Source: News Bharati English25 Jul 2016 15:50:33
The meaning of ‘opposition’ in a democratic parliamentary system: Hard lessons ahead
Dr. Sharad V.Khare
A healthy and vibrant opposition is regarded as essential in a West Minister parliamentary system of government.
It is interesting to note that after the revolutionary parliamentary elections of May 2014 in India , it is the opposition parties which are in the headlines in the (notorious) media in India and not the ruling party. It appeared as if like the defeated parties , the media too was not prepared to accept the fact that, the BJP was the single ‘ruling’ party in power .However , BJP continued to take along with it the entire ‘National Democratic Front’ in power at the Center.There appears now a race among the crest fallen opposition parties in exercising its right to advise the government as to how to tackle political crises while explaining the meaning of democracy as well as advising the government as to how to behave properly as a responsible government.
Let me quote the following excerpts from a political leader’s pen from a North-West African country viz., Ghana which is worth pondering seriously for all political parties in India :
The role, rights and responsibilities of the opposition : (A paper presented by Hon.Alban S.K.Bagin, Leader of the official opposition in the Parliament of Ghana ).
“…In the same vein, in moments of national pride and glory, the opposition also has the responsibility to come together with government to celebrate and show national solidarity. In a nutshell, the opposition has an equal responsibility as the government to protect, defend and uphold the constitutional order, the rule of law and the peace and stability of the nation.
“If democracy is to be preserved as a viable mode of governance, then the opposition must fearlessly perform its role. The opposition can perform its role fearlessly and effectively, only when it is recognised, accorded rights and enabled to act responsibly. Quintin Hogg, an outstanding member of the British Parliament once said “Countries cannot be fully free until they have an organised opposition. It is not a long step from the absence of an organised opposition to a complete dictatorship.” Traditional knowledge is replete with proverbs that justify the role of the opposition.
“In Ghana, it is aptly captured in a proverb which says, “It takes different colours of thread to weave a beautiful kentia cloth”. In other words, it takes different shades of opinions and ideologies to fashion a dynamic democracy.
“In a truly democratic system, the opposition is as important as the government “. The paper further elaborates-- the rights of the opposition : “ to effectively perform the roles as stated above, the political system must bestow on the opposition some rights and responsibilities. The Opposition must have the right to operate in a free and democratic atmosphere. Laws that put fetters on freedom of association, speech, movement, assembly, manifestations and demonstrations are inimical to the existence of the opposition.
“The opposition must have access to state media. There must be equity in the coverage and reportage of opposition activities in relation to the coverage of activities of government and government institutions. All state-owned media should afford fair opportunities and facilities for the presentation of divergent views and dissenting opinions to both the government and the opposition.
“The Opposition must also have the right to own media so that its views on any issue could be clearly articulated without undue interference. The Opposition must have the right to freely access materials from official sources to enhance its ability to meaningfully understand the government policies to enable it to make informed position statements on the policies. A prerequisite for the enjoyment of this right is the existence of laws on freedom of information and the protection of informants.
“The Opposition also has the right to have free access to the people. Laws that ban gatherings, rallies and durbars by opposition elements have no place in a multi-party democracy and must be outlawed. Governments have become so complex and expensive. Areas of governance have expanded and Governments have trained civil servants and bureaucrats that handle all issues for them. Similar alternative technical support must be made available to the opposition. For Opposition to discharge its duty effectively, it must have equal rights to trained and outstanding scholars, consultants and technical experts in civil society as the government. Members of the opposition in 8 Parliament must be accorded the same treatment and facilities as their colleagues in government. The national budget must capture legitimate opposition business.
The Responsibilities of the Opposition :
“The Opposition has certain responsibilities and obligations to discharge to the state and the people. Democratic governance has moved away from the concept of Her Majesty’s loyal opposition to that of responsible or constructive opposition. The opposition has the responsibility to be fair in the criticism of government policies. In all cases alternative proposals, as to the best way forward must be laid on the table by the opposition.
