How political parties are responding to the call to ‘Make Parliament Great Again’

5000+ citizens supported a call for reforms in the way Parliament functions. This had been shared with several political parties and leaders.

In its recently released Manifesto for the upcoming Lok Sabha elections 2024, the Indian
National Congress has promised to bring some much needed reforms in the Indian Parliament. It has promised to ensure that both Houses of Parliament will be in session for 100 days in a year; the opposition parties will be empowered to set agenda for one day in a week and presiding officers (Speaker of Lok Sabha and Chairperson of Rajya Sabha) will not be part of any political party to ensure their impartial functioning.

The Manifesto released by the Communist Party of India (Marxist) also acknowledges that
Parliament has been severely undermined due to wholesale expulsion of opposition MPs,
bulldozing of laws without discussions and without scrutiny by Parliament Committees. The
reforms suggested include parliamentary oversight on financial regulatory bodies and security apparatus to ensure accountability.

Read more: What makes your MP a true people’s representative?

Each of these reforms, if implemented, will go a long way in strengthening the institution of
Parliament which is currently undergoing an existential crisis.

The need for reforms

The ‘Make Parliament Great Again’ (MPGA) campaign represents the voices and demands of citizens of India to strengthen the Parliament of India.

In January 2024, on the eve of the last Parliament session of the current Lok Sabha, we (Maadhyam) had shared information on all the ‘wrongs’ committed by the government against Parliament which directly contributed to its undermining. A few weeks later, several civil society organisations also came together to release a chargesheet against the government for subversion of our parliamentary democracy.

The democratic backsliding resulting in executive takeover of Parliament and the undermining of its functioning needed to become a political agenda so that it could get the attention it deserves. Similarly lack of open, inclusive and transparent consultations for law and policy making needed to become a political issue.

It is in light of these grave and worrying precedents which have been set, that the need for reforms has become imminent. Hence electoral promises made by political parties towards revival of the institution of Parliament were much needed and are greatly welcome.

With this objective in mind, we collaborated with like-minded organisations and individuals, undertook consultations with experts and different stakeholders and prepared a set of demands from political parties for reforms required in the way Parliament functions and in the way consultations are carried out. The demands received support and endorsements from 5177 citizens across several platforms. Many citizens proposed their own reform suggestions as well. All of these were collated and shared with several political parties and party leaders.

Poster showing People's demands under the MPGA campaign
Poster courtesy: Maadhyam

What we have seen so far

The promises made by INC in its manifesto draw from these demands, even as only some of the demands have made it to the manifesto and some fall short of meeting the threshold set in the demand charter. 

For instance, the MPGA charter of demands asks for Parliament to be in session for a minimum of 120 days in a year, but the INC manifesto promises only 100 days. Having said that, even the promise of 100 days in a year is a stark improvement over the current Lok Sabha which was in session for an approximate average of 56 days in a year only.

Longer Parliament sessions mean greater government accountability. Similarly, the MPGA demand charter included a demand to dedicate one day a week for the opposition to set the agenda. The manifesto promise of sharing of agenda setting power between government and opposition can ensure less disruption and greater deliberation on issues of public importance.

The promise of making the posts of presiding officers politically neutral wasn’t mentioned in the MPGA demand charter, but many citizens had suggested it and it was part of the documents we had shared with political parties. It is a crucial reform promise which can ensure greatercompliance with rules and procedures and more impartial functioning of Parliament. 

The INC manifesto didn’t specifically include any of the MPGA demands related to strengthening the process of public consultations, but the manifesto does categorically acknowledge that consultations, along with necessity, reasonableness and proportionality are fundamental principles of law-making.

The CPI(M) Manifesto categorically acknowledges the undermining of Parliament but falls short of proposing reforms to revive it. Nevertheless, the proposed reforms of strengthening parliamentary oversight on regulatory bodies and security apparatus are crucial and much needed. But for Parliament to effectively discharge these responsibilities, it itself needs to be free from the clutches of the executive. Hence broad based reforms in the functioning of Parliament,as proposed in the MPGA demand charter are required.

All of these are positive developments and we hope that other political parties will also promise to implement these reforms in their election manifestos. We also urge the citizens to keep demanding a commitment to strengthen Parliament from candidates and political parties they support. It is only when citizens engage that things change.

Note: The article above is a Press Note released by Maadhyam, a civic engagement initiative to bring Parliament & policy making closer to people. It has been republished with minimal edits.

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