The Federal Government and its communist allies, usually at odds on many issues,
joined ranks to assert that the Parliament is “supreme” and some even went to
the extent of suggesting that the President has only rights to advice and not
over-rule the Parliament. The issue in question is the Office of Profit debate
kicked up with the President returning the Bill hurriedly passed by the earlier
session to benefit some members of the Communist parties and its prospects in
the last elections but without due process or debate. But despite hurried
discussions, there was no consensus.
Parliamentary Affairs Ministers Priyaranjan Dasmunshi led that previous effort to collate information, proposals, and evolve consensus. However, none of those discussions, information, or proposals was made public. Given the speed with which the Government passed the Bill, it is even questionable whether there was a thorough investigation on the basis, form, and requirements that would allow or disallow a policy-maker to hold or from holding an “office of profit.” In fact, the definition of the term itself in Article 102 of the Constitution is ambiguous at best. If the Bill did not try to define this term properly or unambiguously, how can the Parliament decide what offices are to be included or exempted?
Instead of discussing the issue on that platform, the parties have resorted to political grandstanding with the
Congress and the
berating the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for taking the case to the President and diminishing the value of the Parliament. In Indian democracy, the party in power has a majority either by itself or through a coalition and it is rare that a coalition member will break ranks with the Government and risk its dismissal. Hence, voting on an issue that the Government wants to pass is a fait accompli. Therefore, it is disingenuous of the ruling coalition to suggest a voting on the floor of the Parliament on the Bill or the dismissal of the Government.
At the same time, the BJP’s action on this is strange. Since they have had a whole summer to plan, develop, and create a new Bill how is it that they are not bringing anything to the table and now want the President to stop the Bill and refer the matter to the Supreme Court? Instead of providing constructive guidance and critical input, the BJP is being disruptive and non-productive.
The Communists statements that “supremacy of Parliament cannot be sought to be undermined” and “We do not accept any institution is supreme to Parliament” and the Congress’s “uphold Parliament as the supreme authority” smacks of little understanding of the Constitution. While the Parliament does have the supreme authority to create laws, it cannot create laws that structurally weakens the Constitution. Besides, just because a party has been elected to power does not give it a free reign to introduce policy that has not been debated on, campaigned for, or approved by the people. In fact, there is no mechanism in the Indian democracy today that elicits, consults, accommodates, or understands public opinion. The Constitution assumes that people are educated and informed and elect individuals based on published and well-understood manifestos but nothing can be further than the truth. If recent elections in
Tamil Nadu and
Andhra Pradesh are examples, people vote parties to power that promises the most freebies and not because they understand their manifestos. This is precisely why the Constitution provided equal weight to the Parliament, President, Judiciary, and the Fourth Estate so one body does not supplant the other.
Parliament versus Judiciary debate has taken place over the “cash for query” scam. In that debate, the Speaker claimed that he has extra-judicious authority over the Parliament and has not been resolved yet. Yet another row has been between the
Judiciary and the President over a set of letters written between a former President and Prime Minister. In another row, the
Speaker of the House and the Opposition were at serious odds over the propriety of comments made against a former Secretary-General of the Parliament.
Given the lack of a consultative and conflict resolution process, it is even pertinent to question whether the Parliament is competent or empowered to decide on issues that has not been discussed, debated, or featured as an election issue in the public domain. What India needs desperately is a process for discussion that includes Constitutional experts, non-Government organizations, economists, media, and philosophers that allow a private, party-free, “conscience” vote. The US Congress and Senate provide for such a process.
Why can’t we allow it in India?