By Prakhar Singh
It was a bright hot day in March, and the clocks were striking twelve. The lower house of the Parliament was bustling with joy in the midst of chaos. Some were joyful because of the result of bye-election in Yogi’s bastion, Gorakhpur, while others (TDP) were whining about the wrongs that the regime had inflicted on them. Little did they know that the ‘Big Brother’ had secretly planned to bulldoze the entire budget within the next few minutes.
On Wednesday morning at 12:06 PM, the Finance Bill, 2018 was moved for consideration. This 92-page bill with 218 clauses dealt with taxation modifications in the country, money laundry act, fiscal responsibility and political donations among other important financial aspects. Ideally, a process which should go on for days was instead sidelined, and the entire bill was passed by 12:33 PM. Let this sink in! 27 minutes was all it took for the government to decide the fate of more than 120 crore Indians.
This is not an exaggeration by any means. The Finance Bill of the country primarily lays down the rules by which the taxation policy is governed. It is imperative for the government to deliberate and discuss on such matters. We, as citizens, have sent our elected representatives to the Parliament as our mouthpieces. The Members of Parliament are our lone voices, and it is the onus of the government to hear them out. Unfortunately, none of it happened.
Speaker’s role in the session
The Speaker, at least on paper, is supposed to be the guardian of the Parliamentary Democracy in the house. The former Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru had very well enunciated the Speaker’s role: “The Speaker represents the House. He/she represents the dignity of the House, the freedom of the House, and because the House represents the nation, in a particular way, the Speaker becomes a symbol of the nation’s freedom and liberty. Therefore, that should be an honoured position. A free position and should be occupied always by persons of outstanding ability and impartiality.”
However, anyone who will see the proceedings of the Lok Sabha on the day the budget was being passed, will observe that the voice of the veteran politician Shrimati Sumitra Mahajan, was far from free. All the cut motions which are essentially there to oppose specific clauses in the finance bill were moved together by the speaker and thereafter negated by the brute majority of the NDA.
The speed with which the speaker was rushing through different clauses of the bill was terrifying. One could clearly hear the voices of opposition MPs, screaming their lungs out, “Loktantra ki hatya band karo”.
Setting a rare and an unfortunate precedent, the speaker went ahead with the decision to pass all 99 demand for grants from different ministries under the process called ‘Guillotine’, which essentially means putting each demand to vote, at once, without any discussion. Just to put things in perspective, in the last one and a half decade, a 100 percent guillotine has happened only twice.
The Finance Bill and need for a debate
Apart from the changes in taxation and other important financial aspects, this year’s finance bill included a shady clause which raised suspicion on the intent of the government.
Clause 217 of the Finance Bill, 2018 seeks to amend Section 236 of the Finance Act, 2016 by amending the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act, 2010. The amendment by substituting “26th September 2010” in the FCRA Act with “5th August 1976”, retrospectively, legalizes all the foreign funding to political parties for over 42 years since 1976.
This is important because a bunch of corrupt individuals masquerading as honest politicians, have time and again tricked the citizens of India into believing that they are the change agents. They are here to revamp the system by making it more accountable and transparent. Among other things, political donations and funding have become convoluted and opaque in the present regime which rose to power by promising just the opposite.
Is authoritarianism really on the rise?
George Orwell wrote one of the most brilliant satires on authoritarianism, ‘1984’. Following is an excerpt from the same book which fits into the present narrative perfectly:
“Now I will tell you the answer to my question. It is this. The Party seeks power entirely for its own sake. We are not interested in the good of others; we are interested solely in power, pure power. What pure power means you will understand presently. We know that no one ever seizes power with the intention of relinquishing it. Power is not a means; it is an end. One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship. The object of persecution is persecution. The object of torture is torture. The object of power is power. Now you begin to understand me.”
India is the largest democracy in the world. In the face of rising intolerance around the world, it is important that each and every one of us upholds India’s democratic values. For this, we need to make India’s decisionmakers more accountable.