“Party system is based upon a paradoxical ideology. It breeds factional elements of disunity. sowing the seeds of diversity, white at the same time it strengthens and consolidates the nation. It proves almost a blessing to a nation when it checks the Government from becoming tyrannical and autocratic, but In its prostituted spirit, tears a nation, into clashing groups leading the country to the worst form of demoralization”. —Lord Bryce
Benjamin Disraeli’s dictum that ‘no government can long be secure without a formidable opposition” has been proved true and fully valid for the health and efficiency of a democracy. Wherever the system of parliamentary democracy has been established, the importance of a healthy, effective, vigilant and ever alert opposition been fully realized as something indispensable. According to Stephen Leacock, “……..far from being in conflict with the theory of democratic government, it is the one thing which renders the latter feasible………” Lord Bryee too was a strong advocate of a opposition.
The British Parliament is universally acknowledged as the ”Mother of Parliament”. Nearly all the government systems of world democracies including the U.S.A. and India are based on this system, of course, with some minor or major departures. In Britain the opposition is officially recognized as His or Her Majesty’s opposition. The leader of the opposition is regarded as the future prime Minister, since his party offers a viable alternative to the government of the Jay. His council is popularly known as the ‘Shadow Cabinet’. He is accorded official recognition, granted an annual salary, a parliamentary allowance and, in addition, is provided with several facilities to enable him to function adequately.
The very essence of democracy is dissent and debate. As a government of, for, and by the people it must work through discussion and persuasion. Unfortunately, things have not been going on in a healthy manner in the Indian democracy. Those who are deeply entrenched in seats of power of their legacy are very intolerant of the opposition. Dissent, open criticism of the unrealistic, is conceived and high-handed policies of the government in power are looked down upon as nefarious doings of traitors, or fascists, or anti-national elements acting as tools and hirelings of hostile foreign governments. It is very sad commentary on the working of democracy in India.
The role of a healthy parliamentary opposition can never be controverter. It is essential for the sound working of democracy. Unless there is a vigilant opposition constantly on the alert and ever watchful of the government’s policies and actions, the ruling party would tend to get complacent and tardy or become arbitrary and autocratic. Lowell opines, “the constant presence of a recognized opposition is an obstacle to despotism.” But when there are well-informed critics ever ready to expose the wrong committed by the government and to bring to light its acts of omission and commission, the ruling partly can hardly afford to be negligent in the performance of its duty towards the country. The constant tug-of-war between the majority party and the opposition keeps the government on its toes and ensures good government.
An effective opposition promotes and ensures legislative excellence. The opposition does not permit a bill to become an act of law without proper discussion. It discusses the law threadbare, pinpoints and highlights its shortcomings, defects and possible repercussions and thus, forces the ruling party to discuss the law before it gets the final assent and enters the statute book. In the absence of a formidable opposition, the ruling party can enact any laws arbitrarily. We in India have had a bitter taste of such a law when during the earlier regime of Smt. Indira Gandhi the opposition was reduced to a mere farce and when in 1975 she declared an Emergency, and worse still, during the abortive Janta rule that followed the ill-conceived Emergency, then again, in the last days of Snit Indira Gandhi’s rule.
Another outstanding contribution of effective opposition to democracy is that it educates the people of the land on politics matters and assures active and intelligent participation of the people in public affairs. Lindsay, the well-known commentator, says, “The democratic problem is the control of the organization of power by the common man.” The citizens of a democratic country must be ‘thinking men and women’, possessing Independent opinions and capable of taking intelligent interest in public affairs. Without education there can be no intelligent discussion and participation in the processes of the government. Education produces rational human beings, having the power of discriminate between good and bad.
An enlightened citizen in a democratic country is not merely to obey as a mute chattel; he is expected to develop the power of vigilance and to distinguish between chalk and cheese. Democracy provides an outlet and a safety valve for the people’s anger and frustration and this outlet is open and intelligent criticism of the Government. The press also has a vital role to play in a democracy. It is the popular forum of educating the people and also expressing the public view-point. It has to present a dispassionate and unbiased reports of whatever happens and whatever steps are taken by the Government. It should be a jealous guardian of the people’s rights, privileges and liberties. Like the opposition in a legislature, the press is also a watchdog and guardian of the public interest.
But the one essential pre-requisite is that opposition must function in a responsible and healthy manner, keeping national interest uppermost. If the opposition behaves irresponsibly and indulges in unhealthy, destructive criticism instead of constructive discussions, the entire democratic edifice will collapse or at least endangered. A glaring example of unhealthy and irresponsible opposition behavior, in and out of legislature, under the grab of democracy was seen in India in the months immediately preceding the declaration of Emergency. In their zeal to oppose the Government tooth and nail, they are even the notable achievements of the Government.
It is necessary for both the; ruling party and the opposition to observe the rules of the game. They must not play foul; for one foul step will lead to an endless cycle of fouls and mistakes. Democracy then becomes a mess. To be sound and effective, opposition must be vigilant, responsible and healthy. The true function of the opposition, to keep the Government on its to and to prevent misuse of power, can as performed only when there is discipline, a sense of responsibility, a sense of belonging-ness to the nation and a determination to give top most priority to public and national interests as against personal or party interests.
On the other side, it is the prime duty it the Government to take lessons in maintaining healthy relations with the opposition from the British system of Government. It should recognize healthy and effective opposition, it should not impose restraints of various types, as h unfortunately the case today. It should not suppress public opinion and public voice, both inside the Legislature and in the Press. If it does so, it is guilty of being autocratic and developing unhealthy, undemocratic and authoritarian tendencies. The Government should, on the other hand, encourage polarization of political parties so that an effective and viable opposition is formed to keep democracy alive in India.