamentary committees. The session was filled with interruptions, the opposition was adamant and walked out over the demand of discussion on farm laws and the Pegasus issue, and the government on the other hand took the maximum benefit out of it. Laws on sensitive issues like general insurance and juvenile justice were approved without any significant discussion.

This is the same parliament house where Sachitanand Sinha, the president of constituent assembly, quoted Joseph Story while addressing the assembly on December 9, 1946:

“[The constitution] has been reared for immortality, if the works of man may justly aspire to such a title. It may, nevertheless, perish in an hour by the folly, or corruption, or negligence of its only keepers, THE PEOPLE.”

The winter session of parliament is scheduled to start soon and the people of India may witness what is written in their destiny by their “representatives”. A fully fledged parliamentary system where the government delivers its duty, the opposition is aware of its role, where the executive is held responsible by the legislature, and where debate is considered as the way towards better functioning. Or a system that can at least be seen as the remnants of the one that existed before.

Syed Mohammad Ali is a student pursuing Economics from Jamia Millia Islamia.

Edited by: Farzan Ghani

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Written by Syed Mohammad Ali

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