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Note ban: Why is PM Modi afraid of facing Parliament?

Aman Panwar | Updated on: 25 November 2016, 7:05 IST

Debates and discussions form the foundation of a parliamentary democracy. They play an imperative role through which the government of the day can be put to question.

In the wake of the demonetisation drive which has become a burgeoning public issue today, the Congress has been demanding a debate on the issue under Rule 56 of the Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business applicable to the Lok Sabha.

However, the Prime Minister and his party have consistently ensured that the Parliament does not have its say in the matter.

The importance of debate on the demonetisation drive needs no introduction and concerns such as the poor implementation of the policy, exclusion of co-operative banks and the alleged advance leak to selective corporate houses close to the BJP, definitely merit a response from the government inside Parliament.

Whether the BJP protected its own funding and the money of those corporate houses which funded PM Modi's Rs 24,000 crore campaign in the 2014 elections, needs to be transparently brought before the people of this country.

Also, since the discontinued 1000 and 500 rupee notes comprise 86.4% of the total currency in circulation in the country and based on the present printing capacity of the currency press, it could take up to eight months to replenish new currency reserves.

It's strange that the PM is open to opinion on an app but doesn't want to face Parliament

While the BJP have been claiming that public opinion is in its favour, relying in no small measure on the public vote on the NaMo App, there has been no mention of the fact that 83% of the Indians are not familiar with and do not have access to social media.

Therefore the NaMo App opinion being relied upon by the Prime Minister is nothing but an echo of his own voice and result of tireless efforts of the BJP's social media unit to please him.

We are today faced with the hilarious situation of having a PM who is open to receiving public opinion on Twitter and the NaMo App but the ruling party is avoiding discussion in the Parliament, the statutory debate forum of our democracy.

What the Opposition wants

On 23 November, more than 200 law makers, including those of Congress, SP, BSP, TMC, DMK, CPI, CPI(M), led by Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi stood in a single line to protest against the impact of the notes ban, near the Gandhi Statue outside the Parliament building. However, the PM remained staunch in escaping accountability.

What are the means by which the Opposition can demand discussions on a matter?

Rule 56 of the Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business applicable to the Lok Sabha

The primary objective of Rule 56, also known as an Adjournment Motion or Urgent Motion, is to draw the attention of the House to a matter of immediate public importance having serious consequences.

Rule 56 is usually invoked when the urgency in the matter is such that if a motion or a resolution with proper notice in due course is given, it would defeat the entire purpose of the debate as it may take weeks before the matter is taken up before the Parliament. This rule entails voting.

Rule 193

On a much lower pedestal stands Rule 193. In stark contrast to Rule 56, Rule 193 is a provision for a 'short discussion', under which the business of the house is not suspended and no voting takes place on the matter raised before the house. Hence, Rule 193 allows the government to shelve the matter without much discussion, accountability and voting in the Parliament.

What is happening inside Parliament?

Not surprisingly then, instead of facing the Opposition PM Modi and his party are trying hard to shift the discussion under Rule 193 from Rule 56 of the conduct of business rules.

Since the beginning of the Winter Session of Parliament, multiple motions for discussion under Rule 56, moved by the Congress have been rejected. These circumstances needs to be seen in light of the fact that even if just one day of debate had been allowed by the Speaker, the constant adjournment of Parliamentary proceedings since the beginning of the Winter Session, could have been easily avoided.

The list of inconveniences is lengthy, however, one needs to understand what is happening inside the parliament and how the ruling party itself is stalling the parliamentary proceedings to avoid discussion, in order to guard itself from pointed questions of the opposition and the possibility of cross voting by its own MPs and members of the alliance partners.

The provision under which the Congress seeks to engage in a discussion with the Government is a special parliamentary tool (Rule 56), under which, if discussion is allowed by the speaker, the Opposition is at liberty to seek explanation directly from the Prime Minister on controversial points, including selective and advance leaks of the note-ban scheme by the government to its near and dear ones.

Discussion under Rule 56 being pressed by the Congress also entails voting on the subject-matter, to which the ruling party is not agreeable as some of BJP's own alliance partners are criticising the Prime Minister for the poor implementation and selective, advance leaks of the note ban policy, which makes the government vulnerable to cross voting and embarrassment in the Parliament.

Although, voting and discussion are the fundamental tools in the Parliament, however, the ruling party is trying to hide the real problems under the shield of false propaganda, which the opposition is desperate to create through emotional speeches of the Prime Minister. The situation for Shri Modi became even more difficult after former Prime Minister and India's reforms architect Dr Manmohan Singh, demolished the government on the issue of note-ban in th Rajya Sabha on 24 November and termed it as a "monumental blunder" and a move which "can erode our people's confidence in the currency and banking system". As a natural corollary of Dr Singh's reasoned argument, PM Modi chose to abstain from debate and did not turn up during the post lunch session that is. when he was supposed to speak before the house.

In light of the above, it is evident that the rate at which parliamentary proceedings were disrupted by the BJP while it was in Opposition, it seems the general practice to subvert parliamentary accountability, prevails even when it is in power.

The views expressed here are personal and do not necessarily reflect those of the organisation.

First published: 25 November 2016, 7:05 IST
Aman Panwar @@amanpanwar

The writer is an advocate practicing in the Supreme Court and is in-charge of Delhi Congress' legal affairs