The government remains supremely indifferent to the goings on and with the help of its captive media has succeeded in creating the impression that it is the opposition which is solely responsible for this state of affairs. There is no evidence of any attempt of the part of the government to reach out to the opposition parties specially at the senior-most levels. The Gujarat model has been adopted at the central level with a vengeance.
I compare this with the respect that the great democrat and parliamentarian Atal Bihari Vajpayee had for Parliament when he was Prime Minister. There were disruptions then also and sometimes serious and prolonged disruptions. But keeping in mind the principle that the functioning of parliament was the direct responsibility of the government, senior ministers of the government always reached out to opposition parties and on the basis of some give and take via media was always worked out to end the logjam.
I especially recall the stalemate in our parliament which resulted from the American invasion of Iraq on March 20, 2003. The budget session of parliament was on and the Houses reconvened after the recess on April 7, 2003. The Congress and Left parties were up in arms against the US invasion. Their demand was that parliament should pass a resolution condemning the US action. As Minister for External Affairs, I was not in favor of the US aggression and the ministry had already expressed its "deepest anguish" at the commencement of military action in Iraq. But I was not in favour of a parliamentary resolution either. I had argued that the sentiment of parliament could be expressed through a discussion in both Houses and there was no need of a formal resolution. Discussions went on with the opposition parties in meetings convened by the Speaker of the Lok Sabha but a consensus eluded us. After a few days of continued disruptions, Vajpayee summoned Parliamentary Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and me and after listening to our report on the situation instructed us to find a way out. He clearly told us that he could not allow parliament to be stalemated in this fashion. Parliament must function he told us. We went back chastened.
In the next meeting in the Speaker's chamber, we gave up our resistance to the passing of a resolution and started discussing the draft. A compromise was worked out after detailed deliberations and both sides agreed that instead of the word "condemn" for the US action, we should use the word "deplore". In Hindi we went a step further and used the word "ninda". The resolution was unanimously adopted by both Houses of Parliament after which they started functioning in an orderly manner once again.
When in opposition, the BJP disrupted parliament almost regularly. The climax was reached when the entire winter session was wiped out in 2010 on the issue of the formation of a Joint Parliamentary Committee to enquire into the 2G scam. The UPA government obdurately resisted this demand for the entire duration of the session and therefore no consensus could emerge. Fortunately, good sense dawned on the ruling dispensation before the onset of the budget session, a compromise was reached between the two sides, and parliament started functioning normally.
It must be clearly understood that the responsibility for the proper functioning of parliament is cast squarely on the government of the day. The opposition parties are entitled to use the forum of parliament to air their views through various rules which are provided in the rulebook. In our system, the government of the day is required to command a majority in Lok Sabha. It will lose power if it loses majority's in that House. The Lok Sabha rules provide for an adjournment motion and a motion of no-confidence. There is also a rule which provides for voting at the end of a discussion. The opposition is entitled to use these rules for moving such motions. It cannot be termed as an unreasonable demand. During the Vajpayee prime ministership, the government was required by the President of India to seek the confidence of the House once again in 1999. The Prime Minister moved a motion of confidence which was defeated in the Lok Sabha by one vote. The government resigned and fresh elections were held to elect a new Lok Sabha.
In its second term, the government did not resist the opposition demand to move an adjournment motion on the UTI crisis in 2002 nor did it stand in the way of a no-confidence motion moved by the then leader of opposition Sonia Gandhi in 2003.
Parliament is meant to pass legislation, transact financial business and discuss issues of public importance which the opposition demands. It must be allowed to perform all these functions. But to ensure this, it is important that there is understanding between the government and the opposition. Parliament can function smoothly only on the basis of consensus. Unfortunately, that consensus stands destroyed today. The government must take its share of blame.
(Yashwant Sinha is a senior BJP leader and former Union Minister of External Affairs.)
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