Let the House function

The irate responses of BJP leaders to Rahul Gandhi’s speech show Indian democracy in very poor light.

Government on press freedom
Indian Parliament

The Bharatiya Janata Party has every right to counter Congress leader Rahul Gandhi’s strident criticism of its style of functioning and its resultant impact on democratic practices in India. But the party has clearly gone overboard on the issue, leading to a logjam in Parliament. The party seems to have forgotten that in a parliamentary democracy, it is the responsibility of the government to ensure smooth functioning of the House. It’s strange that the ruling party members have been demanding an apology from Gandhi, saying his speech was “an insult to India.” The party has also reportedly approached the Lok Sabha Speaker on forming a special committee to look into the possibility of suspending Gandhi. The correct course of action should have been to contest Gandhi’s assertions on the floor of Parliament, not outside it.

The government seems to be on weak ground here. BJP says Gandhi has asked foreign powers to intervene to save India’s democracy. This isn’t factually correct. Gandhi reportedly said “the idea of a democratic model (in India) is being attacked and threatened (by the ruling dispensation)” and that if Indian democracy collapses, democracy on the planet suffers a very serious, possibly fatal, blow, and therefore, “it is important for the West” and what the West does about it is up to it. But he had prefaced it with a clear statement that he wasn’t calling for the West to intervene. Gandhi had said erosion of democratic institutions under the present dispensation was “India’s problem, and the solution is going to come from inside; it is not going to come from outside”. The point is certainly debatable—but countering the point can’t be in the form of demands for suspension and expulsion.

The stalling of Parliament functioning in the Budget session by ruling party members can be termed an abdication of legislative duties. Disruption of the House is a tactic often used by the opposition parties to highlight issues. But a ruling dispensation using this tactic in an attempt to score political points is unheard of, and sets a bad precedent. The ruling party must realise that its “if you are not with us, then you are against us” kind of strategy has a limited shelf value. After all, if a Lok Sabha member calls for the expulsion of another because the latter criticised the government, and if a Union minister says some retired judges are part of an “anti-India gang”, surely the ruling party’s handling of dissent and criticism is not going to be viewed favourably. Allegations of selective use of institutions such as the Enforcement Directorate already dog the government, lending credence to the theory that the anti-corruption action is merely a ruse to hound Opposition parties and their leaders. Against such a backdrop, not allowing Parliament to function doesn’t do its image any good.

Prime minister Narendra Modi did well by showcasing the achievements of the government he leads in his response to Gandhi’s criticism. But his own party members seem to be acting more loyal than the king by adopting a belligerent stance. In fact, the irate responses of the party leaders have led many to believe that they are designed to enable the government to evade searching queries from the Opposition on the Adani Group, among other contentious issues. It’s time the PM and the BJP’s top leaders take charge so that Parliament is allowed to function even as the political volleys continue, as is required of a thriving democracy.

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First published on: 21-03-2023 at 03:30 IST
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