3.8 Why do we Need a Parliament

India, as we know, became independent on 15 August 1947. Preceding this was a long and difficult struggle in which many sections of society participated. People from various backgrounds joined the struggle and they were inspired by the ideas of freedom, equality and participation in decision making. Under colonial rule, the people had lived in fear of the British government and did not agree with many of the decisions that they took. But they faced grave danger if they tried to criticise these decisions.

The freedom movement changed this situation. The nationalists began to openly criticise the British government and make demands. As far back as 1885, the Indian National Congress demanded that there be elected members in the legislature with a right to discuss the budget and ask questions. The Government of India Act 1909, allowed for some elected representation. While these early legislatures under the British government were in response to the growing demands of the nationalists, they did not allow for all adults to vote nor could people participate in decision making.

The experience of colonial rule as well as the participation of different people in the struggle for freedom left little doubt in the minds of the nationalists that all persons in independent India would be able to participate in making decisions. With the coming of independence, we were going to be citizens of a free country. This did not mean that the government could do what it felt like, it meant that the government had to be sensitive to people’s needs and demands. The dreams and aspirations of the freedom struggle were made concrete in the Constitution of independent India that laid down the principle of universal adult franchise, i.e. that all adult citizens of the country have the right to vote.

People and their Representatives

  1. The take-off point for a democracy is the idea of consent, i.e. the desire, approval and participation of people.
  2. It is the decision of people that creates a democratic government and decides about its functioning.
  3. The basic idea in this kind of democracy is that the individual or the citizen is the most important person and that in principle the
    government as well as other public institutions need to have the trust of these citizens.
  4. How does the individual give approval to the government?
    1. One way of doing so is through elections.
    2. People would elect their representatives to the Parliament, then one group from among these elected representatives forms the government.
    3. The Parliament, which is made up of all representatives together, controls and guides the government.
    4. In this sense people, through their chosen representatives, form the government and also control it.
  5. Which is the supreme law-making institution of India?
    The Parliament of India (Sansad) is the supreme law-making institution. It has two Houses, the Rajya Sabha and the Lok Sabha.
  6. Who is the Chairperson of the Rajya Sabha?
    Rajya Sabha (Council of States), with a total strength of 245 members, is chaired by the Vice-President of India.
  7. How many members make the Lok Sabha? Who presides over the Lok Sabha?
    Lok Sabha (House of the People), with a total membership of 545, is presided over by the Speaker.
  8. The Role of the Parliament
    1. Created after 1947, the Indian Parliament is an expression of the faith that the people of India have in principles of democracy.
    2. These are participation by people in the decision-making process and government by consent.
    3. The Parliament in our system has immense powers because it is the representative of the people.
    4. Elections to the Parliament are held in a similar manner as they are for the state legislature.
    5. The Lok Sabha is usually elected once every five years.
    6. The country is divided into numerous constituencies.
    7. Each of these constituencies elects one person to the Parliament.
    8. The candidates who contest elections usually belong to different political parties.
    9. Once elected, these candidates become Members of Parliament or MPs.
    10. These MPs together make up the Parliament.
  9. What are the functions performed by the Parliament?
    1. Select the National Government.
    2. To Control, Guide and Inform the Government
    3. Law-Making.
  10. ?
    For a political party to form the government, they must have a majority of elected MPs.
  11. ?
    There are 543 elected (plus 2 nominated) members in Lok Sabha.
  12. What is Executive?
    The executive is a group of persons who work together to implement the laws made by the Parliament. This executive is often what we have in mind when we use the term government.
  13. What is an opposition in the parliament?
    The Opposition in Parliament is formed by all the political parties that oppose the majority party/coalition formed. The largest amongst these parties is called the Opposition party.
  14. How does the parliament select the national government?
    1. The Parliament in India consists of the President, the Rajya Sabha and the Lok Sabha.
    2. After the Lok Sabha elections, a list is prepared showing how many MPs belong to each political party.
    3. Since there are 543 elected (plus 2 nominated) members in Lok Sabha, to have a majority a party should have at least half the number i.e. 272 members or more.
    4. The Opposition in Parliament is formed by all the political parties that oppose the majority party/coalition formed. The largest amongst these parties is called the Opposition party.
