The unmaking of Parliament

Representative democracy is the only form of democracy that enables a relationship between the citizen and the state, provided our representatives do what they are supposed to be doing in Parliament.

The Indian Parliament meets, the Indian Parliament ceases to meet, and there is nary an impact of these meetings/non-meetings on the democratic discourse in the country.

The paradox is that generalised loss of confidence in representative institutions has not led to disenchantment with democracy. Surveys show that Indians value democracy. They value democracy because this form of government has enabled them to realise the primordial desire of each human being to be treated as an equal, at least during election time. Over the years, we see the making of a body politic shaped by democratic imaginings, and struggles to attain equality and dignity.

Historical Values:

The biography of India’s democracy validates confidence in the maturity of the political public. The Motilal Nehru Constitutional Draft recommended adult suffrage for both men and women as far back as 1928, the very year women finally got the vote in England.

In eighteenth century France, the great defender of direct democracy, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, wrote that sovereignty “lies essentially in the general will, and will does not admit of representation: it is either the same or the other; there is no intermediate possibility”.

direct democracy can hardly be practised in large and complex societies.

democracy requires a third set of political agents to mediate between the first two sets: the citizen and the state. This is the representative.

Representative Democracy:

  • Whereas the status of the citizen as the primary unit of political society is incontrovertible, the status of the representative is derivative.
  • Voters authorise representatives to speak and act on their behalf.
  • Notably, the representative does not speak for individuals, her duty is to ensure that the opinions, interests and needs of constituents are adequately, competently and effectively represented in forums of decision-making.
  • Representatives are obliged to perform the functions that they have been charged with, notably to assist in the production of appropriate policies.
  • Finally, the representative is accountable to her constituency for all acts of omission and commission. In theory, citizens have command over who they want to be represented by, and what issues representatives, normally members of political parties, should represent.

Political representatives & three advantages over other modes of representation:

  • One, they represent all the members of a territorially delimited constituency, as opposed to say trade unions.
  • Two, political representatives are accountable to their constituents via the route of election.
  • And three, the party representative acquires legitimacy by the fact that she has been elected by the people whose interests she is charged with representing and furthering.
  • Representative democracy is not perfect, it is flawed, but it is the only form of democracy that enables a relationship between the citizen and the state, provided our representatives do what they are supposed to be doing in Parliament.

What it to be?

  • Parliament makes laws, ensures accountability of the government, and considers and scrutinises legislation through the committee system.
  • Representatives are expected to ‘stand in’ for their constituents, even as they keep in mind that they are in Parliament to promote the public good, and not for advancing petty, grasping projects.
  • For policies generated by the parliamentary process establish a framework for the transaction of all manners of projects in different settings.

Decline in the effectiveness of Parliament:

  • The sharp decline in the effectiveness of Parliament, its failure to monitor the executive, delegation of power to non-representative regulatory institutions, the substitution of deal-making for informed arguments, the rushing through of legislation without discussion, and the increasing concentration of power in the hands of the executive, has been commented on extensively. Of overriding concern is the wilting of the representative and deliberative functions of the body.


  • If India wishes to hold on to her democratic credentials, parliamentarians must recognise that the task of representing the opinions, interests and needs of citizens is their paramount responsibility.
  • Nehru, in a famous speech he made in the Lok Sabha on March 28, 1957, had said that historians will not pay much attention to the time expended on speeches, or the number of questions asked and answered in Parliament.
  • They will be interested in the deeper things that go into the making of a nation.
  • There is no higher responsibility than to be a member of this sovereign body responsible for the fate of vast numbers of human beings.
  • “Whether we are worthy of it or not is another matter.” Our Parliamentarians have proved unworthy of the great responsibility bestowed on them. This is the political tragedy of our democracy.

Source : The Hindu


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