While many opine there is little difference between politicians and scoundrels, if patriotism is the last resort of a scoundrel, then ‘Parliamentary Democracy’ seems to be the last resort of a section of politicians today. Anna Hazare’s movement for the Lokpal Bill and Baba Ramdev’s agitation against corruption are being rued by a section of the politicians as threats to this last resort. An overwhelming mass of citizens – the raison de etre of democracy, parliamentary or otherwise – are coming out spontaneously in favour of these two movements. The common man, fed up to the gills of the unending brazen corruption by elected functionaries, sees a ray of hope in empowerment through agitation. And not content with watching the agitation on television, they are coming out and joining in. Cornered, and rudely jolted out of their complacent belief that the established system has adequate loopholes to protect them, the votaries of status quo are now scurrying for their last resort.
Let us consider the basics. Are the demands of the two movements justified? Even the staunchest of their adversaries can not dispute that they are. Are the means illegal? So far – except maybe for minor transgressions of technicalities, the means have been legal and peaceful. Are their means justified? Now that’s where the debate comes in. The right to peacefully demonstrate is enshrined in the constitution. If the established democratic system fails to solve an overwhelmingly large issue like corruption, then what other recourse is available to the people? Do they continue to be robbed blind, hoping that the thieves will use the established system to prosecute their brethren who are unfortunate enough to get exposed?
And how robust is the parliamentary democracy when it is not being ‘threatened’? A few examples. 23 Dec 2008 – 8 bills passed in 17 minutes without debate by Rajya Sabha. 14 May 2007 – 3 bills passed in 15 minutes without debate by Lok Sabha. Amazing efficiency for a parliament where the Lokpal bill has been pending for 42 years and the Women’s Reservation bill has been pending for 12 years! 11 Dec 2005 – 11 MPs cutting across party lines were exposed for accepting bribes for asking parliamentary questions. And the crowning glory – the cash for votes scandal where, irrespective of the facts of the case, all the major parties were caught on the ethical and / or legal backfoot. In the current parliament, there are 153 MPs with criminal records, 74 of them with serious charges. So while these actions by ‘insiders’ do not constitute a threat to parliamentary democracy, vociferous demands by people who elect the members to take action against corruption do. The message is loud and clear – we will continue to loot you within and outside the parliament, and don’t you dare threaten us.
Some common arguments against these agitations being mouthed by overworked spokespersons on television. Ulterior motives. Well, what are the real motives of majority of the elected members? What can be more ulterior than looting public money? Spiritual leaders should confine themselves to spiritualism – they have no locus standi in political matters . Yes, but those with criminal charges do?
So is the sanctity of parliamentary procedures and norms really so sacred to those raising the bogey of threat to democracy? If so, why have the capitulated to the demands of allowing ‘Private Public Partnership’ in drafting of the Lokpal bill? Why didn’t they stand firm and defend their citadel against common usurpers? Isn’t their commitment to the principles of parliamentary democracy strong enough? Or is it that they have finally seen the writing on the wall, and fear the threat to their political existence greater than the threat to parliamentary democracy? Time will tell. And then maybe it won’t.