I am sitting in far-away Goa (not on the beach because it is too hot) wondering what the boycott of the inauguration of the new Parliament building means to me? What exactly is the opposition trying to convey to us, ordinary voters? I really can’t say. Is the reason that the President has not been invited important enough to merit a boycott, or is it just an excuse for some more Modi bashing?
There was a time when Parliament was considered the seat of democracy. It was the place where leaders of India debated issues that really mattered. Today, the situation is quite different. Important issues are discussed on social media with politicians jumping in with their 50 words.
This no-holds-barred discussion takes place without rules, regulations and in the open. The importance of the narrative on social media is underlined by the government’s intervention now and then and every time, with the sole purpose of controlling it.
So, what is really left for a debate in Parliament? Nothing really. The only difference is that the debate takes place in a grand building with a plethora of rules and a referee elected by the ruling side. So no one really expects it to be free or fair. Given this situation, it is no wonder that bills are passed without debate and the number of sittings has reduced drastically.
From 1952 to 1970, on an average, the Lok Sabha sat for 121 days each year. This came down to 56 days in 2022. In September 2020, the controversial farm laws and labour codes were passed without debate. There is a bunch of stats which show that the Parliament is losing its relevance and a new grand building is not going to save it. The burden of ensuring smooth functioning of Parliament, whatever that means, rests with the government. But the opposition is equally responsible.
It would have made sense if the Opposition had boycotted the inaugural function on the grounds that the government is stymying parliamentary debate. That would have made sense.
Instead, the opposition took umbrage at the President not being invited to the function. Did anyone think of asking the President if she was hurt or offended? If the President does not mind sitting at home and watching the inaugural function on TV, what is the problem?
How does all this affect the average voter? The common man so to speak. It does not affect us in the least. This whole boycott of the inaugural function means nothing to us because we know it’s just politics as usual and every political party is just trying to position or re-position itself for the 2024 elections.
Opposition antics notwithstanding, the government needs to tell us what exactly it plans to do with the new building for 300 days of the year when Parliament is not in session? It needs to tell us why we need such a grand edifice if bills are going to be passed without debate. It needs to tell us if it considers debate in Parliament more important than what plays out on TV and social media.
It needs to tell us what it is going to do to make Parliament more relevant to the country. Only then will the new Parliament building make sense to the rest of us who at best might visit it out of curiosity and not the role it plays or is supposed to play in our lives.