General Elections 2019

How democratic was the 16th Lok Sabha?

A lot of recent decisions, like Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s low attendance in Parliament to passing Constitutional Amendment Bill as a money Bill, establish the regime’s autocratic nature

By Adil Hussain , Asrarul Haque Jeelani
Last Updated: Monday 08 April 2019

Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Photo: Wikimedia CommonsThe first session of the 16th Lok Sabha began on June 4, 2014, and its last session ended on February 13, 2019. Between these two sessions, the country was witness to tumultuous ups and downs, both inside and outside and in Parliament.

On the anvil of his innings as the Prime Minister, Modi bowed down to the stairs of Parliament before entering to attend the very first session of the 16th Lok Sabha. His gesture created a buzz on social media with everybody discussing his cultural connectedness and the idea of temple of democracy. However, on the other hand, it was also criticised with reference to the secular and democratic value of the country. Now, after completion of the 16th Lok Sabha, it is clear that Modi’s attendance in Parliament was less than his predecessors. This calls into question his seeming adherence to the democratic parliamentary traditions.

The 16th Lok Sabha sat for 331 days and 1,615 hours less than by 137 days and 1,074 hours of all full-term Parliaments. Although this particular Lok Sabha spent 50 and 30 hours more than the 15th and 14th Lok Sabhas, but question hours declined and 83 per cent of the Budget was passed without discussion. PRS Legislative Research, a non-government organisation, revealed in February that 133 bills were passed and 45 ordinances were promulgated in the Lok Sabha. But the question is how it has been treated and passed in Parliament?

Of all the democratic institutions in India, Parliament is the superior-most. Parliament has a system of standing and constitutional committees trying to inculcate different opinions and suggestions like including different stakeholders’ opinions, getting suggestions from experts, and taking note of what the Opposition has to say. In the 14th and 15th Lok Sabha, 60 per cent and 71 per cent Bills were sent to the committees for scrutiny, whereas in the 16th Lok Sabha only 25 per cent of the Bills were referred to the statutory committees.

This not only undermines the democratic values and functioning of Parliament but has also deteriorated the quality of bills, for example, surrogacy bill and transgender bill was widely criticised as a reflection of the regressive social outlook suffering from casteist and patriarchal outlook and oppressive understanding.

The Modi regime has been publicly criticised for its autocratic nature. This is manifested in his various speeches and easily recognised. The decision of demonetisation on November 8, 2016 is a suitable example of establishing the argument in favour of his autocratic nature. The recent reply to an RTI query revealed that the Reserve Bank of India was not in favour of doing so. Modi’s foreign policy, whether to go to Pakistan un-invited or to make tea for the Chinese president or to break the protocol for other famous and infamous world leaders just to establish his personal friendship, is another example of his narcissist and autocratic approach. Such autocratic leadership has reflections even in taking an important decision like demonetisation where Parliament was kept in the dark. 

There have been many controversial bills promulgated in Parliament, and the ruling party tried to get it passed through both the houses by hook or crook. In an unprecedented attempt, this Lok Sabha passed a Constitutional Amendment Bill (GST, which is a constitutional amendment bill as it requires changes in the state list and central list of tax collection system) as a money Bill.

It was done to curb the barricade of Rajya Sabha where the government was in minority for the past five years. Similarly, other Bills like the Aadhaar Act were passed as a money bill. Besides, 100 per cent of demands were passed in the Budget session of 2018-19 although this was not the first time in Parliament but it is very significant in combination with autocratic way to pass the bills, and devaluing conventions of the parliament as this regime has broken many conventions in Parliament like date of the Budget and merging railway budget with annual budget without everyone’s consensus.  

Sensationalism and emotional games are not necessary for the democratic process of Parliament as it is enshrined in the way it proceeds. The evidences of breaking conventions of Parliament, passing all the demands without discussions in the Budget session and the a Constitutional Amendment Bill as a money bill and sending only 25 per cent of the bills to the committee indicate undemocratic proceedings of Parliament sessions in the Modi regime.   

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