Nilotpal Basu

Former CPM MP (Rajya Sabha)

During the last one month or so, parliament, politicians and the entire political process have become punching bags for a lot of people. In the beginning of the 20th century when it became quite clear that India would win her freedom, the colonials posed a question to the Indians: “We are ready to leave this country, but are you ready to govern?” The recent developments replayed that kind of atmosphere.

Let us ponder over the functioning of parliament. In 1917, Gandhi came up with this kind of formation, i.e., parliament. If you look at the History of Commons, it is full of blunders. Gandhi countered this point. He said that to commit blunders and having the right to correct them is one definition of Swaraj. Therefore, parliament was constituted as an instrument to make the executive accountable and to ensure a course whereby corrections could be made.

When the members of the constituent assembly evolved our constitution they were very precise in their definition of the organs of the state and the separation of those powers. This is changing now.

Currently, there is a view that parliament is about exercising executive powers. All of us including the political parties and civil society have to change this perception. I refer to the MPLAD which was opposed by the Left parties. Through the 73rd and 74th amendments we created district level and metropolitan planning committees. We were involving local representatives but essentially we were moving from a representative democracy to a participatory democracy at the grassroots level. It was a contrary process which was not in line with our constitutional scheme of things. Therefore this popular misperception got reinforced that, yes, the parliamentarians do have executive powers. I believe we made a big mistake there.
Now the amount of funds allocated to the MP under the MPLAD scheme has been raised to Rs 5 crore per annum. Civil society did not raise its voice on this issue, which was sad.

Parliament is an institution to ensure the accountability of executive to the people. We should push for state-level finance commissions whereby states can decide the share of proportion which the state governments would transfer to the local self governments.
Let us go a little deeper and see where we are failing.

On the one hand, we are trying to move away from a mere representative to a participatory democracy by attaching much greater role to local self governance. On the other hand, we are not pushing for a system where the local bodies have the financial wherewithal to function.
Another difficulty which we parliamentarians face today is the media which is ignorant of parliament. I know many senior journalists who cover parliament. Their sense of understanding of parliament is atrocious. Nothing is reported about an MP who puts the government in the dock by asking a question. But if some MPs tear up the papers or jump into the well, it makes headlines.

I will give the example of the Anna Hazare movement. During this movement the entire country talked about corruption. Parliamentarians painstakingly pursued the government on the 2G spectrum case; parliament debated the issue thrice; the revelations which subsequently found their way into the CAG report were discussed in parliament. But there was no media coverage at all.

If you fail to cover parliament and then blame the institution for the 50,000 crowd having assembled at the Ramlila ground, it is tragic.
We have survived because of our secularism, pluralism, social justice and democracy. But now we are seeing this basic republican structure coming under attack time and again. We need to move from a representative democracy to a performance-oriented participatory democracy where local self governance has to come into play. Secondly we have to ensure that parliament plays a more meaningful role in legislation.


Other Speakers

  • Nilotpal Basu
  • Jesudasu Seelam
  • Nirmala Sitharaman

Video of Policy Dialogue on People, Parliament and Performance





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