Opposition central to democracy  


It is said that in the absence of a strong opposition there is little difference between a democracy and a dictatorship. In a parliamentary democracy the ruling party cannot be given a free hand to expend public funds and to legislate laws which could be detrimental to the public cause. Hence every proposed legislation is debated at length before it is passed by Parliament and State Legislatures. Hence the role of the Opposition is primarily to ensure accountability of the executive. An Opposition party has to meet the criterion of having MPs/MLAs who make up 10% of the total strength of the House or is the single largest group in the Opposition, according to the rules of their respective houses.

The main role of the Opposition is to question the government of the day and hold them accountable to the public. It has to ensure checks and balance to correct democratic practices in the interest of the public. In politics as in law, justice thrives when adversaries compete hence an effective Opposition is crucial to an effective Democracy. The reason why Parliament and State Assembly sessions are held is also to provide constructive criticism of bills, policies and governance. In short, the Opposition acts as a pressure group to prevent abuse of power and the tyranny of the majority. Above all, the Opposition makes sure that the Government does not deviate from Constitutional practices. Hence the Opposition is not a nuisance but a critical part of democracy.

The Opposition raises questions on behalf of the public. Also the Opposition helps to rectify the mistakes and to check the excesses of the Ruling Party without being completely antagonistic. While it is true that today’s Opposition was yesterday’s Ruling Party, it is wrong for the Government of the day to allege that all the wrongdoings are carryovers from the past.

In the context of Meghalaya, several allegations have been leveled by the Opposition Congress about mishandling of the Covid pandemic. This could have been avoided had the Opposition been entrusted with specific tasks in combating the pandemic. But for those in the Government to say that criticism should be suspended merely because the Government is handling the pandemic is to miss the woods for the trees. In fact the suspension of Question Hour in Parliament has come in for sharp criticism as it is akin to suspension of democracy.

The Opposition is meant to oppose but not without sufficient grounds. And there are always grounds for opposing the manner in which Governments both at the Centre and states have been handling the pandemic. Since these are extraordinary situations it would have been more productive if the Opposition extended its hand in tackling Covid rather than offer suggestions after things have gone wrong. But such cooperation is rare as it requires large-heartedness from both sides which is often missing because the Opposition is more concerned with scoring points. This is a disservice to democracy.

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