JASWANT SINGH The Indian Prime Minister, recently, while returning from a G-20 meet expressed his concerns about the future of Indias parliamentary democracy. I share these apprehensions, for different reasons, though. Doubtless, his dire pronouncement is born of this unhappy ending of our Parliaments recent session. This disappointment, too, is shared by many. The PM, then rejected the Oppositions demand for establishing a JPC to enquire into the scandalous mismanagement of our ministry of telecommunications, but chose to do so outside the Parliament. Why outside, when he had chosen to remain studiedly silent throughout the session, on an issue that had shaken the Parliament? To an assembly of business leaders the PM rationalised the governments philosophy on surveillance of telephones. Again, why not inside Parliament? For of this matter, too, the Parliament was fully seized. Why, on all issues of serious parliamentary concern did the PM choose to comment only when away from it? Reflect then, briefly, on what transpired in the Parliament during the winter session. After almost a month of unprecedented parliamentary turmoil, never earlier witnessed, the two Houses adjourned without transacting any business. The obstructing boulder of contention was this demand for a JPC, and the governments continuous rejection of it. Of course, it was an utterly depressing ending and greatly worrisome, too. But where, in this hour of grave challenge to our Parliament was the PM? The impasse was grave; the issue of substance; the opposition determined; it is here that leadership was needed; did the PM provide it? Under all circumstances the government must govern, but by leading not absenteeist withdrawal. The opposition will always question, confront, challenge, increasingly when not heeded, and even more when the prime mover of the government remains mutedly distant. The Prime Minister has, perhaps unwittingly separated himself from the 'ills of Parliament. This he cannot do and must not, for he is after all a product of this very institution. From where else does, or can his office originate? The Parliament is that great aorta of authority through which the sustaining blood of our relevance flows; sever this link and collapse must follow. The Prime Minister, in voicing his apprehension is, doubtless pointing an accusatory finger at the opposition, though, again involuntarily he is admitting to a great personal failure, too. It is failure of a profound and telling lack of leadership from him, personally. After all, at the heart of this kind of conduct and the current immobility in our Parliament lies an absence of regard for the laws of our land. This is the core debility: a wilful and uncaring disregard for not just the letter of our laws but almost a flaunting defiance of the spirit of it, too. It is this variety of corruption, heading all other manifestations of it, that is poisoning all our laws, debilitating our Parliament, in the process our democracy; not the noisy interruptions alone of the opposition, however unacceptable they also be. WHY FAILURE? Why such profound failures? Perhaps, because our grievance redressal systems have ground to a halt; also because we have lost regard for each other, we have abandoned our sense of kinship and fraternity without which no parliamentary democracy can function. We have forgotten how to accommodate dissent, and the less we do so, the harsher it becomes. We no longer consider the alternative viewpoint as being even remotely relevant; instead, we now treat disagreement as a disservice, a rebellious challenge, which must either be totally rejected, or then crushed. The tone, tenor and the content of our language, of mutual address, government to opposition, or the other way round has become dryly ritualised, patronisingly rejectionist, emptied totally of the spirit of parliamentary democracy. The hierarchy of our concerns no longer harmonise; courtesy and accommodation to the opposing viewpoint is treated as being 'soft, a weakness. We no longer recognise the great relevance of the 'intensity, passion, intimacy, informality and spontaneity of parliamentary debates. Perhaps, the Honourable Prime Minister no longer recognises, or accepts, that it is this 'passion which constitutes the personality and the heartbeat of our (or any other) Parliament. This 'passion occasionally obscures, but often illuminates, too; it distracts, yes, but this then is both its strength and its weakness. Parliament is an assembly of human beings; it must have human virtues, and vices and failings, it is not, must not ever be, just a container of ritualised nothingness. Where, therefore, has that human sense and good cheer of our Parliament gone? Surely, it is not the opposition alone that has robbed our institution of it. It saddens me greatly to have to rebut the Honourable Prime Minister, who chooses to, almost always declaim his views outside the Parliament, and that, too, about the Parliament. He is after all, the head of the government, he is a consequence of Parliament, not an outsider; he has to understand the failings of it, to sympathise, to be with it in both its strengths and its weaknesses; to value and nurture it, not to shun it. Above all he must attend to all the concerns of it, vital or trivial, just or unjust, for Mr Prime Minister this is a living organism, not just a hide-bound institution. Doubtless, there would arise occasions when its actions border on the unwise, or even totally unjustified, but those are the very situations in which the Leader must lead. More when those sudden and awesome storms of contention shake the very pillars of Parliament; it is then that the Prime Minister must step in, take command, not abandon the Institution and proceed to comment on it as if uninvolved, unconcerned, unconnected. Let us never forget that the spontaneity of the House, or its debates, even an absence of them is an integral of this institution; a part of its personality. THE TELECOM ISSUE It would be repetitively wearisome to recount here the sorry episode of this telecom scandal. Clearly, no minister can, or ought to act entirely on his/her own, to take significant decisions involving national laws, national economy, and the exchequer, without due diligence and a full consideration of the views of his cabinet colleagues. No one is authorised to throw overboard the entire philosophical and functional core of parliamentary, representative and cabinet system of governance. Has justice been done to this central aspect? Clearly not. Where then was the PM? That is why the victims of this neglect is the institution of Parliament; also our cabinet system of governances; its accountability and answerability, and above all due regard for law; indeed a wilful denigration of the majesty of it. Nobody can today say, with any lasting conviction as to which of the great institutions of our Republic have remained unsullied. Who is responsible? Yet, the Prime Minister complains - 'Our parliamentary democracy is under great strain. Yes, but can the government, or the Prime Minister, voice this concern only as a complainant; always as accuser and forever be complacent in the face of this great wrong that has been done, continues to be done, to the very moral fibre of our country? And if our parliamentary democracy has indeed become a source of great worry to the Prime Minister, then who, other than the government, and he will steer the ship of state to safer waters? What then are we, the rank and file of Parliament to do, as we are confined to the lower decks, other than to clamour for attention? What has brought all this about? An experimental division of the functions of governance in our parliamentary democracy. This division of responsibility, instead of being handled normally, as has always been done uptil now, through Indias independent years, has now been turned into a kind of a diarchy. In this all authority, all decisions of substance are made outside of the government; for there now exists a kind of a supra-cabinet, too, which is not answerable to the Parliament. What then remains with the 'elected executive is empty, residual 'responsibility for decisions, which in reality are not even of its own making. This is a totally unnatural and unviable arrangement. Why has this been set up? How then is the parliamentary system to work? It is elementary, and axiomatic, that unproductively dry dynasticism is the very antithesis of democracy. For preserving hereditary priorities if our systems have to be bent, means made subservient to ends, and until that desired 'end is attained, all rules will continue to be bent, then surely for all this India will be made to pay. And if India pays, then in the process surely the instrumentality of our parliamentary democracy will also pay, thus be debilitated. And that is what is happening now: along with a tragic, painful and absurd trivialisation of our concerns. It is manifestations like these that strike at the heart of our parliamentary democracy, not what the delphic utterances of the Honourable PM imply. That is why it needs to be asked: as our parliamentary democracy is in danger, according to the Prime Minister, what then has he done about it - or intends to do? Jaswant Singh is former Indian Finance Minister.) The Hindu