Prime Minister Manmohan Singh made a fresh attempt to address public cynicism over repeated disruptions in Parliament by appealing to leaders of political parties to air and resolve differences in a manner that does not stall its functioning. Finance minister Pranab Mukherjee seconded the PM’s outreach, saying, “Let us solemnly affirm that we will find a mechanism through which disruption should not be needed. Debate, discussions and dissentions are welcome but let us try to avoid disruptions.’’ The overtures, that came during Sunday’s special session to mark Parliament’s 60 years, are not just a response to public criticism, but are driven by concern over key legislation on economic reform, educational restructuring and social welfare being stuck in an increasingly fractious and uncooperative Parliament.
The need for Parliament to improve its grades was acknowledged by BJP veteran L K Advani as well who said, “I endorse what Pranab said (about avoiding disruptions). If we respect the other, if we respect the contrary views, then I am sure that problems would be resolved only through debate and discussion, and the relevance of Parliament is also in it.’’
The conciliatory gestures were the significant aspects of speeches as the debate did not rise to great heights and attendance dipped sharply in the afternoon with barely 52 members in the Lok Sabha at one point. Although Advani added the caveat about the opposition’s view point being heeded, the convergence can be the starting point for renewed efforts to push reform-related legislation and proposals on introducing a direct tax code and a goods and services tax. These measures are seen as essential to boost sagging confidence in India’s growth story.
Civil society’s assault on Parliament and MPs, with Anna Hazare’s campaign using harsh language and daring privilege action while running down elected representatives as corrupt and ineffective, did see leaders speak of the need to ensure responsible behaviour in the two Houses. In a day of rare introspection, MPs across party lines agreed that while elections were an indicator of the robustness of Indian democracy, loss of faith in Parliament was worrying. The PM admitted, “The manner in which we have conducted our affairs, especially over the past couple of years, has created a sense of frustration and disillusionment among the people. The daily routine of disruptions, adjournments and shouting in the House are leading many outside to question the efficacy of this institution and its place in public affairs.’’