Democracy drugged, debauched and depraved

V.R. Krishna Iyer

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------The grave constitutional issues that were recently thrown up in Parliament demand the Supreme Court’s attention. --------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Members of Parliament, a pro-tem Prime Minister, some power-hungry parties and certain sinister political power-brokers blasphemed India before the world during the recent session of the Lok Sabha. They demoralised Indian humanity, which puts its sacred trust in swaraj and the Constitution. The people’s confidence in parliamentary institutions and the Cabinet system was shaken and scandalised. Whoever might have won the confidence motion in numerical terms, the country lost its confidence in the travesty that passed for democracy. The special session proved, thanks to the manner of operation of the parties and the politicians, Dr. Samuel Johnson’s definition: “Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.” Gandhiji, euphemised by a national fiction as the Father of the Nation, wrote against “wealth without work, pleasure without conscience, knowledge without character, commerce without morality, science without humanity, worship without sacrifice and politics without principles.” Sensitive humanists and dedicated democrats, viewing the notorious debate, the bumptious ballyhoo, the berserk behaviour and the bedlam proceedings, may suspect our activist bourgeoisie polluting public life as being guilty of the Mahatma’s anathematic prescription. Or was Winston Churchill’s assessment during a Commons debate of Indian leaders in 1947 true now? He categorised our political leaders asking for Independence as “rogues, rascals and freebooters.” The Indian Parliament has seen grand debates and eloquent speeches but has suffered a dark decadence and a satellite syndrome. Some suspect mushroom parties have been beset with a propensity for lucre and power and, as the means to an end, pathologically corrupt conduct. Going by the betrayals and great abstentions seen during the voting process, our integrity seems to have gone haywire and taken a holiday. Even the respected and impartial Speaker has come under controversy. The pro-Bush Prime Minister, known for his probity, verity, decency, dignity and simplicity, faces pungent political polemics. His covert ‘deal’ with the internationally domineering and globally condemned lame-duck President has left the country’s policy of non-alignment in disrepute. Is the Sonia Gandhi-Manmohan Singh perspective anti-Jawaharlal Nehru, anti-Indira Gandhi and pro-big business, and retrograde? Parliamentary democracy will remain healthy so long as there is a plural party system with the loyalty of members, the

integrity of ideologies and the implementation of principles and policies set out in its manifesto and commitment to the constituency. It is regrettable that during the confidence vote crisis almost every party found some of its members betraying party integrity in the voting or in abstaining from it, contrary to political propriety and basic morality. A verdict by Parliament on a crucial motion of political paramountcy commands moral authority when the majority vote truly represents every member’s judgment on the proposition at issue. But if the process suffers deception and other fundamental flaws, Parliament is sick and its verdict is weak, though legally the Speaker pronounces who has won the vote and that holds good. Dr. Manmohan Singh claims to have secured a victory in his confidence motion after the debate. The glory of the parliamentary system lies in the free, frank, fearless, lucid, lucent expression of views by members without affection or illwill, but true to one’s conviction and conscience, and any party mandate. If money corrupts, if pressure and threat tamper, if temptation for office or other extraneous considerations vitiate, if voices are muffled by noises, if members behave in berserk fashion and the House degenerates into bedlam, if sanity is silenced by sound and fury, if acrobatics, theatricality and looney display of crores of rupees worth of currency notes pollutes the sanctity of the solemn Lok Sabha, the efforts of the Speaker, great though he be, will be in vain as he tries to regulate order but fails to restore peace and check the chaos. In such cases the morality of the verdict becomes dubious. The speeches of many members who spoke during the session were inaudible. Even the Leader of the House, the wonder whose speech the House and the country waited to hear, could not perform because of the stridency of the Opposition benches. The Prime Minister handed over his manuscript eloquence to the Speaker, denying the country the right to hear him. Was that a debate, just a presentation and a noetic submission? Or was it a situation where intelligent expression and sound argument became the casualties? Yet, the Speaker, with rare dexterity and deft management skills, got through the allotted hours. The counting of votes followed, the anarchy subsided, and the Chair pronounced that the motion was carried. What is the truth? It is a riddle, a mystery and an enigma. The Prime Minister continues to govern since the Speaker has declared the motion as carried. The moral majority is a speculative search. Why did not the police act when crores of rupees were handled by Members of Parliament as bribe received, under plainly culpable circumstances? The Penal Code prevails and corruption remains a crime. The rulings of the Supreme Court or the provisions of parliamentary business do not oblige the police to abdicate their duty to initiate action and investigate when a crime is credibly suspected to have taken place. They need not wait for an inquiry by the Speaker or proceedings by the Privileges Committee. Voting and speaking in the House are immune to judicial scrutiny, but taking money illegally under criminal circumstances comes within the jurisdiction of a police investigation. All these factors raise the question whether bogus debates or phoney proceedings can reduce Parliament to a fictitious instrument, demolishing the basic structure of the Constitution. These grave constitutional issues demand the Supreme Court’s hearing and judgment, or at least a thorough constituent power exercise. This is not a dummy democracy. The people of India shall not submit to a simulacrum of a system that does not fulfill justice — social, economic or political. The nadir of debating reality in the Lok Sabha may be compared to the well-known ‘no confidence motion’ moved against British Prime Minister Winston Churchill

during the Second World War. His celebrated reply ran thus: “This long debate has now reached its final stage. What a remarkable example it has been of the unbridled freedom of our parliamentary institutions in time of war. Everything that could be thought of or raked up has been used to weaken confidence in the government, has been used to prove that Ministers are incompetent and to weaken their confidence in themselves, to make the Army distrust the backing it is getting from the civil power, to present the government as a set of nonentities over whom the Prime Minister towers, and then to undermine him in his own heart, and, if possible, before the eyes of the nation. All this poured out by cable and radio to all parts of the world, to the distress of all our friends and to the delight of all our foes! I am in favour of this freedom, which no other country would use, or dare to use in times of mortal peril such as those through which we are passing.” Here in India our Prime Minister was not allowed to speak by the use of noise terrorism — which was a pathetic and bathetic barbarity. In the language of Shashi Tharoor, “Let us make haste while the sun shines.” Recently he wrote what is valuable national advice with which our Prime Minister is familiar. “In this strategy, the sun occupies centrestage,” the Prime Minister memorably said, “as it should, being literally the original source of all energy. We will pool all our scientific, technical and managerial talents, with financial sources, to develop solar energy as a source of abundant energy to power our economy and to transform the lives of our people.” Dr. Manmohan Singh added, and this was no hyperbole: “Our success in this endeavour will change the face of India.”

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