Opposition flays Modi govt over demonetisation after RBI report shows spike in fake notes | File Image

Prime Minister Narendra Modi yesterday said he expects debate, free conversation and criticism in Parliament. He says this at the start of every session. This has become a ritual. Unfortunately what actually happens is entirely different. Issues the opposition intends to discuss are rarely allowed. The government blames the opposition for creating ruckus, leading to disruptions. The opposition says the government is trying to gag them as it only wants them to cooperate in legislative business. This has dragged on for too long now. Both the sides must sit together and give serious thought to the purpose and dignity of Parliament which has rightly been hailed as the temple of democracy. After all, such stalwarts like Jawaharlal Nehru, B R Ambedkar, Nath Pai, Piloo Mody, Ram Manohar Lohia, Indrajit Gupta, Somnath Chatterjee, Atal Bihari Vajpayee… and many others have graced both the august Houses of Parliament. Debate is the essence of democracy. It is said that the government must have its way and the opposition must have its say in Parliament. But the opposition parties have been complaining for the last many sessions that vital issues like price rise, farmers’ movement, unemployment, Pegasus, Lakhimpur killings, Chinese incursions, Covid mismanagement, unplanned lockdown… etc haven’t been allowed to be discussed. Congress leader Rahul Gandhi has bluntly said that the government is making systematic attacks on Parliament as the opposition is not allowed to speak. The BJP leaders, on the other hand, have accused the opposition of deliberately disrupting proceedings to discredit the government. In the blame-game, the greatest casualty is people’s interest because bills are being bulldozed without proper parliamentary scrutiny.

It is, after all, unusual that the opposition is not allowed to discuss prices when the price of petrol reaches Rs 100/litre and of a cooking gas cylinder crosses Rs 1000. One can understand the Government’s reluctance to avoid structured debates on sensitive Chinese incursions and Pegasus snooping, but questions will be raised when one of the greatest farmers’ movements in recent history is not allowed to be discussed. Parliament has a rich tradition of debating every important issue of national concern, including scams, external aggressions and the government’s failures. Even before the monsoon session, the opposition has lined up several important issues which they want to discuss. Issues that Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge listed at the all-party meeting included attack on federalism, the Agnipath scheme, inflation, unemployment, DHFL fraud, rupee crisis, violence against Kashmiri Pandits, collapse of constitutional institutions, Chinese incursions in Ladakh, failure of foreign policy, illegal demolitions of homes of minorities, undemocratic attacks on Congress leaders and dilution of the Forest Rights Act. The session that will end on August 12 will obviously not have time to discuss all these issues as the government will have its own priorities.

The session started yesterday with disruptions as the opposition created a ruckus over price rise. The Opposition will push for issues like Agnipath scheme, economy and prices. It is natural for any opposition to demand debates on these issues. It is also in the national interest to discuss these issues. While the Agnipath scheme which will have wider ramifications on the armed forces was introduced without consultations with stakeholders, it is in the interest of the nation to discuss the whole gamut of issues related to the scheme. It is also in the fitness of things that an issue that triggered nationwide violent protests is debated in Parliament. This debate will cover the larger question of unemployment, an issue which has been crying for attention for long. Unemployment is indeed a serious problem that has acquired dreadful proportions, and the government will serve no purpose by brushing it under the carpet. Such issues need to be resolved, the sooner the better. Rising inflation is another issue that should be debated in Parliament. By denying debates on issues directly related to the masses, the government will be abdicating its responsibility towards the nation. The prime minister should walk the talk and allow debates on issues of people’s concern. All governments hesitate in exposing themselves to criticism on political matters, but fundamental concerns like prices and unemployment will have to be debated, come what may. The Agnipath scheme probably falls in the same category. There is no denying the fact that the government and the opposition share an abnormally bitter relationship which is affecting even systemic engagement between the two. It is, however, the duty of the government to engage with the opposition and evolve a consensus on how to run Parliament smoothly.

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