Parliament stalemate is due to a complete breakdown of trust and communication between the government and the opposition Video Credit: Gulf News

Disruptions in India’s parliament are not new, we see them regularly at some point or another during a session. But what is unusual is ruling party MPs stalling the house, which is exactly what has been happening since the Budget session resumed in mid March.

The BJP is demanding an apology from now former Congress MP Rahul Gandhi for his comments on Indian democracy while on tour in the UK recently.

The Congress has rejected that demand and instead most opposition parties are demanding a joint parliamentary probe or a JPC into the Adani issue. The opposition claims the government is hyping up the attack on Rahul Gandhi to deflect from a debate on cronyism and Adani.

Opposition MPs wearing black attires raise slogans in the Well of Lok Sabha demanding a JPC inquiry into the Adani Group issue during the second phase of the Budget Session of Parliament, in New Delhi on Monday. Image Credit: ANI

Adjournments, interruption and delay

These are distressing scenes. Parliament sessions are becoming shorter, debates are fewer, antagonism is higher and many important bills have been cleared without any debate or discussion.

The government paid the price for that when the controversial farm laws were cleared hurriedly in this way, only to be repealed later after mass protests.

According to the PRS Legislative Research, Parliament sittings have been getting shorter and shorter over the years. 

Data released in December last year shows that 8 out of 10 sessions of the 17th Lok Sabha have adjourned early. The winter session in December 2022 has been one of the shortest sessions in the 17th Lok Sabha- the other one was the Monsoon Session in 2020 during the Covid pandemic.

Data also showed that for the last eight consecutive sessions, Parliament has adjourned ahead of schedule, which means 36 planned sitting days have been lost due to early adjournment in this Lok Sabha. Over the last 50 years, the number of sittings of Parliament has been declining. The number of sittings has halved since the 1950s and 1960s.

The PRS data also shows that fewer Bills are being referred to Committees for detailed scrutiny. Their report says that in the current Lok Sabha, 23% of Bills introduced have been referred to Committees. This is lower than the last three Lok Sabhas: 60% in the 14th , 71% in the 15th , and 27% in the 16th Lok Sabha.

In the 4th year of its term, the Lok Sabha still does not have a Deputy Speaker, an issue that has also been flagged by the opposition.

Parliamentary obstruction

The BJP’s relentless attack on Rahul Gandhi is overkill. You can disagree with what the Congress MP said about Indian democracy, but to stall the proceedings of parliament over it is only proving his point. Sometimes it’s taken less than 2 minutes for Parliament to be adjourned for the day.

Ironically, it was the BJP in opposition that consistently disrupted the house when it felt strongly about issues. An entire winter session of parliament was wiped out during the UPA government over the BJP’s demand for a joint parliamentary committee probe into the alleged 2G scam.

Former Minister Arun Jaitley had famously said in 2011 "Parliament’s job is to conduct discussions. But many a time, Parliament is used to ignore issues and in such situations, obstruction of Parliament is in the favour of democracy. Therefore parliamentary obstruction is not undemocratic.”

The government with its huge majority looks at the opposition with contempt. All party meetings held before sessions to “ensure the smooth conduct” of the house are just meaningless, photo ops.

The bottomline is that today’s stalemate is due to a complete breakdown of trust and communication between the government and the opposition. The onus is on the government to run the house, but today there are not even any back channels that operate to ensure that a stalemate ends quickly.

The opposition also has to realise that politics of disruption only has a limited impact. People of India want to see issues being discussed and debated.