HomeArts/BooksDerek O’Brien: Modi Is Like Rekha; Arun Jaitley Understood Democracy Unlike The BJP Of Today

Derek O’Brien: Modi Is Like Rekha; Arun Jaitley Understood Democracy Unlike The BJP Of Today

Derek O’Brien: Modi Is Like Rekha; Arun Jaitley Understood Democracy Unlike The BJP Of Today

Quick-witted parliamentarian Derek O’Brien‘s new book, ‘Who Cares About Parliament: Speaking up to Protect India’s Great Institution’ (Rupa & Co., Rs 395), has very clearly been written for ‘New India’, especially Gen-Z, his central thesis being since 2014 Parliament has almost stopped functioning democratically.

So much so, the former popular quizmaster has asked students from universities across the world to write the book’s forewords.

Crediting Arun Jaitley and Ahmed Patel for running Parliament as it should have been, O’Brien writes that with both of them no longer among us, the central pillar of our democracy has almost stopped functioning properly, degenerating into a daily show of pandemonium and repeated adjournments.

About Jaitely, whom the author refers as ‘J’, writes that the last man standing between the ruling government and the opposition was the late former minister and senior BJP functionary. After his demise, the gap between the ruling party and the opposition has been growing daily.

For the late Congressman Ahmed Patel, the author has shown immense respect and writes that he was accessible to one and all. None, either from either the BJP or the government dare to mess with Patel. O’Brien writes that Patel was always the ‘source’ and never the ‘spokesperson’ for Congress.

O’Brien writes that ‘voice vote’, which has been a potent weapon with the ruling dispensation to push through Bills, has been used so often and so blatantly that it has destroyed the democratic ethos of Parliament as just about every Bill today is passed through a voice vote without any debate.

The author writes that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has not come to Parliament whenever a serious issue is being discussed. Quoting a 2013 incident, when the Congress-led UPA government was in power, O’Brien writes that some important Bill had to be passed and the ruling party had issued a whip to all its members, including the nominated MP and Bollywood star Rekha. After the vote was over, Rekha asked Congress MP Rajeev Shukla to invite her again whenever they needed her. Likewise, Modi also needs to be invited to the parliament — this is not how an MP or head of government functions.

Modi was not present in the House when the discussions on the CAA, abrogation of Article 370, or the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Act, 2019 were discussed. Since Modi became Prime Minister, the PMO has answered all of 13 questions, compared with 85 by Dr Manmohan Singh in the previous 10 years of the UPA government.

The author asks when was the last time Modi answered a question on the floor of Parliament and that monologues on airwaves with packaged radio programs are no substitute for the important questions which the opposition asks.

Interestingly, during the 17th Lok Sabha, 115 bills have been introduced in Parliament, of which 85 have been passed without consultation prior to introduction. Almost nine out of 10 bills introduced in Parliament during Modi’s time have been marked by zero or incomplete consultation.

Since 2019, the Lok Sabha has functioned without a Deputy Speaker, who used to be from the opposition according to a well-established precedent, which is completely against the ethos of parliamentary democracy.

The Railway Budget was also stopped by Modi in 2017. Railway ministers such as Mamata Banerjee and Lalu Prasad Yadav from time to time gave subsidies to citizens in one form or the other, but Modi came up with the Vande Bharat idea, which costs from Rs 1,500 to Rs 3,000 per ticket, which the common people cannot afford.

On the subject of introduction of ordinances in Parliament, the BJP has increasingly resorted to this route, undermining the spirit of parliamentary democracy, O’Brien points out.

O’Brien particularly mentions the Bills relating to the Covid pandemic and how they were bulldozed in Parliament. And a theatre of the absurd followed the announcement of the lockdown.

O’Brien goes on to mention, and it could be more appropriately timed, how protests by opposition MPs inside Parliament are rarely if ever, shown by television channels. The edited video outputs ensure that the focus remains on the Speaker, Rajya Sabha Chairperson, and on the treasury benches. Visuals of opposition MPs protesting from their seats or in the well of the House are invariably censored. Sansad TV is not the only culprit; media outlets, too, have their own priorities.

He writes that opposition MPs should start to create their own ‘breaking news’ by posting their reactions on various government issues on their social media handles.

On bulldozing democratic ethos inside Parliament, O’Brien writes that the Union Budget totaling Rs 45 lakh crore was passed in minutes without any discussion and the very next day the Finance Bill 2023 was also cleared without any discussion.

Eight consecutive sessions of Parliament, according to O’Brien, have been adjourned sine die before the scheduled date. And these serious issues about Parliament do not get much coverage in newspapers and are mostly ignored by news channels. Scribes covering Parliament are slowly being made to play diminishing roles by a government that wants total control.

And the senior editors, who not so long ago had access to Central Hall, are now not allowed into this sanctorum, even as no political party has conducted a formal press conference in Parliament House in at least a few years.

About journalists, O’Brien writes that their entry has been restricted and only one is allowed per media group. He writes that if Covid restorations have been lifted, why are journalists not allowed freely inside Parliament. The author writes that in view of these restrictions introduced by the BJP, the political parties in opposition have to find innovative ways to reach out to the people.

“I feel besides professional journalists and citizen journalists, the time is ripe for political journalists who must set the narrative in a proactive manner by creating powerful communication even if it means shooting on personal mobile phones,” writes O’Brien.

Making a scathing attack on the BJP top brass, O’Brien points out that the Prime Minister and Home Minister Amit Shah have taken complete control of the party. They give key positions only to those people whom they don’t feel threatened by and have sideline others whom they feel could emerge as likely leaders or power centers in the party. O’Brien cites the example of how a powerful leader like Nitin Gadkari was sidelined and minnows such as J.P. Nadda were elevated to key positions in the party.

O’Brien has also detailed how the Election Commission has been packed with people loyal to the ruling dispensation and has been used even when the Covid pandemic was raging so that the BJP could benefit electorally.

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