“The Opposition also has the responsibility to uphold and defend the sovereignty, unity and the national integrity of the country. It should therefore not engage in activities that could undermine the unity and stability of the state. In matters of real national disaster or misfortune, the opposition has a responsibility to join hands with government to tackle the misfortune. “
Unquote : Let me refer to excerpts drawn from another document representative in character on the role of opposition :
(European Commission for democracy through law ( Venice Commission Report ) Report on the role of the opposition in a democratic parliament adopted by the Venice Commission, at its 84th Plenary Session (Venice 15-16 October 2010) by Ms Angelika NUSSBERGER (Substitute Member, Germany) Mr Ergun ÖZBUDUN (Member, Turkey) Mr Fredrik SEJERSTED (Substitute Member, Norway). [ Strasbourg, 15 November 2010 Study no. 497/2008 CDL-AD(2010)025 ] )
“… Responsibilities of the Opposition : When analysing the rights and competence of the parliamentary opposition, it is also necessary to ask whether this could or should correspond with certain particular responsibilities and obligations.
“A basic obligation of the political opposition is to conduct its functions within the framework of the law, including the national constitution, ordinary civil and criminal law and parliamentary rules of procedure. Opposition parties may advocate changes to the law, but as long as these are not passed, they are obliged to respect the law, like everybody else. Subject to the modifications of parliamentary immunity, the opposition may be held accountable for any unlawful activity, like any other organisation and individual. Most parliaments also have disciplinary internal sanctions for party groups and MPs breaking the rules of procedure, and this is appropriate as long as they are legitimately justified and proportionate. Many countries have special rules on the prohibition of political parties, and the Venice Commission has CDL-AD(2010)025 31 acknowledged that this may be legitimate if a political (opposition) party uses or threatens to use violent and undemocratic means to undermine a democratic regime.
Apart from the self-evident duty to respect the law, it is difficult to establish any particular legal obligations for the opposition. It is, however, not uncommon to speak of certain opposition “responsibilities” or “obligations”, which are inherent in the notion of a “loyal” opposition, and which are of a political and moral nature. The basic idea is that political opposition should be conducted in a constructive manner, which fulfils the legitimate functions of the opposition, inter alia to present real political alternatives and to supervise the executive .
“ In a well-functioning parliamentary democracy, there is a balance between the majority and the minority, which creates a form of interplay that ensures effective, democratic and legitimate governance. This cannot be taken for granted, and there are many countries also within Europe that present a different picture. There are at least two main forms of abuse or dysfunction of the role of the opposition. Either the opposition completely blocks effective governmental work and/or effective parliamentary work, or the opposition does not offer any alternatives to the work of the government and/or to the proposals of the parliamentary majority and is therefore not visible in the political debate. Such negative effects are usually not primarily caused by deficient legal rules on the work in parliament and the role of the opposition but are due to deeper problems within the political culture of a country.
“The prerequisite for effective work of the opposition in a democratic system is that different worldviews and different political convictions existing in society are represented in Parliament. If candidates and parties do not have an identifiable political profile, it is difficult to build up a constructive dialogue on different political options. Such a faceless party system might either lead to a policy of confrontation with the opposition acting as a persistent objector to every political move or to a fictive opposition not offering any alternatives. Such problems cannot be solved by legal reform alone, and must also be confronted by going to the roots of the problem. But creating a good legal framework within which parliamentary politics can develop and mature is never a bad idea and may often contribute substantially to the development of a democratically sound national political culture.
“The Venice Commission is of the opinion that there is a certain link between granting the opposition formal rights, and expecting in return a degree of constructiveness and responsibility. In systems where the position of the parliamentary opposition rests mainly on political traditions and conventions (and the implicit self-restraint of the majority), the question of oppositional legal rights and competences is arguably not so important – since any misuse by the opposition can be sanctioned by the majority. But to the extent that the opposition (minority) is given explicit legal rights, then this may arguably also entail certain moral (non-legal) responsibilities. If for example, a quarter of the representatives have the competence to call a public hearing or set up a parliamentary commission of inquiry, then this should be done only in important cases where there are real indications of wrongdoing – and not used as a tool for harassing and obstructing legitimate majority government. The idea of a shared moral and political responsibility for all the parties represented in parliament to contribute constructively and loyalty to the political processes are all the more important in countries where the democratic structures are relatively new and have not yet had time to settle.
