Friday, July 15, 2011

Supremacy of Parliament

In a provocative piece, C.V.Madhukar asks whether the Indian Parliament is really supreme as a counter to those who question Anna Hazare's politics. To substantiate his claim that Parliamentarians are responsible for not treating Parliament as supreme, Madhukar lists six grounds. These are: One, Bills are passed without discussion; Two, there is no demand from MPs for a deeper consultative pre-legislative process; Three, MPs do not ask Government why the Standing Committee recommendations on Bills referred to it are not completely accepted; Four, Members show little interest in Private Members' Bills, and very little time is devoted to their discussion; Five, Anti-Defection Law reduces MPs to mere head-counts, and most MPs simply endorse their parties' positions on policy matters, fearing disqualification, thus making their participation in the law-making process a farce; and Six, power to convene Parliament remains with the Government, rather than the MPs themselves, enabling the Government to delay convening it, so that Parliament meets only for a few days.

I have a small quarrel over the implicit assumption in this piece. The assumption is that Anna Hazare's politics is popular because Parliament, in practice, is not supreme. Let us, for the sake of argument, imagine that Madhukar's six grounds do not exist. Would it have guaranteed the passage of an effective Lokpal Bill much earlier than now? I doubt. Would it have at least limited Anna Hazare's following? I again doubt.

I disagree with Madhukar on the substantive grounds too. I agree that Parliament passes many Bills without discussion. How does it make it less supreme?Secondly, if MPs consider themselves supreme, why should they bother about the need for a mechanism to ensure pre-legislative consultative process? Thirdly,if Parliament is supreme, how a Standing Committee, which obviously enjoys less stature than the House itself, can expect that all its recommendations must be accepted by Parliament? Grounds 4,5 and 6 completely overlook the centrality of political parties in Indian Parliament. Grounds 4, 5 and 6 are not new phenomena - they have been characteristics of Indian Parliament right from the beginning. Does it suggest Indian Parliament has never been supreme? Then the argument that Parliament supremacy has been eroded in recent times loses its strength. No doubt, our Parliament meets for less number of days in a year than what it used to earlier. But would frequent meeting alone make Parliament more supreme than what it is now? I think Parliament's supremacy is understood in terms of the functions it performs when it meets, rather than X number of meetings that it holds.
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