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Who is robbing parliament's dignity?

Friday August 26, 2011 06:00:45 PM, Sudip Mazumdar, IANS

As the peoples' uprising against a venal political class in India shows no signs of abating, a strange din is evident in some debates and comments. Apart from reeking of cynicism and a not-so-veiled contempt for the self-mobilising multitudes, they all essentially converge on a few broad points. Let us look at them point by point.

One. Parliament is supreme.

No, parliament is not supreme. The constitution of India is, says constitutional expert Fali Nariman. And the constitution begins with "We, THE PEOPLE OF INDIA ... resolved to constitute India and to secure for all its citizens justice, liberty, equality and fraternity."

Parliament is an institution whose primary task is to legislate to ensure justice, liberty, equality and fraternity.

One does not have to be an expert to know how much parliament has done to live up to its duties, particularly in the last four decades. Today, denial of justice to the poor is routine. Liberty is a luxury of the powerful. Equality is a far cry. And fraternity is constantly under attack by the sectarian and narrow interests of the political parties.

Two. You can't dishonour parliamentary proceedings.

Anna Hazare, at no point, has said that parliament needs to be packed up or bypassed. He and his followers have wanted their version of the Jan Lokpal bill to be introduced and debated in parliament within a time frame and not left hanging indefinitely. His attack is not against parliament but against those who have hijacked the august institution. Several political leaders and critics have deliberately tried to confuse the two to attack the movement as "anti-democratic".

Three. There is a due process, you can't circumvent that.

Very well. Where was the due process when Lokpal Bill was introduced in parliament eight times in the last 42 years? Why did it lapse every time? Who blocked the due process? Team Hazare was not even in sight then.

The arguments of "due process" and "legislation takes time" are used to suit the interests of the elected political representatives.

Take two recent examples that illustrate the real priorities of our MPs. Last year, after just two days of largely self-congratulatory debate, MPs gave themselves a three-fold rise to their remuneration from Rs.16,000 to Rs 50,000 per month. They doubled their daily allowance from Rs.1,000 to Rs.2,000 and constituency and office expenses from Rs.20,000 to Rs.40,000.

All this is over and above, free home in the most exclusive parts New Delhi, free telephones, free electricity, free unlimited first class air-conditioned travel in train with a companion thrown in.

An immensely important legislation popularly known as SEZ Act whose implementation has unleashed farmers' revolt against the government taking away their land for corporations to set up factories in tax-free zones, was passed in two days and without debate in May 2005.

Four. Jan Lokpal bill is not going to end corruption.

Of course, not. Who said it would? Certainly, not Hazare and his aides. They say it is a beginning. And it would simply provide two possibilities - one, a fear of punishment to the corrupt and the other a tool to the long-suffering ordinary Indian. Under the existing system, corruption by state functionaries is not only condoned but encouraged as there is no fear of punishment (a corruption case can drag on for 30 years while the corrupt enjoy the loot).

The Jan Lokpal bill is just a step towards long overdue reform of the Indian political system. Hazare's moral courage, simplicity and sacrifice inspire people, and that is why his call resonates across the country.

Five. Hazare's movement is fostering a dangerous ideology against politics, politicians and political parties.

No. It is fostering an unprecedented mass upsurge against the politics of opportunism, against the corrupt politician and self-serving political parties.

Today, Indians have experienced, for the first time since independence, a new type of politics which has begun to empower them in a real way and lay the foundations of a participatory democracy. The ruling elite and their apologists, who have thrived under the existing corrupt system, are scared. By casting gloom, naysayers are simply ensuring their own doom.



 

Sudip Mazumdar is long-time foreign correspondent based in New Delhi and a keen political observer. The views expressed are personal. He can be contacted at sudipm@gmail.com
 


 

 

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