All those who believe in the institutions and processes of democracy but rue their fast degradation can take heart in the statement of Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla that laws must be enacted only after thorough debate and discussion. The Speaker made the observation, underscoring the fact that laws ought to incorporate the needs of the aspirational sections of society at an important forum: the India region conference of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association the other day. Mr Birla also noted that India offered an effective, accountable and living example of a functioning democracy and that the world looks at us for directions.
The Speaker’s words must be taken seriously by both the government and the Opposition not only at the Centre but also in states. Indian democracy has thrived basically because the highest law-making bodies — whether they are the two houses of Parliament to the state Assemblies — have represented every section of society, and hence resonated with their aspirations in all the possible hues. The government of the day would get its business done but not before it is put to scrutiny.
But the system is now witnessing a change, for the worse. The Lok Sabha which Mr Birla presides over has witnessed the sight of key legislation that has the power to alter the destiny of the people being passed in a huff. The law that abrogated Article 370 was passed in a day in both houses of Parliament; the three bills that sought to rewrite the Indian farming system were never allowed to go through the usual motions, causing the agitating farmers to later reject the offer of the government to discuss it clause by clause. That discussion should have happened in Parliament, they had told the government. In a way, the Speaker was articulating the very same position, though in a different way. The legislature must return to its original business: discuss, debate and legislate. The Speaker’s plain speaking must have its resonance in all the legislatures, lest they are stripped of their role in democracy.