Whose Parliament, Whose Pride?

It is not a coincidence that BJP MP Brij Bhushan Singh, accused of sexual harassment, was photographed at the new parliament building while women wrestlers were being thrashed by the Delhi Police not too far away. 

Breathless debates in recent days focused squarely on a grandiose ceremony which was supposedly about inaugurating a brand-new Parliament building. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s formidable public relations machinery apparently won yet another round – because these days, there is no cultural (or social or religious) debate that the establishment can ever lose. If public opinion needs to be marshalled or manufactured, an eager media is ever-willing to be pressed into service. 

#MyParliamentMyPride was the social media hashtag that did the rounds. It is worth asking – who is the Parliament serving these days? And is its functioning still a source of pride? 

Much has been made of the Sengol, a sceptre that was handed over to the prime minister, which was then later installed in the Lok Sabha next to the Speaker’s chair after an elaborate puja following Hindu rituals. 

The installation of this sceptre apparently heralds a new age of glory (or ‘amrit kaal’ as the prime minister and his supporters would call it) but its hollow reality was exposed only a short distance away where the Delhi Police unleashed brute force against wrestlers (mostly women) who are protesting against the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) president and BJP MP Brij Bhushan Singh, who has been accused of sexually assaulting wrestlers including a minor.  

It was not a coincidence that Singh, at that very hour, was being photographed in the new parliament building and was tweeting, without a trace of irony, the hashtag #MyParliamentMyPride. Perhaps we should be thankful to the ruling BJP for dispensing with any pretence that in new India, the Parliament has anything to do with ensuring justice for all. 

For a set of chambers that ought to represent the will (and ensure the welfare) of 140 crore Indian citizens, the new parliament was reduced to a mere stage where a monarchical ceremony was enacted. This portends an ominous future.

The celebration of monarchical and religious symbolism in the vital organs of our democracy suggests a shift in the relationship between the state and citizens. While the poor and underprivileged may see the state as the ‘mai-baap sarkar’, it is the responsibility of the government of the day to dispel those notions and bring the state closer to citizens. 

It is the responsibility of our elected representatives to ensure that principles such as ‘checks and balances’, ‘rule of law’ and the separation of powers between different arms of the government are brought home to people by and large and not let them lose meaning by investing in the untrammelled powers of a government. 

By all accounts, it is strange that at a time when we should be trying to strengthen our institutions and promote awareness about safeguards to individual liberty guaranteed by the constitution, our elected representatives are indulging in such regressive pageantry. 

Let’s go back to more mundane issues. According to data compiled by PRS Legislative Research, the latest Lok Sabha is likely to be the shortest one ever – expected to have functioned for less than 300 days in its five-year term. 

The data further shows how time spent on discussing financial business has steadily declined, as has the Question Hour in Parliament – and this deterioration is evident even from the first year of this Parliament session (2019-20) to now. There are other indications that the quality of our parliamentary democracy has taken a hit in recent years. India today has an Executive that allows no questioning by the Legislature, effectively rendering a pillar of our democracy useless. 

When the Monsoon session of the Lok Sabha session is convened in the new Parliament, there is little hope that anything would have changed. Congress leader Rahul Gandhi will continue to be ‘disqualified’ on flimsy grounds. Other opposition leaders will continue to be ‘muted’ when they raise inconvenient issues. The government will continue to block any debate on Adani Enterprises and the charges of cronyism. More bills will be pushed through with little to no debate or deliberation. Ordinances that show the judiciary its place will be promulgated. And BJP Members of the parliament will use every opportunity they can get to perpetuate Modi’s personality cult . 

Amidst these ruins, to whom does the new Parliament belong, and whose pride does it represent? I wonder.

Suvojit Chattopadhyay is currently based in Dhaka, and works on issues of public sector governance and development management in South Asia. You can find his blog here. He tweets @suvojitc.