Parliamentary Dissent in India

Dissent means holding of different opinions and views. When dissent is brought on the floor of the parliament, it is called parliamentary dissent. President Pranab Mukherjee on his visit to Auckland in May 2016 had stated that “Without dissent, parliamentary system is dysfunctional”.

Importance of Parliamentary Dissent

  • Parliamentary Dissent leads to fierce debates and discussions in the House. This is fruitful in taking decisions on important matters like economy.
  • Dissent also attempts to undermine existing unjust power structures so that something just or truthfulcan come into existence.
  • It is a mean by which society develops the rights it values and cherishes. For instance, a parliament through dissent might be able to bring in a change from limited to universal suffrage after public discussion about the justice of universal suffrage.
  • In order to bring a change to remove an injustice, people are forced into dissent. It is a tool of power for the powerless.
  • Dissent can push the controlling powers into some degree of reform.
  • Dissent is also vital to intellectual progress.

Examples of Dissent

  • The establishment of the modern English parliamentary system, which saw a shift to constitutional monarchy and curtailing of monarchical power.
  • The independence movement in India during and following the Second World War was an almighty period of dissent, largely peaceful, and hugely successful. In the US, the civil rights movement led by Martin Luther King Junior.
  • In South Africa, Nelson Mandela and other anti-apartheid dissidents were essential to bringing an end to the grossly unjust system of apartheid.
  • In Burma, Aung San Suu Kyi’ struggle for democracy and the gradual reestablishment of democracy.
  • The transitions of Poland, the former Czechoslovakia, Hungary and East Germany to their modern ‘free’ forms were also given vitality by dissidents.

Ambedkar on Parliamentary Dissent

B.R Ambedkar valued dissent more than all the members of constituent assembly agreeing in single ideology. He gave space to the views of all members and did uphold Indian constitution as organic. The flexible amendment procedure in India which is neither too cumbersome like in Canada nor rigid like American. Constitution in India demarcates the area of working between executive, legislative or judiciary. But the real functional organs to translate the working of these organs effectively depends upon political parties and appointed representatives. In recent scenario when no single party is in majority at national or state level, when danger of democracy turning into dictatorship still haunts Indian polity, it is important that the right to dissent is secured effectively. Example like that of land rehabilitation law which was passed through ordinance route, Aadhaar bill as money bill, etc. was debated ferociously in both houses. Also the amendment to president’s speech was a sign to hold the government responsible. Similar debate and dissent over cartoon published in the NCERT books led to wider awareness of people about the issue and also hold the government accountable of its doings. In conclusion, we can support the Ambedkar’s view that dissent leads to debate which in turn is lifeline of democracy.

Democracy and Dissent

There are three characteristics of the democratic process. One, an intrinsic value, in the form of social and political participation in decision-making. To be barred from such participation is a major deprivation. Secondly, an instrumental value in democracy, as it offers people a hearing and helps direct political attention to their claims and needs. This is done through communicating people’s demands effectively to political leaders. Thirdly, democracy has a constructive value, where its necessary dialogue allows citizens to learn from each other and thus helps society to develop. Criticism, dialogue, dissent, etc. play a constructive impact on democracy.


Parliamentary dissent is a potent tool to safeguard and respect democracy in its true spirit. However, a decorum must be maintained in the houses so that there is not parliamentary breakdown and a situation of policy paralysis comes into being.

Writing Practice / Discussion for CSE Mains

“Without dissent, parliamentary system is dysfunctional.” In this context, discuss how can B.R. Ambedkar views on parliamentary dissent can help solve the problems being faced by the Indian Parliament in the last few years?

Further Study

Please read this and understand how “parliamentary dissent” confuses with “defection”; and why this provision poses threat to dissent.