Parliamentary system itself under threat in the absence of accountability


Jagtar Singh

Chandigarh, December 16: The entire one month session of the Parliament ending without conducting any business might have precedent in the politics of disruptions of the Bharatiya Janata Party when in opposition but the issue now is far too serious as compared to that situation. That issue is the functioning of the Parliamentary system of democracy itself as it is this system that now seems to be under threat. Both the prime minister as well as the opposition can hold the system to ransom. Going by the parliamentary practice under the Westminster model being followed by this country, it is the responsibility of government to run the House. However, even walk outs are very rare in British Parliament. The winter session of the Parliament has been severely hit by the cashless economy and the government has just refused to be accountable.

Sometimes a picture tells more than a 1000-word story. Above is a picture that has gone viral on the social media of the villagers spending night in outside a bank in Muktsar district, the home district of Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal. The Amritsar industrialists took out a march to the office of the deputy commissioner to hand over their keys as a symbolic gesture. Industry has been badly hit. The farmers in Punjab managed to get inputs like seeds and fertilisers under the decades old system prevalent in this state and that is the relationship between the farmer and the commission agent.

With the session coming to the close, the opposition both in the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha changed tactics  and pressed for unconditional debate on demonitisation in the presence of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. In the beginning, the demand was for debate under the rule that entails voting. As the opposition changed its stance, the politics of disruption was resorted to by the treasury benches. This certainly is bad parliamentary practice. Here was the ruling party scuttling debate and discussion on the most important decision taken by any government since independence that has affected each and every individual in the country.

In the short run, denotification seems to have derailed the economy without meeting the objectives that Modi announced on November 8while administering this shock to the people. By a single stroke, Rs 500 and Rs 1000 notes were turned into raddi. However, that is not the issue. People were supposed to get new notes as replacement. That has not happened. People continue to die in queues outside banks. The long-term impact of this decision would be known later.

India’s is not a presidential system of governance. However, in this case, it was one man’s decision, that of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Opposition was not wrong in insisting that only Modi should reply to the debate. Finance Minister Arun Jaitley was not kept in the loop and the Reserve Bank of India just bungled.

The common man continues to stand in the queue in the hope that his or her pain would not go in vain and their accounts might turn six figures after December 31. Modi had called upon the people to bear hardship till December 31. Situation has somewhat eased but restrictions continue. The Jan Dhan account population expect transfer of funds to their accounts  by the Modi government.

The opposition has given  fight on this issue in Parliament while Modi has gone to the people. However, it is for the first time that the Prime Minister has virtually refused to be accountable to the Parliament on such a sensitive issue that has given the biggest ever jolt to the lives of the people in the country. It is this aspect that is all the more serious.

Under the Parliamentary system of democracy, it is the Parliament that is considered to be supreme and it is the system itself that faces a serious challenge.

The money that has returned to the banks is much more than the government had expected. The political parties continue to be lavish in organising their political conferences in the poll bound states like Punjab despite the cash squeeze. The marriages in the families of the politicians continue to be as lavish as ever. It is the man in the street who has been hit, not the people who were the target of demonitisation.

Modi has been tirelessly promoting cashless economy. Interestingly, it is cash that  continues to be preferred by establishments like hospitals over card payment. One can expect a big THANK YOU in case paying in cash. This is the test. Cashless economy is not free. There is transaction cost but Modi is strangely not talking about it.

The internet cables suffered damage due to cyclone in Tamil Nadu and it affected the entire network for more than 24 hours. High speed internet is a necessary condition for cashless transaction. Even US economy is not cashless.


Jagtar Singh


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