Parliament turns 60

In a special function held in the Central Hall on Sunday last, the two houses met to mark 60th anniversary of the Parliament. Country’s top leadership paid glowing tributes to the parliamentary form of Government ushered in on May 13, 1952 the first day on which the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha had met. Down the history line 15 general elections have been held so far, and nearly 80 crore people were eligible to exercise their franchise in the 2009 Lok Sabha polls. It is the people of the country whose participation in successive elections has given roots to democracy. In fact we owe all this to our constitution and this was the occasion also for paying respects to the framers of constitution. Sixty year-long march along the path has dispelled all doubts about the success of democracy in India Today our country is looked upon with respect and surprise as, in the word of the Speaker, “Parliament is the light pillar of democracy.” Earlier, speaking in the Lok Sabha, Meira Kumar congratulated people on the occasion saying they deserved the real credit for success of democracy owing to their enthusiastic participation in elections. She said millions of people toil hard for their living and participate in the democratic process. “I bow to people of the country,” she said.
In six decades, a sea change has taken place in the Indian Parliament. When it opened six decades ago, it was a highly revered institution, packed with stalwarts who won freedom for India and where debates were of highest quality. As Parliament marked its 60th anniversary Sunday, analysts and even MPs admit that disorder has become the order of the day in both houses. A lot of other sweeping changes have taken place too. The first Lok Sabha, formed after the 1952 election, was dominated by the Congress and the towering presence of Jawaharlal Nehru, with the Communists being the main opposition. Today, while still heading the ruling coalition, the Congress is a much weakened political force, surviving on the support of not so loyal allies. The Communists are a pale shadow of their former self.
The percentage of MPs without secondary education — many gave up schooling for the independence struggle — was almost a quarter in 1952. It is now just three percent. Most MPs in the first house were lawyers by training. Now most are linked to agriculture, some say to mafias. There is a noticeable shift in the age profile too. In 1952, only 20 percent of MPs were 56 years or older. In 2009, when the last Lok Sabha election was held, this zoomed to 43 percent according to a PRS Legislative Research think-tank. The members of the first Lok Sabha included, in the treasury and opposition benches, besides Nehru, Lal Bahadur Shastri, Vallabhai Patel, B.R. Ambedkar, Abul Kalam Azad, A.K. Gopalan, Sucheta Kriplani, Jagjivan Ram, Sardar Hukam Singh, Asoka Mehta and Rafi Ahmed Kidwai.
Speeches, debates and interventions in the house were of a very high order. Even when they differed with their opponents, everyone maintained decorum.
Sixty years later, this has been the biggest casualty. Senior politicians fondly recall the days when disruptions were infrequent and ruckus, sloganeering and rancour were almost unheard of. Cabinet Minister Virbhadra Singh, who entered the Lok Sabha in 1962, told IANS: “Disruptions on small issues never happened earlier. Members strongly expressed their differences of opinion but there was hardly an occasion when Parliament was disrupted. Now this is the rule rather than the exception.”
Blaming factionalism for the Congress’s recent electoral setbacks, as Sonia Gandhi has done, can be regarded as a somewhat facile explanation, considering that internal rifts have been a part of the party’s genes dating back a century to the clashes between Bal Gangadhar Tilak and Gopal Krishna Gokhale, between Mahatma Gandhi and Subhash Chandra Bose and between Indira Gandhi and the so-called “syndicate”, represented by the old guard in the Congress at that time. Besides these confrontations between the heavyweights at the national level, there were innumerable relatively minor tiffs lower down the scale as between A.K. Antony and K. Karunakaran in Kerala. But it is necessary to remember that none of these seriously undermined the Congress. However, the Congress’ travails are all the more surprising because it is the only party which has been able to reorient its policies in sync with the changing times. Neither the Left nor the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), its two main opponents, has been able to do so.
The comrades, for instance, remain stuck in the days of Soviet hegemony when anti-Americanism was the flavour of the day. They seem to take no cognisance of the fact of communism’s terminal decline.
Parliament and parliamentary democracy is India’s strength. It is the only hope of a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural and multi-linguistic society. If the norms of healthy functioning of the Parliament are thrown to winds, we shall be spelling our disaster. We hope that younger generation entering the portals of Parliament will understand the need of functioning with a changed mindset.


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