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Parliamentary Conduct- Historical Context, Challenges & Potential Solutions

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India’s Parliament, an institution that mirrors the British Westminster model, has unfortunately seen increasing disruptions in its proceedings. The authenticity and discipline initially prevalent post-Independence are slowly fading. As parliamentarians prepare for a new session, concerns regarding the credibility and future of the institution rise.

This topic of “Parliamentary Conduct- Historical Context, Challenges & Potential Solutions” is important from the perspective of the UPSC IAS Examination, which falls under General Studies Portion.

Historical Context

British Influence and Initial Pride

  • Indian parliamentarians, inspired by the British Westminster model, initially held a deep pride in their system.
  • Many early leaders had an educational background from England and admired the British parliamentary system.
  • Symbolic practices, such as thumping desks in approval, and using “aye” for affirmative responses, are remnants of this influence.
  • Notable remarks: Prof. Hirendranath Mukherjee received praise from British PM Anthony Eden, comparing the Indian Parliament to its British counterpart.

Erosion of Traditions

  • Over the last seven-and-a-half decades, some practices have faded, and disruptions have become more frequent.
  • State Assemblies witnessed furniture being overthrown, scuffles between politicians, and unruly behaviour.
  • Code of conduct for MPs is often breached: speaking out of turn, shouting slogans, waving placards, and marching into the Parliament’s well.
  • Notable incident: Use of pepper spray in Parliament.

Diminished Space for the Opposition

  • Party-line voting, influenced by the anti-defection law, has led to predictable legislative outcomes.
  • Adjournments often chosen over expulsions, leading to lowered behavioural standards.
  • Risk of Parliament losing credibility in the public eye due to frequent disruptions.
  • Concerns: Overpowering government, media intimidation, undermining of autonomous institutions, and flouting parliamentary conventions.

Deviation from Norms

  • Major parliamentary committees handling sensitive issues now chaired by ruling party MPs or allies.
  • Earlier, some committees, such as the External Affairs Committee, were chaired by Opposition MPs to demonstrate national unity.

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Potential Solutions: Looking to Westminster

Opposition Day

  • In the UK, the Opposition gets a dedicated day to set the parliamentary agenda.
  • Allows Opposition to discuss significant policies and critique government actions.
  • Ensures Opposition feels valued and has a platform to voice concerns.

Prime Minister’s Question Time (PMQs)

  • A British tradition where MPs can question the Prime Minister directly.
  • Takes place weekly, with questions from the Opposition leader and other MPs.
  • Known for its rigorous exchanges, it emphasizes executive accountability.
  • Despite sometimes being theatrical, it highlights the importance of scrutinising the Prime Minister and the government.

Role of the Speaker

  • Current tendencies: Rejecting Opposition’s adjournment motions, clubbing amendments without discussions, ignoring requests for recording dissent.
  • Essential parliamentary techniques can help Opposition members feel valued and respected.

Way Forward

  • To preserve India’s parliamentary democracy, a synthesis of British practices and Indian values might be beneficial.
  • Adopting traditions like the “Opposition Day” and “PMQs” can reduce disruptions and increase government accountability.
  • Mutual respect and adherence to parliamentary decorum are vital for a constructive parliamentary environment.

Conclusion

India’s Parliament, the cornerstone of its democratic system, is at a crucial juncture. By taking inspiration from successful practices in Westminster and ensuring Opposition’s voice is valued, India can rejuvenate the institution’s credibility and pave the way for robust democratic discourse.

Practice Question for Mains

What are the current challenges in the functioning of the Parliament? Suggest solutions with regards to parliamentary conduct. (250 words)

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