    5. One of the most important functions of the Lok Sabha is to select the executive.
    6. The executive is a group of persons who work together to implement the laws made by the Parliament. This executive is often what we have in mind when we use the term government.
    7. The Prime Minister of India is the leader of the ruling party in the Lok Sabha. From the MPs who belong to her party, the Prime Minister selects ministers to work with her to implement decisions. These ministers then take charge of different areas of government functioning like health, education, finance etc.
    8. Often times in the recent past it has been difficult for a single political party to get the majority that is required to form the government. They then join together with different political parties who are interested in similar concerns to form what is known as a coalition government.
    9. The Rajya Sabha functions primarily as the representative of the states of India in the Parliament.
    10. The Rajya Sabha can also initiate legislation and a bill is required to pass through the Rajya Sabha in order to become a law. It, therefore, has an important role of reviewing and altering (if alterations are needed) the laws initiated by the Lok Sabha. The members of the Rajya Sabha are elected by the elected members of the Legislative Assemblies of various states. There are 233 elected members plus 12 members nominated by the President.
    11. To Control, Guide and Inform the Government
      1. The Parliament, while in session, begins with a question hour. The question hour is an important mechanism through which MPs can elicit information about the working of the government. This is a very important way through which the Parliament controls the executive. By asking questions the government is alerted to its shortcomings, and also comes to know the opinion of the people through their representatives in the Parliament, i.e. the MPs. Asking questions of the government is a crucial task for every MP. The Opposition parties play a critical role in the healthy
        functioning of a democracy. They highlight drawbacks in various policies and programmes of the government and mobilise popular support for their own policies.
      2. The government gets valuable feedback and is kept on
        its toes by the questions asked by the MPs. In addition,
        in all matters dealing with finances, the Parliament’s
        approval is crucial for the government. This is one of the
        several ways in which the Parliament controls, guides
        and informs the government. The MPs as representatives
        of the people have a central role in controlling, guiding
        and informing Parliament and this is a key aspect of the
        functioning of Indian democracy.
    12. Law-Making
      1. Law-making is a significant function of the Parliament. We
        shall read about this in the next chapter.
        Who are the People in Parliament?
        The Parliament now has more and more people from
        different backgrounds. For example, there are more rural
        members as also members from many regional parties.
        Groups and peoples that were till now unrepresented are
        beginning to get elected to the Parliament.
        There has also been an increase in political participation
        from the Dalit and backward castes and the minorities. Let
        us look at the following table that shows the percentage of
        the population who voted in Lok Sabha elections in
        different years.
      2. It has been observed that representative democracy cannot
        produce a perfect reflection of society. There is a realisation
        that when interests and experiences separate us it is
        important to ensure that communities that have been
        historically marginalised are given adequate representation.
        With this in mind, some seats are reserved in the Parliament
        for SCs and STs. This has been done so that the MPs elected
        from these constituencies will be familiar with and can
        represent Dalit and Adivasi interests in Parliament.
      3. Similarly, it has more recently been suggested that there
        should be reservation of seats for women. This issue is still
        being debated. Sixty years ago, only four per cent of MPs
        were women and today it is just above nine per cent. This
        is a small share when you consider the fact that half the
        population are women.
        It is issues of this kind that force the country to ask certain
        difficult and often unresolved questions about whether our
        democratic system is representative enough. The fact that
        we can ask these questions and are working towards
        answers is a reflection of the strength and the faith that
        people in India have in a democratic form of government.
  15. Define the term approval.
    To give one’s consent to and be favourable towards something. In the context of this chapter, it refers both to the formal consent (through elected representatives) that Parliament has as well as the fact that it needs to continue to enjoy the people’s trust.
  16. What is a coalition?
    A temporary alliance of groups or parties. In this chapter, it refers to the alliance formed by political parties after elections when no party has been able to get adequate seats to form a clear majority.

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