Opinion - Parliamentary democracy & some challenges Somnath Chatterjee
The Hindu Thursday, Nov 15, 2007 Because of the competitive and confrontational politics that has overtaken the country today, Parliament cannot appropriately discharge its essential functions.
Intolerance, divisiveness, corruption, confrontations and disrespect to dissent are increasingly vitiating our socio-political system. Added to this is the attempt by some institutions to malign and marginalise important people’s forums with an intent to occupy larger space than what is ideally feasible or constitutionally permissible in a representative democratic system. Judicial activism is sought to be justified because of the perceived decline in the effectiveness of parliamentary accountability. Frequent interventions in the exclusive jurisdiction of the legislature will only contribute to further eroding the authority of Parliament. Nobody is talking of an alternative to, or substitute for, parliamentary democracy. With the realisation that it is out of our Parliament that the leadership that runs the affairs of our country emerges, we have to ensure that political workers, specially young men and women with commitment and dedication to the cause of the people, come into Parliament and actively participate in working the system. As the Presiding Officer of the popular House of Parliament, it has been my endeavour to help enhance its image. In recent years we have taken several initiatives to take Parliament closer to the people.
The introduction of a full-fledged 24-hour Lok Sabha TV channel and a Parliamentary Lecture Series, the creation of various parliamentary forums to ensure more effective involvement of the people’s representatives in matters that require concerted national attention; the creation of more opportunities for MPs to have discussions and interactions with social activists, intellectuals, the academia, and so on, are all meant to ensure an effective interface between civil society and the representative body of the people. By expelling 10 MPs for their involvement in the ‘cash-for-query’ scam, and by suspending others for different periods for various misdemeanours, Parliament has set an example. But these initiatives are not projected properly to help enhance people’s respect for democratic institutions. The media, rather than becoming the prophets of doom and contributing to the loss of the people’s faith in the institutions, should endeavour to reinforce their trust in them. They would do well to remember that only in a democracy does free media flourish. Market-driven competitive journalism will hurt the long-term interest of our political system. Once democratic institutions lose popular trust, it could very well herald the beginning of anarchy.
The cynicism that is creeping into the minds of the people, specially the youth, about our democratic structure should be removed by the proper functioning of the people’s most important institution, so that bright young citizens do not get disinterested about participation in public affairs and politics. All stakeholders in our democracy have to unitedly work with dedication, commitment, cooperation and self-discipline to find lasting solutions to safeguard parliamentary democracy from the tremendous strains experienced today and to strengthen it. The question that we all, particularly, today’s youth, need to ask ourselves is, should we always be the beneficiaries of the system or should we not come forward to contribute to transform the quality of our polity and to make a positive impact on the socio-economic fortunes of the people. Attracting the right talent — honest, well-meaning, public-spirited and educated youth — into the arena of politics and public life is an important challenge before our democracy.
Our youth and particularly the students have to take on the onus of addressing the aberrations and for removing the various ills plaguing our society and to provide dynamic and committed leadership to change the system for the better. Politics in the country today carries with it an image of intrigue, venality, disorder and anarchy. We need to correct it urgently, so that our people begin to view politics as a respectable profession in the service of society as was perceived during the long years of our struggle for freedom. Only the youth can help correct this image. Remember that only democracy gives you the power to participate in the political process, express your opinion and thus to be a factor in bringing about positive changes in the socio-economic condition of the country.
(Based on the Jawaharlal Nehru Memorial Lecture, titled Status of Parliamentary Democracy in India, delivered by Somnath Chatterjee, Speaker of the Lok Sabha, at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, on November 14.)