India a Reluctant Democracy: Amartya Sen


The country is growing fast but there is an issue of failure in the India’s growth picture and that is, this growth fails to reach people. The revenue in government’s hand has increased four times but the question now is, how do they spend it. The neglect in the area of malnutrition or education continues. Rs 67,000 crore tax is not collected. But the picture of hunger is not getting connected to any part of reality.

There is nothing particularly wrong with Indian democracy. I wouldn’t say this is a breakdown of democracy, but there is a failure to practise it with adequate skill. We do have public discussion happening here but the question is the need for a discussion in Parliament. What we need is a discussion in Parliament.

The essence of democracy is to have arguments and there is a need for skillful presentations of what the issues are.

There are things on which opposition may have different views. Responsible response would be to debate the issues in Parliament rather than disrupting proceedings. In Parliament opposition are killing arguments. If the Opposition succeeds in bursting Parliamentary debate, they should be held responsible it.

If you say that you cannot meet, then there is something clearly wrong. Then there is a big problem. A public discussion in that case is very important.

There is no debate in Parliament. Do you prefer silence? No discussion goes against the very principle of democracy. It goes against our tradition of being argumentative Indian. We have to talk about the grievance and we need to talk about it. What we need is media taking an interest, not just an interest but an intelligent interest in the subject, the National Food Security Bill. I am shocked at media being not able to play up the issue of non-discussion in parliament. The practice of democracy is to have debate, argument but that is not happening.

Debate with adequate skills and it should be determined that Parliament discussion is a responsibility. Opposition prevents the discussion of a bill and one needs to ask who holds te responsiblity of people who die of hunger in the country. That should be a big issue in the election to come, that by disrupting the discussion in Parliament, the opposition secure deaths of 30 million particularly children who did not get food subsidy. It is said that Opposition prevents the bill but what will be the number of people who die of hunger.

India is a reluctant democracy and I think the opposition succeeds in disrupting Parliamentary debate by the result of which people are dying. If any party, the opposition should be held responsible for this.

The national food security Bill is extremely important on its own. Can the discussion in the Parliament be stopped by referring to other issues, very important issues, but which however has no bearing on the passage of the food security Bill?

Bringing the bill through ordinance is not a a happy situation. The question to be asked then would be why did the government have to go the ordinance way and who was responsible for Parliament not functioning. If an ordinance is accepted in place of a Parliamentary bill, who holds the responsibility of going into the direction of ordinance.

(Excerpts from the talk/interaction by Amartya Sen at Press Club of India on May 6, 2013 on social sector bills being held up in Parliament due to Opposition protests on a slew of issues)

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