“It is also particularly important in systems where different political parties control different state institutions, such as in periods of “cohabitation” in presidential and semi- “Guidelines on prohibition and dissolution of political parties and analogous measures” adopted by the Venice Commission in December 1999, CDL-INF(2000) 001, and “Opinion on the Constitutional and legal provisions relevant to the prohibition of political parties in Turkey”, adopted in March 2009, CDL-AD(2009)006. 68. The borderline between what is constructive or not may of course in itself be disputable, and “The “determined opposition” to one group can easily be seen as “irresponsible obstruction” by another”, as pointed out by Philip Laundy, cf. Parliaments in the Modern World (Dartmouth 1989) p. 93. CDL-AD(2010)025 32 presidential systems, or in two-chamber parliaments where different parties each control one. In such cases, restraint is necessary in order to ensure that the business of government in the national interest is not obstructed by narrow party political considerations. In its 2009 Code of Good Practice in the Field of Political Parties, the Venice Commission pointed out the balance between the rights and responsibilities of opposition parties: Opposition function implies scrupulous control, scrutiny and checks on authorities and officials behaviour and policies. However, good governance advises that parties in opposition (as well as ruling parties) to refrain from practices that may erode the democratic debate and which could eventually undermine the trust of citizens in politicians and parties.
“In the Explanatory Report to the Code, the Venice Commission further elaborated how good practices for responsible and constructive opposition can be laid down in the party statutes: The main duties of parties placed in the opposition are checking and criticising, always in a responsible and constructive manner, as well as rendering the majority in power to account, since citizens have to know what government does, and why, if they are supposed to govern. These duties are implicitly recognised, self-imposed and regulated in the provisions of some parties’ statutes, therefore, embodying good practices in this area. For instance, internal party rules imposing reporting obligations on the parliamentary group so that the party can evaluate the fulfilment of the group’s task of watching over the government’s activity or supporting the application of the party political project when it is in government. Furthermore, some parties present good models of organisational structures which could promote active and sound political opposition through constant work on the different policy areas which constitute the party (shadow) programme, and which help keep the machinery of the party functioning as an alternative (shadow) government always ready to replace the party in public office.
Examples of such structures can be found in Spain, in the Sectoral Organisations and Secretariats of the Spanish Workers’ Socialist Party, the Executive Secretariats regulated by the People’s Party and some bodies within the United Left, as well as in the Standing Committees for policy development of the Green Party in Ireland. In their report to the Council of Europe Forum for the Future of Democracy in 2007 on the subject of “The role and responsibilities of the opposition” the general reporters pointed out that: both the majority and the opposition have every interest to keep in mind that no one belongs to the majority or to the opposition forever and that a majority will sooner or later be part of the opposition and vice versa. Hence, it is in the interest of the majority not to take decisions before the opposition has had the opportunity to scrutinise proposals and put forward alternatives. Conversely, the opposition should not perceive its role as a mere mechanism of obstruction and should contribute substantially to the decision-making process.
“The political opposition in parliament shall show political maturity and should exercise responsible and constructive opposition, by showing mutual respect, and using its rights with a view to enhancing the efficiency of parliament as a whole .On this basis the Venice Commission concludes that the more formal rights and competences , the opposition (minority) is given within a constitutional and parliamentary system, the greater the responsibility of the same opposition not to misuse these powers, but to conduct their opposition in a way loyal to the basic system and the idea of legitimate and efficient democratic majority rule. This, however, is not an issue that can be legally regulated, or perceived as any form of formal “responsibility”, but is rather to be seen as a political and moral obligation.
Democracy is today stronger in Europe than ever before in history. The democratic political structures and traditions of Western Europe have after the Second World War consolidated and matured and have in the two last decades spread to Central and Eastern Europe. From a political point of view, Europe has reached a reasonably advanced stage of democratic development. From a legal point of view, basic democratic principles are fairly well protected both in the national constitutions and in common European legal systems, such as the ECHR and EU law. The formal and legal institutionalisation of democracy is, however, a continuous process, which can always be improved.
“As regards the role and functions of the political opposition in general – and the parliamentary opposition in particular – this has not legally reached the same stage of evolution as it has politically. There are few common European rules or standards that protect the parliamentary opposition and minorities as such, and many national constitutional systems do not really regulate these issues in an adequate manner.
