Elections cannot be completed without peoples’ participation. People’s participation is not limited to contesting elections and taking part in voting every five years. When I say “peoples’ participation”, I am referring to the importance of continuously encouraging and enthusing people about elections. It is also equally important to recognise the efforts put in by various agencies, including the security personnel and civil society organisations.
I would also like to emphasise that the time has come to devolve as many functions as possible to the rural and urban local bodies. I also request various state governments to undertake electoral reforms, including amending the state laws concerning local self-governments, in conformity with the Constitution.
India has embarked upon a great social revolution by providing universal adult franchise in all its elections and reserving seats for SC/STs & minimum 33 per cent for women in the LSGs. This has led to bringing down the walls that were erected in the name of caste and community.
On the occasion of presenting these awards today, as a mark of celebration of our democracy, it is appropriate on my part to share some of my thoughts and concerns about our cherished democracy, functioning of our legislatures and the conduct of MPs and MLAs. I am deeply distressed by the behaviour of some sections in the Rajya Sabha during last two years.
Parliament functions based on the rules of the constituent Houses, conventions, earlier rulings of the Chair and code of conduct for members. As the chairman of Rajya Sabha, it pains me if members chose to disregard them, resulting in pandemonium which in turn erodes the stature of the House of Elders in the eyes of the public. Members of Rajya sabha have a special responsibility cast on them of leading by example being the members of the House of Elders. During this session, some members in their wisdom have preferred to tear official papers and throw them at the Chair on some occasions. Such conduct does not speak well of the functioning of our parliamentary democracy. It is the people of our country who have imbibed the true spirit of democracy by regularly voting in rising numbers and choosing their representatives to Parliament .
After doing so, they expect their representatives to conduct themselves in the best possible manner and strive over the next five years to make a difference to their lives by enabling them fulfill their hopes and aspirations.
However, I am sad to say that the elected representatives often do not match the democratic spirit of our people through their conduct. Democracy is all about — debate, discussion and decision. This can’t be replaced by — disorder, disruption and delay, which is nothing but a negation of the spirit of democracy. The basic functions of the Parliament and State Legislatures are… Legislation, that is making laws for socio-economic transformation of our country; deliberation that is raising issues of public importance and ensuring the accountability of the executive of the day. If MPs and MLAs resort to slogan shouting, rushing into the well of the Houses and disruption of the proceedings, they are only compromising on these core functions. This is a great disservice to the Parliamentary democracy.
In every election, people give a certain mandate to the governments. Thereafter, the governments go about delivering on the promises made to the people over the next few years. Respecting such a mandate and allowing the governments to deliver as per the mandate should be an essential principle of functioning of such legislatures.
Opposition parties do have the right and responsibility of seeking the governments to deliver on the promises made by them during the polls. Opposition can and should take the governments to task, if they deviate from what has been offered to the people for which various effective instruments are available.
I want to make it clear that both the ruling and the Opposition parties have shared responsibility of ensuring effective functioning of our legislatures by taking on board concerns of each other. Stalling the functioning of legislatures means subverting democracy and betraying the people. The best way is to let the Opposition have its say and the government have its way. The democracy is all about the ‘numbers’ of each section of a legislature. Whoever has the highest numbers, run the government and those who have lesser numbers are required to ensure that governments do not stray from the mandate of the people.
The ruling and Opposition parties should not look at each other as enemies or adversaries. Instead, they should function as joint stakeholders in the well-being of the people and socio-economic transformation of the country. Our nation needs both effective and responsible governments and equally effective and responsible Opposition. The country’s interests are not well served if either of them is found wanting.
It is the Parliament and State Legislatures that give ample opportunities for both the ruling and the Opposition parties to give out their best. MPs and MLAs should always be guided by these cardinal principles, so that our legislatures can become vibrant instruments of the change that the people wish to happen. I expect the MPs and in particular, the Members of Rajya Sabha to take the lead in the transformation through their exemplary conduct and contribution to effective functioning of the House.
The country has witnessed a couple of days back, a Member of Lok Sabha making some objectionable comments about a women presiding officer who was in the chair. Members of that House have rightly voiced outrage over the comments of that member. It is not in our civilisation to disrespect women. This kind of behaviour and comments demean our parliamentary democracy and should be avoided by accommodation.
We are the largest democracy in the world. We shall be the best in terms of its quality as well. I urge upon both the ruling and Opposition parties in all the legislatures to be guided by such a spirit of mutual respect and accommodation.
Edited excerpts from a speech by Vice President M Venkaiah Naidu after presenting the first Democracy Awards instituted by the State Election Commission, Maharashtra, in Mumbai on July 27