The Daily Fix: Rajya Sabha has become the new scene of resistance in Parliament
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Above the fold: Top stories of the day
1. The Bharatiya Janata Party suspends Darbhanga MP Kirti Azad for “anti-party activities”.
2. From January 1 to January 15, every car entering Delhi will have to follow the odd-even registration number rule.
3. Fifteen people, including a BJP leader’s son, have been chargesheeted for the Dadri lynching. No mention of beef in the chargesheet.
4. In Moscow, Russian President Vladimir Putin held a private meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the Kremlin, setting out the agenda for talks.

The Big Story: Winter session
Parliament was adjourned sine die on December 23, bringing to a close a fractious, noisy winter session. After a measured start, at which intolerance and Ambedkar were debated by parties across the aisle, Parliament descended into business as usual: accusations, counter-accusations, scams and walk-outs. All month, we heard “National Herald“, “DDCA”, skulduggery in Arunachal Pradesh. The crowning spectacle came at the end, when Rajya Sabha sat down under public pressure to debate and pass a harsh juvenile justice law.

Indeed, this season confirmed a recent trend: ever since the National Democratic Alliance came to power, the scene of action has shifted to the Upper House. According to PRS Legislative Research, the average productivity of the Lok Sabha in the last four sessions has been 97%, for the Rajya Sabha, the figure is 62%. Of course, most of this productive time was spent on non-legislative business. This session, the gap has widened, with Lok Sabha sitting for 98% of the scheduled time and Rajya Sabha clocking in for just 51%. The most raucous showdowns, the most implacable rivalries were played out in the usually dignified house of elders. It prompted Hamid Ansari, chairman of the Upper House, to ask legislators to desist from “demeaning the stature” of the Rajya Sabha.

This change in complexion of the Rajya Sabha is directly related to the composition of the two Houses. The NDA commands a brute majority in the Lok Sabha, allowing it to dictate the agenda. So the Rajya Sabha, where the government still does not have a majority, has become the new scene of resistance. The Upper House cannot be fully insulated from the tug and pull of party politics, of course. But the current situation has drawn it away from its role as safety valve, as a space for rarefied debate, protected from the pressures of electoral politics.  In the long term, this may not be healthy for a parliamentary democracy.

The Big Scroll: on the day’s big story
Mayank Jain on how the Rajya Sabha lost Rs 10 crore due to disruptions during the winter session.
Mohan Guruswamy speculates on why Parliament is so dysfunctional.

Politicking and policying
1. Rajya Sabha was told on Wednesday that 442 people have been convicted so far in the 1984 anti-Sikh riot cases.
2. Though the Congress voted for the juvenile justice bill in the Rajya Sabha, senior party leader and former law minister Ashwini Kumar said that laws with punitive consequences should not be enacted under pressure.
3. In Ayodhya, artisans have been busy carving stones for a Ram Mandir.

1. In the Hindu, Sanjay Hegde on how Parliament caved to public outrage and passed a law that ignores the realities of juvenile crime.
2. In the Indian Express, Upendra Baxi on how the Supreme Court has misread the constitutional right to adult suffrage.
3. In the Telegraph, Kanwal Sibal predicts a long drawn out conflict in West Asia.

Don’t Miss…
Girish Shahane points out that the new juvenile justice bill has criminalised sex between teenagers:

“Two years ago, India introduced a law that criminalised consensual sex between minor teenagers, as also between males who had reached legal adulthood and females who had not. By raising the threshold of the age of consent to 18, including no clause allowing consensual intercourse between lovers whose ages were proximate, and introducing stringent minimum sentences, it made 18-year-old boys having sex with 16- or 17 year-old girlfriends liable for long prison terms. As if that wasn’t bad enough, the new law raises the possibility of 16-year-old boys being convicted of rape for having consensual sex with girls of the same age. Some safeguards have been built into the legislation, but given how slowly the law works in India, the very threat of such a sentence is potent.”