House truths

Dismal attendance in this Lok Sabha must provoke a larger reflection on revitalising Parliament

The attendance register maintained for members of Parliament to mark their daily presence when the two Houses are in session is, by its very nature, an inadequate measure of their involvement with the ebb and flow of a parliamentary day. An MP, for instance, has the option of signing in, and then leaving which is why you often have the sight of an empty chamber struggling to meet the quorum while on paper the attendance is robust. Yet, even by this flimsy measure, many MPs do not quite manage to keep their numbers up. According to an analysis in this paper of the official figures, 92 MPs in this (the 15th) Lok Sabha have attended less than half its 314 sittings before the beginning of the monsoon session this week. Among them are the Congress's president, Sonia Gandhi, and its vice president, Rahul Gandhi. This has, of course, been a Lok Sabha particularly held hostage to forced adjournments. This should be reason for it to rise to the occasion and take up for discussion during the current session ways and means to enforce discipline and incentivise participative attendance.

It would be a long overdue examination of the changing nature of parliamentary representation in this country. Given its size and diversity, India cannot have the luxury of a legislature permanently in session. It means that legislators cannot respond real-time to developments and crises, and work and debate get packed into sessions, control over whose scheduling and agenda lies greatly with the executive. In addition, with the party whip acquiring greater coercive power due to the strengthening of the anti-defection law, votes are done deals by party leaderships without the need for floor management of one's own party colleagues. The consequence is that back-benchers feel powerless, no longer able to nuance their party's position in a vote. In addition, the evolution of the committee system, which has other merits, too has taken away much meaningful debate from the floor of the House.

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