Written by Ravindra Garimella.
India at 70 is a young, dynamic country propelled with a zeal to grow and prosper. The fountain head of the country’s vibrancy is its democratic polity, the Parliament of India, its legislative bodies, and democratic institutions. I have been Officer at the Table in the Lok Sabha (House of the People) in various capacities for more than two decades now. I am at the table almost throughout the day when the Parliament session is on. This has provided me an opportunity to gain first hand insights on the working of the Lok Sabha.
Governments have changed in successive Lok Sabhas. The progress of the country however, did not stop owing mainly to the fact that our democratic institutions kept on innovating, adapting, coping with the challenges, but have always functioned. As years passed, my respect, regard and faith in Indian democratic institutions kept on growing and is still growing.
Since India is a democratic polity, the reins of governance have changed from one party to another, over the past seven decades and that is an on-going process. I wish to emphasise at this juncture that the thrust of my article is upon the actual working of Parliament as a whole and as an independent entity way beyond political party dynamics. This article is more about sharing my views ever since I started looking after or handling the legislative charge, like an “eye witness” account and much more, from a parliamentary officer’s practitioner’s perspective on the real time working of the Parliament.
Before embarking further I wish to emphasise that the Constitution of India has been the bedrock of our democratic polity. Further, despite upheavals and challenges, democratic institutions not only survived but progressed.
Now, I come to the 1990s, the coalition era, and also the era that ushered in the economic reforms in India, which incidentally coincided with the beginning of my active association with the Table of the House. It was my singular good fortune to be able to witness the democratic churnings of the times, the pause and then the bouncing back of our democratic polity. I could see the entire scenario all through these years evolving and unraveling in front of my eyes. Seeing is believing. This was an evolutionary experience for me too, which instilled in me a deep faith and respect for democratic institutions and guiding democratic spirit in the country.
I have used the term Parliament as a single unified entity with a purpose. There lies the strength of democratic institutions in India and their successful functioning. I would wish to underscore this by way of few illustrations.
Ushering in economic reforms in 1990s and their roll out in the country was a contributory effort by all parliamentarians. The then Prime Minister of India, Finance Minister and Leader of Opposition, leaders and members of all other parties through their sustained and structured debates, made this possible. The second generation reforms were delayed by a few years after 1996, owing to political instability due to falling of Governments in quick succession in the 11th and 12th Lok Sabhas. But what is significant is that the resilience of our democratic institutions prevailed. This ushered in a new phase, that of structured coalitions in 1999. After pre-poll alliances, the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) Government came into being during the 13th Lok Sabha in 1999 and had a successful run. In the 13th Lok Sabha the economic reforms were taken forward by that Government. Here too there was a contribution by the Opposition who had introduced the reforms in the first place – when they were in power during the 10th Lok Sabha (1991-1996). This is a singular instance of parliamentarians working in cohesion on matters which related to national interest.
I would now like to refer to another instance. There had been a terrorist attack on the Indian Parliament on 13 December, 2001. There had been another very serious terrorist attack in Mumbai in November, 2008. The composition of both parliamentarians and Government was different on these two occasions. Nevertheless, what was common was that immediately after these two incidents, the parliamentarians expressed their solidarity and resolve to combat the grave situation as a one united whole.
In another recent instance, during the Winter Session of 2016, most of the sittings were washed off owing to policy differences between Government and Opposition. Literally no effective business could be transacted. But on the last day of the Session, 16 December 2016, when the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Bill, 2016, came up for consideration, members from all parties, Treasury, Opposition and cross-benches, all put aside their differences, actively participated in the discussion on the Bill, expressed their views and concerns, and the Bill was unanimously passed by the Lok Sabha. With this touching gesture and convergence among parliamentarians, all the previous days’ acrimony was buried and the House adjourned sine die on a positive note.
This scenario is heart-warming and highlights the fact that there runs a common thread of fraternity among parliamentarians cutting across their party lines. On a lighter side, at times there are heated debates between a minister or minister from Treasury benches and leaders from Opposition party. But soon thereafter when they come out into the inner lobby after debates or during recess, they join together amicably sharing pleasantries over a cup of coffee in the Central Hall of Parliament. The heat in the House was over rifts on inter-party views and ideologies, which is taken out in the House, but nothing is personal once they come out of the House. This speaks volumes about their political maturity.
The Governments have changed in successive Lok Sabhas. The progress of the country however, did not stop. This is due to the fact that our democratic institutions kept on innovating, adapting and coping with the challenges. As years passed, my respect, regard and faith in Indian democratic institutions has kept on growing and is still growing. I wish to reiterate this to counter some unsubstantiated criticisms in certain quarters of media. I would like to end by saying that the Indian democratic institutions have phenomenal resilience. The democratic spirit is deeply instilled in the psyche of people of this country. At 70, the country as well as its parliament is young and raring to go forward. This augurs well for the coming times. If somebody were to ask ‘where would Indian democratic institutions be after 70 years from now?’, I would instinctively say “at their zenith”.
Ravindra Garimella is Joint Secretary, in-charge of the Legislative Division in Lok Sabha Secretariat, Parliament of India. He recently visited the University of Nottingham in September 2017 as a visiting fellow, working with Dr Carole Spary of the School of Politics and International Relations and the Institute of Asia Pacific Studies on an ESRC-funded project. During his visit, he participated in the one day symposium on ‘India at 70: Historical and cultural reflections on 70 years of Indian Independence’. The views expressed within this article are the personal views of the author. Image credit: Dr Carole Spary.