The Venice Commission concludes that European democracy has now reached a stage where it is appropriate and interesting to explore the ways and means by which the role of the parliamentary opposition can be formally better regulated and protected. Given that a proper balance is struck between democratic majority rule and legitimate minority interests such institutionalisation should serve to improve parliamentary procedures and to strengthen the democratic robustness of the national political systems. On this basis the Venice Commission welcomes and endorses Resolution 1601(2008) by the Parliamentary Assembly as a groundbreaking new soft law instrument for inspiring and developing formal rules on the rights and competences of the parliamentary opposition in the member states of the Council of Europe.
“The Venice Commission also welcomes the trend pointed out by the Assembly that there appears in many European countries to be greater interest in the role and function of the parliamentary opposition and minorities, and stands ready to participate in these processes if called upon to do so. The Venice Commission considers that although there neither is nor should be any single European model for the most detailed regulation of parliamentary opposition and minority rights, there is still a common European tradition and culture of tolerant and liberal parliamentary politics, which normally allows the opposition wide room of manoeuvre.
A democratic parliamentary system presumes an ethic of self-restraint on the part of the majority, with respect to minority rights and interest. Not all possible advantages should be taken, nor are they taken in mature parliamentary systems. In parliaments where such a political culture exists, often with “unwritten” parliamentary conventions, the need for legal opposition and minority guarantees is less. In new democracies, without such democratic traditions, the need for formal rules protecting the opposition may often be stronger.
“The Venice Commission would also point to the distinction between direct and indirect (explicit and implicit) legal protection of the interests of the political (and parliamentary) opposition, and between protection in the wider and the most narrow sense. In most member states of the Council of Europe, there are only a few (if any) legal provisions directly and explicitly regulating parliamentary opposition and minority rights and interests. There is, however, a number of legal provisions both at the European and national level that in a wider sense implicitly or indirectly serve to protect (parliamentary) opposition interests. Thus these interests are legally far better protected than what they may appear at first sight. The basic protection for the parliamentary opposition is guaranteed at the ECHR level by the fundamental rights to free and fair elections, freedom of expression and opinion, freedom of assembly and a number of other basic principles.
These rights are in most European countries also protected at the national constitutional level. To some extent, the constitutional protection also covers more issues more directly related to parliamentary minorities, such as parliamentary immunity. The more explicit and detailed legal regulation of parliamentary opposition and minority rights is usually related to the individual MPs, the party groups (factions) or to a qualified minority of representatives. The Venice Commission considers that this is in most cases a better form of regulation than conferring rights on the “opposition” as such, since this is a difficult concept, with wide differences between the parties concerned and between national traditions.
“The Venice Commission considers that there are certain categories of parliamentary opposition and minority rights that are of particular important and should be generally recognised. These are (i) procedural rights of participation, (ii) special rights of supervision and scrutiny of the government, (iii) rights of veto or delay for certain decisions of a particularly fundamental character, (iv) the right to demand constitutional review, and (v) protection against persecution and abuse. In each of these categories, the national constitutional system should recognise and guarantee parliamentary minorities a certain level of legal and actual protection.
The existence of the Venice Commission is based on the idea that democracy can and should be promoted and protected “through law”. Legal recognition of certain parliamentary opposition and minority rights is a core issue in this regard. At the same time, the most important element for ensuring good parliamentary democracy is a tolerant and mature political tradition and culture, under which the governing faction does not abuse its power in order to suppress the opposition, and the opposition for its part engages actively and constructively in the political processes “. (Source : www.venice.coe)
( The above script is a quote drawn from the above mentioned Venice Commission ‘s Report . The very purpose of quoting the excerpts at great length is to acquaint the readers with the basic nature of thinking nurtured elsewhere too ).
Although the social roots and the reference groups of the parliamentary democratic system are different from the one which exists in India , the principles discussed therein are fairly applicable to the Indian situation and that is why the excerpts were drawn.
The leader of the Opposition in U.K.
Let us refer to the statutory position granted to the leader of the opposition in the British legislature. Erskine May’s Parliamentary Practice confirms that in the United Kingdom the office of Leader of the Opposition was first given statutory recognition in the Ministers of the Crown Act 1937.
Section 5 states that "There shall be paid to the Leader of the Opposition an annual salary of two thousand pounds".
Section 10(1) includes a definition (which codifies the usual situation under the previous custom) -" "Leader of the Opposition" means that member of the House of Commons who is for the time being the leader in that House of the party in opposition to His Majesty's Government having the greatest numerical strength in that House".
