In the pre-Mahatma Gandhi era, Lokmanya Tilak used to be rightly described by many as the Father of Indian Unrest. He was a great leader with unmatched organizational skills. He used to travel extensively and mobilize people, educate them and make them realize the injustice meted out to them. He had a great ability to motivate people for collective action to protest against British rulers. Today, many of those claiming to be leaders of the opposition hardly take pains to mobilize people or voice their dissatisfaction, if any. Instead, they use shortcuts like resorting to creating pandemonium in Parliament and legislatures, thereby securing much coverage in the media.
The month-long winter session of Parliament began on 16 November. While on the first day, Rajya Sabha witnessed a fairly good debate on demonetisation, from day two, ruckus and pandemonium resurfaced and important parliamentary business has remained unattended. It is hard to understand why the opposition is bent upon not allowing the Rajya Sabha to function when on the first day they were agreeable to allow a discussion in which many opposition leaders spoke.
Was it an afterthought? Or was it a case of late realization of the false presumption that the greater noise one makes, the better it is for occupying media spaces? Or was it frustration at the grassroots level being given vent in the Houses?
Undoubtedly, it is very natural that Parliament resonates with all that dominates contemporary discourse and the deliberations mirror all the agonies and aspirations of the people. If that doesn’t happen, many understandably believe that Parliament will be reduced to a mere debating society. True, contemporary issues need to be raised in Parliament, but like all other democratic forums, Parliament is also prone to a kind of abuse, eventually reducing the prestige of the institution. This obviously serves a severe blow to the basics of parliamentary democracy. For all true democrats, it is essential to guard Parliament from any kind of abuse. It is essential in this backdrop to remember that all issues raised via ruckus in Parliament may not genuinely reflect popular apprehensions. This is mainly because of two reasons.
First, many believe that unless some ruckus is created and Parliament is stalled, the gravity of the issue under discussion is not duly manifested. As compared to developing skills for using the right kind of parliamentary devices, it is always easy to create noise and indulge in illusion-mongering! Besides, the media too plays a big role in either downplaying an issue discussed or magnifying a subject raised. Many believe that ruckus and pandemonium in Parliament attracts greater media attention, eventually ensuring headlines in print media and prime-time discussion spaces on TV channels. Many veteran parliamentarians have rued the fact that orderly behaviour of studious members hardly attracts media attention, while chest-thumping and noise creation alone is mostly looked at as voicing of so called genuine grievances. This creates a false impression, giving a fillip to the politics of pandemonium.
Second, the changing character of political parties too has contributed to the tendencies of abusing parliamentary forums. For a political party to mobilize popular unrest—as and when it is there—it takes a huge amount of groundwork involving educating people and making them aware of the injustices that they might be facing. This requires organizational network and motivated cadres connected to the masses. Major political parties in India that are essentially of a dynastic character have reduced themselves to mere election-contesting machines. They lack in a well-articulated ideology and hence fail in convincing and motivating, let alone people, even their own rank and file. Understandably, they don’t have any grassroots-level live-wire organizations and hence for them, even when there is genuine popular unrest, mobilizing masses always remains a challenge. Recently, when the Delhi chief minister tried to mobilize people on the subject of demonetisation, the public hooted him out.
Sadly, the politics of pandemonium comes in handy for them to create a false impression of pseudo unrest. Many in the media make their task easier by allowing such machinations to grab disproportionately large spaces in the media. It is beyond doubt that the larger subject of demonetisation deserves adequate attention and discussion in the public as well as Parliament. However, it is also true that society and media must deprive ruckus-mongers and demonetize the politics of pandemonium. There seems to be a firm belief that pandemonium has performance value, some premium, and perhaps prestige as well. Doing away with this belief is demonetizing the politics of pandemonium.
Perhaps governments can do precious little in taking this style of politics out of currency. It is for the media and society together to ensure that the politics of pandemonium is totally rejected, devalued, in that sense demonetized and finally driven away, lock stock and barrel. If parties are allowed to continue using parliamentary forums for creating a false impression of manufactured unrest and thereby grabbing headlines, the real damage will be to those who have genuine grievances but no access to either Parliament or the media.
Should this different and far too difficult demonetisation not happen, the credibility of a key democratic institution will continue to face severe damage. In the cacophony over the effects of currency demonetisation, this larger demonetisation should not miss our attention.
Vinay Sahasrabuddhe is the national vice-president of the BJP and a member of Parliament, Rajya Sabha.