India's Sick Democracy

The Wilson Quarterly, Autumn 2008 | Go to article overview

India's Sick Democracy


THE SOURCE: "India's Parliament as a Representative Institution" by Jessica S. Wallack, in India Review, April-June 2008.

THE RECENT DEBATE OVER THE Indian-American nuclear cooperation agreement didn't do a lot for the bottom-feeder image of the Indian parliament. Chanting, raging legislators heckled speakers and stormed the well, members of parliament who had been jailed for murder were let out to vote, and a hospitalized lawmaker was wheeled in on a gurney. Three members of the main opposition, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), interrupted a Communist opponent in midspeech, waving wads of rupees they said were a down payment on a $2.1 million bribe that the BJP members said they had been offered by the camp of the ruling Congress party to vote for the deal. On July 22 the Lok Sabha, the lower house of parliament, finally ended months of suspense by handing the government a slender victory, 275 to 256. Prune Minister Manmohan Singh squeaked out a vote of confidence to keep him in power until he can run again next May.

The Indian public blames the average parliamentarian--in 2004, one-quarter of the legislators had criminal backgrounds--for the shambles that is the Parliament of India, writes Jessica S. Wallack, the director of the Center for Development Finance in Chennai, India. But the dysfunction of the legislative branch goes deeper than the presence of a few murderers and thugs. Some of the problems are embedded in the structure of the institution.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

The symptoms of failure read like a political-science disaster checkoff: Budgets pass in a flash; deliberations barely occur. …

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