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Written by Christophe Jaffrelot, Vihang Jumle |

Oct. 15, 2020, 4:05 a.m.


New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi addresses the media ahead of the start of the first day of the monsoon session of Parliament, amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, at Parliament in New Delhi on Monday, September 14, 2020. Ministers Parliamentary Affairs Prahlad Joshi (2R) and Arjun Ram Meghwal (L) are also seen. (Photo PTI / Kamal Kishore) (PTI14-09-2020_000022A)

When he first entered parliament in 2014 as Prime Minister-designate, Narendra Modi lowered his forehead to touch the steps, an act that sought to express a deep respect for what he called the Temple of democracy. In retrospect, this episode looks like a play: for no Indian Prime Minister has neglected Parliament as consistently as he has. On average, he spoke 3.6 times a year in Parliament: 22 times in six years (no more than HD Deve Gowda who was Prime Minister for two years). In contrast, Atal Bihari Vajpayee spoke 77 times in six years when he was Prime Minister and Manmohan Singh (who was called Maun Mohan Singh by Modi in 2012) spoke 48 times in Parliament during his 10 years in office. mandate.

These statistical data illustrate Modi’s populist communication style, who prefers to communicate directly with the people, either on the radio (like Indira Gandhi in the 1970s) or via social media (like US President Donald Trump). These two methods have one thing in common: they reflect a preference for one-way messaging, which avoids the risk of contradiction, and of interrogation by the receiver.

By definition, Parliament is the crucible of criticism, deliberation and even consensus. Parliamentarism differs from populism, not only because it embodies representative democracy (unlike the leader’s direct contact with his people), but also because it treats opponents as adversaries and not as enemies. In order to bypass Parliament, the Modi government has often followed the route of ordinances. While ordinances are typically used by minority governments or coalition governments, the Modi government has used it more than any of its predecessors, despite the BJP having a majority in the Lok Sabha. The average number of prescriptions fell from six per year under Manmohan Singh to 11 per year under Modi.

Obviously, the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha cease to be places of debate. First, the number of bills referred to parliamentary committees, the deliberative nucleus of parliamentary work, has dropped significantly from 68 (71% of the total) in the 15th Lok Sabha to 24 (25% of the total) in the 16th Lok Sabha. and zero in 2020! Previously, parliamentary committees, with a review and oversight mandate, used to effectively amend bills and train parliamentarians in the art of legislating. None of the recent and significant pieces of legislation (including the bill repealing Article 370 and dividing two Union territories in the state of Jammu and Kashmir) has been dealt with by a House committee. The last bill referred to a Joint Parliamentary Committee was the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement (Second Amendment) Bill in 2015.

Second, several key pieces of legislation have been passed in the form of finance bills, although they do not fall into this category. Money bills relate to taxes or government spending. But several bills that had little to do with this definition were passed as banknotes under the Modi government. This is because the upper house, where the BJP is in the minority, cannot amend the banknotes. The Aadhaar bill is a good example. The president of Lok Sabha certified that it was a money bill and all amendments proposed by the Rajya Sabha were rejected.

Thirdly, ordinary bills are not much discussed, either because their texts are handed over to members at the last minute, or because there is little time for debate. When discussed, opposition amendments are usually rejected to retain the bill originally presented. If debates exist, they concern formality and procedure. In 2018, even the budget was not properly discussed in parliament. The last parliamentary session marked the culmination of this trend. While in the summer of 2019 (taking into account the two chambers), out of 40 bills, four were adopted on the same day they were presented, during the corresponding session in 2020, three of the 22 bills were adopted. the same day. Among them was the Agricultural Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill 2020, which opposition MPs opposed. When eight of them were suspended, several opposition parties chose to boycott the rest of the session. Subsequently, BJP MPs passed 15 bills, including labor reform laws.

The decline of Parliament is visible to all. But does anyone care? The Supreme Court validated the Money Bill status of the Aadhaar law after a long wait. A 2017 CSDS report on the state of democracy in South Asia showed that the percentage of respondents who supported democracy increased from 70% to 63% between 2005 and 2017, and that the percentage of those who were satisfied with the democracy had declined. even more, from 79% to 55%, 47% of the graduates surveyed shared this point of view. While remaining committed to a representative form of government, the type of governance they preferred relied on strongmen and experts: 52% of those interviewed agreed when asked whether to get rid of the Parliament and elections in favor of a strong leader (42 percent of graduates and 46 percent of those 25 and under approved). Likewise, 54% agreed when asked if, should we get rid of elections and parliaments and ask experts to make decisions on behalf of the people?
For the moment, Parliament is not listened to, although it has not been replaced by experts to the detriment of democracy. The key question, however, is: how do you make democracy work without a representative body?

Jaffrelot is a senior researcher at CERI-Sciences Po / CNRS, Paris and professor of Indian politics and sociology at the Kings India Institute. Jumle is a partner at Ikigai Law, New Delhi

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