Karela Fry

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Is the parliament in decline?

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The Hindu has an interesting review of the book “The Indian Parliament: A democracy at work” by B. L. Shankar and Valerian Rodrigues:

Parliament is what the country loves to hate the most, going by the loudest among the media. The “decline” of Parliament has increasingly become a subject of sigh-laden discussion.

The book counters the argument of a ‘decline’. It does so not by investing Parliament with a halo but by seeking to present the institution and its evolution in a historical perspective.

B. R. Ambedkar dismissed the debatably “Gandhian” demand for a conglomeration of village republics with these words: “I am glad that the draft Constitution has discarded the village and adopted the individual as its unit.” In retrospect, it is clear that, with the different unit, the Constitution would not have built a polity based on universal adult franchise, a step that took century-long struggles elsewhere.

The authors argue, producing substantial data in support, that the much-lamented “decline” is really the outcome of further democratisation of India’s polity and the ever-growing mass participation in it. This point is tellingly made with the help of tabulated information on the changing composition of the Lok Sabha, the book’s main focus. In the Fifties, the Lok Sabha may have presented a picture of “national unity” but it represented “elitism” of a kind that was fated to fade out of the arena of democratic contentions. Then followed “the ambiguous zone” of the Seventies, when regions, workers, and peasants — among other groups — pressed for greater recognition and representation. The Nineties marked a significant phase in the evolutionary process, when “large masses who had hitherto been excluded from political representation were brought within the [Indian democracy’s] fold.” “Plebeianisation” of parliamentary democracy was inevitable.

The study shows, in concrete terms, how the oft-moaned “decline” disguises considerable gains in popular representation. The vision of the Constituent Assembly and the Lok Sabha of the Fifties may have dimmed over the past decades. But today’s Parliament does represent the plurality of Indian society much better and reverberates with the voices of those sections that had remained voiceless for generations.

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Written by Arhopala Bazaloides

August 23, 2011 at 1:52 pm

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