The 1937 Act also contains an important provision to decide who is the Leader of the Opposition, if this is in doubt. Under section 10(3) "If any doubt arises as to which is or was at any material time the party in opposition to His Majesty's Government having the greatest numerical strength in the House of Commons, or as to who is or was at any material time the leader in that House of such a party the question shall be decided for the purposes of this Act by the Speaker of the House of Commons, and his decision, certified in writing under his hand, shall be final and conclusive".
Subsequent legislation also gave statutory recognition to the Leader of the Opposition in the House of Lords.
Section 2(1) of the Ministerial and other Salaries Act 1975, provides that "In this Act "Leader of the Opposition" means, in relation to either House of Parliament, that member of that House who is for the time being the Leader in that House of the party in opposition to Her Majesty's Government having the greatest numerical strength in the House of Commons".
Section 2(2) is in exactly the same terms as section 10(3) of the 1937 Act (apart from substituting Her Majesty's for His Majesty's).
Section 2(3) is a corresponding provision for Lord Chancellor (since 2005, the Lord Speaker) to decide about the Leader of the Opposition in the House of Lords. Since 1937, the Leader of the Opposition has received a state salary in addition to their salary as a Member of Parliament (MP), now equivalent to a Cabinet Minister. The holder also receives a chauffeur-driven car for official business of equivalent cost and specification to the vehicles used by most cabinet ministers.
Another unique feature of the British Parliamentary System : Shadow Cabinet : The Shadow Cabinet consists of members from the main opposition party in the House of Commons and Lords, currently the Labour party. Its role is to examine the work of each government department and develop policies in their specific areas.
Opposition in Canada :
In Canada, an opposition party is a political party with members elected to the House of Commons or legislative assembly that is not the government party nor one of a coalition of parties forming the government.
The role of an opposition party is to oppose the government by criticising government policies, suggesting alternatives and keeping the public informed about issues relating to government administration. It is also important to remember that the Opposition must be able to provide both alternative policies and an alternative government and Prime Minister.
‘Opposition’ in Indian parliamentary system :
Official Opposition is a term used in India to designate the political party which has secured the largest number of seats in the Lower House of parliament (Lok Sabha) but is not a part of the ruling party or coalition.
A political party is officially accorded the status of an opposition party in Lok Sabha, only if it secures at least 10 percent of the seats. The following list will enumerate the situation .
1989 - 1991: Indian National Congress
1991 - 1998: Bharatiya Janata Party
1998 - 2004: Indian National Congress
2004 - 2009: Bharatiya Janata Party
2009 - 2014: Bharatiya Janata Party
2014 - 2019: None, No opposition party has secured 10% of the total seats(54/543).
The performance of opposition in the Indian parliament:
The entire Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha monsoon sessions were almost washed away. The sole reason was the pitiably reduced Indian National Congress was determined to wash it. The ruling party members and millions of TV viewers of the House proceedings were left stunned and helpless , former watching it from inside and the latter from all over the world . The hearts of the poorest of the poor bled. Indian democracy was weeping.
The pseudo-liberals and the intelligentsia in the country kept on advising the ruling party to arrive at an amicable compromise and settlement without bothering to search the truth in the alleged episodes. The political scientists and the sociologists in India are genuinely worried over the current affairs in the Indian parliamentary polity. Stalling the proceedings of both the Houses of the Parliament by a handful of dejected party MPs is a matter of great concern and of course , a matter of shame. No fortune-teller is needed to forewarn the future of the Indian polity. It is not a political matter. It is not a political party affair.
It is not a matter of defeat or victory in electoral battles. The unruly , unjustifiable inexcusable behaviour of the INC party MPs who are perhaps not even aware that their behaviour is the death-nail of the hard-won Indian parliamentary culture. The INC party leaders give an impression as if it is the inherent right and responsibility of the INC alone to rule the country. That they have been deprived of it , is something bad in law. This ailment of the policy needs to be medicated.
Responsible opposition : Need of the hour
The nation needs a very responsible opposition. Several politicians feel that the function of the opposition parties is to oppose the decisions taken by the government. It is not so. In fact, the first responsibility of those in the opposition parties and the leaders is to allow the duly elected government to function and exercise their mandatory powers of framing the policies which the voters have preferred and approved it when they voted in for the ruling party.
