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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2037

Does Parliament Represent People’s Voice?

By Atul Cowshish - Syndicate Features

With session after session being wiped out in the last several years, especially in the chilly months of the winters, Parliament no longer seems to echo the voice of the people. That is what the Prime Minister seems to believe as he informs us that he prefers to rely on ‘Jan Sabha’ to convey his message because he is not ‘allowed’ to speak in Lok Sabha. It is ironic that the country’s most loquacious politician who has the ears of the people says that he is not ‘allowed’ to speak. If anything Narendra Modi can be accused of ‘over speaking’.

The exhortation to ‘Jan Shakti’ (people’s power) could be seen as problematic because it cannot be believed that the Prime Minister with a massive majority in Parliament is actually not ‘allowed’ to speak. Narendra Modi is, of course, not the first politician to evoke ‘Jan Shakti’. Many opposition leaders in the past, including Jayaprakash Narayan, (JP), have used ‘Jan Shakti’ to ask people to rise against the ruling dispensation.

‘JP” had, in fact, asked the armed forces to revolt against the Indira government of the day. Modi is not appealing to the armed forces or the people to stand up against the government; he wants them to gun for the opposition. This is not what you would expect to hear from the country’s leader in a democratic country.

His moaning against the opposition clamour inside Parliament has been accompanied by some taunting and dark forebodings. Modi has denounced his opponents as the ‘discards’ who he obviously thinks should stay silent. That is the theme that many of his ministerial colleagues have expounded. The critics of the government, especially in the media, have been told not to question decisions of the government which are taken in the interest of the nation.

Consider some of the diktats from the Union Ministers: ‘We should stop this habit of raising doubts and questioning the authorities’ (Kiren Riijiji); ‘ The media should understand what is in national interest’, which, of course, is decided by the government, not the media, (Venkaiah Naidu); ‘The whole nation knows that I do not speak to you” (Smriti Irani tells a TV anchor because she does not like the questions that the anchor put to her. Then the most telling quote, ‘The media are not representing the real picture about demonetisation’ (Arun Jaitley). Outside his charmed circle of friends and admirers, Jaitley and co would not have found people dancing with joy after the ‘demonetisation’ order on November 8, 2016.

Jaitley echoes Modi’s view on the subject. Both of them pretend to be blissfully unaware that vast majority in the country would, in fact, say that the situation on the ground—in the interiors of the country-- is very serious but is not covered by the media.

Narendra Modi has been talking to the people directly almost from the time he came to power in May 2014. Soon after his dramatic entry in Parliament on the first day when he bowed at the step of the august building and spoke in choked voice about the great institution he was entering, Modi showed a remarkable reluctance to attend the house sittings regularly, even on the days when he is supposed to answer starred questions. It can be said that it is Modi who has chosen not to speak in Parliament; nobody can prevent him from attending Parliament.

Sometimes there were legitimate reasons for his absence: his frequent foreign tours. But even when he is grounded in Delhi he reportedly prefers to watch proceedings on TV rather than be an active participant in the deliberations. Now his justification for abstaining from Parliament is that it hardly deliberates on anything because of the constant ruckus caused by the opposition. The opposition’s contention is that they resort to noisy protests because Modi has allegedly shown ‘contempt’ for the institution of Parliament by deciding to remain absent most of the time of the scheduled sittings.

It is perhaps hard to decide which party is to blame more for the chaos in Parliament. Many commentators have said that the opposition is over-reacting by raising a din in Parliament; others insist that it is ultimately for the treasury benches to ensure that Parliament functions normally. The BJP ‘Marg Darshak’, L.K. Advani, has not been happy over the failure of the Speaker of Lok Sabha and the Parliamentary Affairs Minister to run the House smoothly.

Yet, Modi’s charge against the Opposition that he is not ‘allowed’ to speak in Parliament cannot be accepted. There have been several occasions in the past when a determined opposition did all it could to ‘silence’ the Leader of the House, the Prime Minister. Nevertheless, the Prime Minister of the day was able to speak above the din to say whatever point he or she wanted to make, usually in his or her defence.

The reason behind Modi turning to ‘Jan Sabha’ and ‘Jan Shakti’ is apparently his desire to speak without interruption or questioning in Parliament on the raging controversy over ‘demonetisation’ and portray it in golden colours. It can be easily seen that the whole nation has been forced to put up with a lot of hardship because of the decision to declare illegal Rs 500 and Rs 1000 currency notes—86 per cent of the total currency notes in circulation. Modi doesn’t believe that and says that he is not ‘allowed’ to spell out inside Parliament why this move is a blessing for the country.

The Prime Minister may be right in saying that in the mayhem-ruled two Houses of Parliament and the daily adjournments of proceedings he did not get an opportunity to address members. But that does not mean that his views on the subject have not been conveyed to the people. In fact, the people have been served an almost overdose of both sides of the story.

Modi and his government have been regularly putting across their view on the subject from the day it was enforced on November 8. The ‘demonetization’ decision was announced on a nation-wide TV broadcast.

Subsequently it has been taken up by the Prime Minister at every opportunity, including his ‘Man Ki Bat’ on radio and TV. To this add the contribution of his garrulous ministerial and party colleagues and the government publicity machinery. That is all one-sided communication. What Modi does not want is a two-way communication inside Parliament where he will be asked probing (and indeed awkward) questions and will be expected to defend the indefensible.

- Asian Tribune -

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