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Misusing the power to abstain

Misusing the power to abstain
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First Published: Tue, Jul 22 2008. 02 16 AM IST
Updated: Tue, Jul 22 2008. 02 16 AM IST
Beyond the merit/demerit of the Indo-US nuclear deal lurks another important question: Should parliamentarians abstain from voting in the Lok Sabha when so much energy and time have been expended on debating the deal?
So far, the Trinamool Congress (TC) has openly stated that it will not participate and vote in the Lok Sabha during the ongoing two-day special session. It is likely that some MPs from regional parties, too, may abstain from voting. In fact, this may prove to be a life-saver for the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government. This has not escaped the “numbers managers” of the UPA, who have had a trying time to counter the Left and regional parties combine that had cobbled a patchwork of MPs, serious enough to threaten the life of the UPA government.
Under the present circumstances, staying away from debate and voting is acceptable only on grounds of principle. TC’s reasons do not betray any such concern, more so when MPs in jails and hospitals are being made to vote. It is known that TC finds itself in a difficult political situation in West Bengal. This, and not any opposition to the deal, is behind its decision to stay away. What is unacceptable is the use of abstention as a tool to find a solution to a difficult political agenda elsewhere.
The deal and the politics surrounding it represent a major change in the political scene. In any case, this represents a major foreign policy initiative that has not been witnessed for some time now. These facts demand that participation in the parliamentary debate be as comprehensive as possible. Every single MP abstaining means that a large number of citizens’ voice remains unheard in the Lok Sabha. This is in spite of all the gaps between what people want to say or hear and what the MP does ultimately.
One characterization of democracy is that of control of political leaders by citizens. That’s why parliamentary voting is observed keenly: It gives a signal to the electorate about what their representatives are up to. But abstention and cross-voting show something else: club-like, closed-door dealing. This behaviour is closer to that of an oligarchy and not democracy.
Are MPs betraying the trust reposed in them by abstaining from the vote in Parliament? Write to us at views@livemint.com
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First Published: Tue, Jul 22 2008. 02 16 AM IST