The opposition parties are certainly entitled to express their dissent during the electoral battle. If someone studies the politics in USA or UK , he will find the difference in the behavioural pattern of the opposition party leaders who exhibit studious maturity in expressing their opposition and difference of opinion while respecting the prerogative of the victorious duly elected Executive to lead the nation. The political parties in India are required to learn the art of politics of constructive interaction. When asked about foreign affairs related the question to an outgoing Prime Minister of UK Mr. John Major, standing courteously at 10, Downing Street in Londo , he politely pointed out his finger to the new Prime Minister Mr.Tony Blair and replied , ‘ My Prime Minister Mr Tony Blair will reply to this question’.
Is there anything to learn from the Indian political party workers from the above-mentioned example ? The Indian civilisation demands much more matured policy –constructive politics with effective governance and responsible opposition. ‘There are no enemies in a multi-party democracy , there are opponents ,’..late Yashwantrao Chavan then an INC leader of yesteryears had said. Restraint at any cost has to be a keyword for mutual interaction in public life esp. on the floor of the House of Parliament. That is the need of the hour. The unruly live scenes which the Indian voters view during the House proceedings do not conform to the accepted norms of parliamentary democracy.
The need of the hour is to ponder over the status report of the recent political affairs . Nobody needs to be panic over these episodes. However , it is a matter of abundant precaution that proper care is required to be taken in order to maintain the track record. The making of the political society of India needs a strong , effective , rigorous , severe and tough-willed legal framework to correct the flow of political matters. In fact , the political process is required to be de-politicized in its entirety. Indian scenario seems to be over-politicized.
The ‘ Executive ‘ needs to be strengthened for effective law-making and good governance.
It appears that there is very little discipline left on the part of the parliamentarians. Every action taken by the Executive is necessarily wrong and it needs to correct , this is what the opposition firmly believes in. All political parties seem to have forgotten that there were General Elections recently held , some party won a majority in the Lok Sabha , it now has the mandate to rule , it is the prerogative of the ruling party to formulate policy decisions in accordance with their party ideology without disturbing the basic structure of the constitutional system and it has to execute it with all the constitutional authority. In a nutshell, this is what the essence of the parliamentary democratic ethos is. The differing party workers do not have any authority to scuttle the ruling party plans and programmes at any cost.
Rules of conduct of the business of the House need to be strictly adhered to and implemented effectively. The floor of the House i.e. the Lok Sabha is the custodian of the people’s will . Whatever the differences between the political parties exist , the scores are required to be settled on the floor of the House and not the streets. The debate is the intellectual battlefield of the House. Therefore the sanctity of the House is required to be protected at all cost. The rules of the business and the procedures to be followed in the House as prescribed are as follows :
The questions asked by the MPs in the House/ raised in the House are governed by Rules numbers 32 to 54. The Speaker is the final authority on whether to allow a question to be raised by the member or not. It is the Speaker who chooses a member to raise a question in the House, the size or the length of the question is also decided by the Speaker. Moreover, if the Speaker is satisfied that the question raised is not worth, he can disallow the member to speak further.Under Rule 55, the Speaker may allow and allow time up to half an hour discussion on a subject referred to by the member is of urgency.
The Speaker’s decision is final. Adjournment motions and Rules in this behalf are governed under 56 to 63. The Speaker is the final authority on whether an adjournment motion whether to be allowed or not. The Speaker prescribes a time limit for speeches. Motions to be moved by a member are governed by Rules 184 to 192. Short duration’s discussions could be held under Rules 193 to 196. Calling attention debates are caused by any member under Rule 197 on any matter of urgent public importance.
The sanctity of the House is protected under a set of Rules from 222 to 233. Any member with the consent of the Speaker may raise a question of breach of privilege in the House. General Rules of procedure which are required to be followed meticulously are prescribed by Rule 332 to 374A. It can be construed that the behavioural pattern of the members on the floor of the House is governed by these Rules. Rule 373 and 374 empowers the Speaker to order a member to leave the House as well as a motion of suspension from the service of the House under Rule 374 if the Speaker is satisfied that the behaviour of the member is offensive enough to attract admonition or suspension. This seems to be the over-all structure of the Rules of the proceedings of the House.
