Push button parliament–why India needs a non-partisan, recorded vote system
Decisions of national importance are made by Parliamentary voting. Yet Indian Members of Parliament (MPs) vote with a remarkable lack of freedom and accountability. The introduction of the Tenth Schedule in the Constitution has crippled free expression, since it provides that MPs voting against ‘any direction’ of their Party are liable to disqualification from the legislature In addition, except for Constitutional amendments, Indian Parliamentary Procedure Rules do not require votes of MPs to be recorded unless the Speaker’s decision is contested in the House. The result is that voting in the House has become mechanical, controlled by Party politics and devoid of responsibility. This paper comments on a general theory of democratic accountability through the lens of Parliamentary voting. It suggests that the voting system adopted in the Parliament is an effective indicator to measure the level of accountability of its Members. In the context of India, this paper argues that the level of accountability will increase to a desirable extent only when there is adoption of a recorded system for every important House vote. Upon examination of India’s record thus far (through the sample of the 14th Lok Sabha) it becomes evident that the level of divisions (recorded votes) is substantially lower than other countries. This leads the paper to probe, as to why that might be the case. Part II of the paper answers that question by examining the Tenth Schedule of the Constitution. The paper scrutinizes the disproportionate influence of the Party in decision making in the Parliament. Apart from dealing with the inherent problem of the Tenth Schedule, this paper suggests two procedural changes to make parliamentary expression more meaningful. Firstly, the recording of all important votes within the Parliament and secondly, registering Party whips with the Minister of Parliamentary Affairs so that the voter knows the clear stand of every Parliamentary continuum. The focus of the paper is thus to bring back the attention of the legislators to their central function, which is deliberation on and the passage of legislation.
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