Parliament’s decline both in England and India: a fleeting overview. (by Shiva Kant Jha)

(a) In England: we know that the Glorious Revolution of 1688, and the Act of settlement, of 1701, led to the establishment of the supremacy of parliament. One of its committees evolved into the council of ministers from which grew another body, tinier in form but mightier in power, called ‘cabinet’. The institution of ‘Crown’ emerged to make the king and the ministers close friends and strong collaborators. The King was glad as the executive government’s activism on the globe enriched the country, and made the Crown glamorous by becoming a great imperial power. This domination by the executive government was initially resisted by parliament, but it got reconciled to its destiny under the new despotism of the cabinet. After the World War II, the grandeur of parliament further diminished when the executive government virtually sold itself to the USA where the corporations rule. The decline of parliament began with the fast onset of neoliberalism. Thatcher and Reagan were influenced by the ideas of Milton Friedman and Feldstein, and many others who shared the ideas that worked for the dominance of the market forces. Their thesis pleaded for the roll back of the activities of the State. Monetarist and supply-side polices came to dominate. The technocratic structure subjugated other institutions. All these increased the might of the international high finance, and the MNCs, and also of the ‘high net worth’ individuals. The idea of ‘social justice’ and ‘equality’ lost relevance. This process began in the forties, and acquired great momentum after the election of Margaret Thatcher in 1979 as the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom’ and a year later, of Ronald Reagan as president of the United States. Bertrand Russell had highlighted, in his letter to Maurice Amos, the decline of Parliament by adopting the principle of the proportionality with reference to the pages of a book on the British constitutional law!
“I am very much interested in what you say about your book on the British Constitution, and especially amused that you had written 46,000 out of the 50,000 requisite words before you reached Parliament. Parliament has become a somewhat unimportant body. In the 19th century the Prime Ministers resigned when defeated in parliament until Gladstone altered the practice; now by the threat of dissolution they terrorize Parliament.”
(b) In India: Writing about our Parliament in the early years of our Constitution, Granville Austin observes :
“Parliament has ‘immense powers’ and ‘functions within the bounds of a written Constitution’ …. True at any time in theory, the assertion’s accuracy as regards Parliament’s service to the seamless web depended upon the time it was made. The first Speaker, G. V. Mavalankar, built Parliament ‘as an independent institution not to be seen as an extension of government or of party’ — ideals running counter to a number of the nation’s cultural traits. Nehru supported him. .”
Nehru was assertive and dominant, but he respected our Constitution, and allowed Parliament to have its way as constitutionally conceived. Nehru wrote (Chapter193 of Glimpses of World History) on August 6, 1933 about the circumstances which wrought Parliament’s decline. He even quoted Harold J. Laski: “Our government has become an executive dictatorship tempered by fear of Parliamentary revolt.” Even other members of our Constituent Assembly carried this worry in their mind.

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