( Source : Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business in Lok Sabha: Fifteenth Edition, Lok Sabha Secretariat , New Delhi 2014 ).
Yet what do we watch on the TV screen ? The actual scene depicts that most of the members ( at times, the treasury benches too ) blatantly flout the rules of the procedure of the business of the House. In fact the present Hon'ble Speaker of the Lok Sabha , Mrs.Sumitra Mahajan is extremely decent, cultured, courteous person and in fact lenient towards the misbehaviour of the members. Undue decency shown towards the persistently deliberate rowdy party leaders in the House may not yield fruits of discipline or decorum. Strict implementation of the existing rules may perhaps suffice the purpose. The spirit of the law, as well as the letter of the law too, is required to be strictly adhered to in order to maintain the order in the House.
In the recent past , what the citizens view on the TV show of the live proceedings of both the Houses of the Parliament , absolutely dismal and disgusting. The proceedings on the floor of the Houses are in no way intellectually of high standard. There are several small and regional parties in both the Houses which are neither united in action nor ideologically closer to each other. It is a sad comment to state that the Upper House also called as ‘Council of States’ has since been converted into a house of political rehabilitation of those who are defeated in the elections to the Lower House which is called as ‘House of People’ .
While the position also existed in the former Central Legislative Assembly of British India, and holders of it there included Motilal Nehru, it received statutory recognition through the Salary and Allowances of Leaders of Opposition in Parliament Act, 1977 which defines the term "Leader of the Opposition" as that member of the Lok Sabha or the Rajya Sabha who, for the time being, is the Leader of that House of the Party in Opposition to the Government having the greatest numerical strength and recognised, as such, by the Chairman of the Rajya Sabha or the Speaker of the Lok Sabha. However, in order to get formal recognition, the concerned party must have at least 10% of the total strength of the House (55 seats in the Lok Sabha). If any party fails to get 10% seats in opposition, the House will not have recognised leader of the opposition. A single party has to meet the 10% seat criteria, not an alliance.
This is the most accepted or most spoken rule of appointing this post but when we refer to "Salary and Allowances of Leaders of Opposition in Parliament Act, 1977" by which the post has got official and statutory status, the majority required is decided by the head of the houses, that is speaker and chairman as the case maybe.Refer to definition of Leader of Opposition in the act.
The Central Vigilance Commission Act, 2003, clause 4, provides for the leader of the largest opposition party to be inducted as a member of the selection committee in a scenario where the lower house of parliament does not have a recognised leader of the opposition.
The politics of opposition parties in the African continent is not a very promising one. Extremist Islamic groups in the African continent like Al-Qaeda in the Maghreb , Mujao , Boko Haram which are ‘fundamentalists’ and are hard core opponents of the Western educational culture including Western political practices.
The socio-economic disparity between the rich and poor is growing in Africa, without bridging this gap the poor disenfranchised sections of society will remain Africa`s greatest threat. It is important to note that the African socio-political traditions are in no way akin to Western political institutions ( their ancient cultural roots perhaps were different ) and therefore, there is a school of thought which contends that the colonization of Africa in the 18th , 19th and early 20th centuries by the European imperial powers , subsequently imposed their political practices, beliefs and political institutions on the African native peoples besides their colonial catholic religion .In fact , the erstwhile colonial esp. European imperial powers are seen under attack on account of their colonial cultural domination and roots in the past.
In the light of the foregoing description of the dismal performance of the political parties in the Houses in general and opposition political parties in particular all over the world, a ‘pass’ has arrived whereunder the performance of the Indian opposition party leaders needs a very close and serious scrutiny. Their behavioral pattern on the floor of the Houses of the Parliament in India needs a serious study as regards the intellectual content in it , the style of the delivery of the meaningless, irrelevant , frivolous and superficial speeches on the part of the participants in the debates in and outside the Houses , the party chauvinistic stances disregarding national interests and further , most of the instances displaying the muscle power on the floor of the Houses by stalling the proceedings by entering into the wells of the Houses around the Hon'ble Speaker’s Chairs.
An ordinary common citizen or a voter wonders when he watches the live telecast of the proceedings of the Houses whether there are any rules of the Houses at all , to regulate the proceedings and discipline the debates and decisions ?
The shamelessness on the part of the speakers there has disastrously tarnished the image of the Parliament of India which was once upon a time an assembly of very erudite and outstanding intellectuals not only in the Houses but in their own right as well .Anyway , no Parliament in the world can be converted into an ( academic ? ) “wrestlers’ ring”. It will not be an exaggeration to state that the impression the voter gets while he views the ‘live telecast’ of the legislative proceedings , he concludes that it is a mockery of parliamentary democracy.
The parties in power which miserably lost the electoral battle in May 2014, have since become so uneasy and unruly in the Houses , that it seems that they have lost all sense of wisdom and political decency. These groups do not seem to accept the mandate of the voters in the parliamentary democracy.
Does this situation require social political education at the grass root level as to how to behave properly or making strong and stringent legislative measures to curb the unruly behaviour of the parliamentarians ?
The following factors need to be analysed with a view to improving the performance of the individual parliamentarian as well as of the House :
Hypocrisy and hypocritical chauvinistic speeches on the floor of the Houses need to be ruthlessly disallowed.
Inadequate knowledge of the subjects and its consequent falsified presentation needs to be corrected and ways and means are required to be discovered to unearth the facts.
The preponderance of party-line over the debated issues at the cost of freedom of thought needs to be reduced .
Ignoring, misleading and twisting the facts to their own petty personal or party interests has always harmed the dignity of the Houses and therefore it is necessary to penalise those members who are found spreading lies or presenting false submissions. In other words , the privilege of immunity from defamation cases if a member makes any false statement on the floor of the House. Immunity ought to be curtailed to a reasonable extent ( with a view to making him speak responsibly and decently ).
Total and absolute absence of harmony and ideological intolerance is seen on ‘screen’, moreover, the House is considered as a hot plate to settle one’s personal score, therefore, some mechanism is required to be evolved whereby speeches made on the floor of the Houses need to be based on policy management or at the most , party line explained.
Firm implementation of Rules of Procedures of the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha in its spirit and letters in order to establish the sanctity and the dignity of the Houses.
The Speaker’s Office, its functioning and activation need to be augmented in the interest of parliamentary democracy.
The procedural compulsion to share views with others and face criticism from others even against oneself be made inseparable part of House discipline without any sort of commotion lest suspension of House membership must loom large over.
The timetable for discussion in the House is slated liberally since it is noticed that members of the House are required to express their views at times for hardly around five to ten minutes during the sessions. Where is he going to speak then , if not in the House ?
Political parties must discuss on the floor of the House , plans for socio-cultural-economic development ,their own contribution while pointing out the deficiencies of the plans submitted by the Treasury Benches, instead of hurling and attributing allegations on ‘non-issues’ and wasting the precious House time.
Utmost respect for each other on the floor of the House is the foundation of any civil society which is required to be kept in mind by all the lawmakers despite political and ideological differences.
Can we consider an invasion of the Well in the House and disruption of the proceedings by anyone individually or in a group , be covered under the “ The Representation of the People Act, 1951” ?
Recently , the example set by the Hon’ble British Prime Minister Mr. David Cameroon quitting the Office , ( although not required under any law ) , after his ruling Party lost the vote in the general referendum on the question of whether or not to remain in the European Union, only signifies the glorious and grand British traditions in parliamentary history. Indian parliamentarians need to ‘study’ this example , leave alone emulate it.
The intellectuals and the elite class in the country need to take into account the interests of the poor and the downtrodden in the society and direct the suitable modifications in the parliamentary functioning and , if need be, exercise a re-look at the Constitution itself assuring the poor and the downtrodden that their rights and comforts would not be disturbed in any manner. The famous jurist late Shri Nani Palkhiwala had argued in the Supreme Court of India during the ill-famous ‘emergency period’ defending the right to ‘ fundamental rights’ of the individual, that ‘ the fundamental rights enshrined in the Constitution of India primarily were to protect the poor and the downtrodden and it was that class in the society which depended on the fundamental rights for their very life at the minimum ’
The opposition in India needs to keep in mind Shri Nani Palkhiwala.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s first ever Indian idea of multifarious growth of the individual and the society , esp. the poor and the downtrodden, is not tolerated by the shortsighted opposition out of petty politics and electoral considerations .
The ‘opposition’ in India , in the interest of parliamentary democracy is required to keep foremost in mind the ‘Modi Mantra’—‘Nation first’.