Book review: Ronojoy Sen, House of the People: Parliament and the Making of Indian Democracy

Published date01 June 2024
AuthorRavi Ranjan
Date01 June 2024
Subject MatterBook Reviews
Book Reviews
Ronojoy Sen, House of the People: Parliament and the Making of Indian Democracy. New Delhi: Cambridge
University Press, 2022, 311 pp., `1,295
Studying Indian institutions is essential for assessing the functioning of the world’s largest constitutional
democracy. Sen provides a comprehensive account of the cardinal role that an institution like the Indian
parliament performs. Using historical institutionalism to accommodate a cultural approach, Sen traces
parliamentary roots from the pre-independence era to the Constituent Assembly debates and focuses on
the Lok Sabha and its role in transforming a colonized country into a truly representative democracy.
The book begins with the history of the development of parliamentary democracy in India since the
reforms of the nineteenth century, and the metamorphosis of a colony into a constitutional democracy. It
focuses on the post-independent era, emphasizing the amalgamation of Western and Indian styles not
only in its architecture but also in its procedure. Sen showcases the journey of cultivating parliamentary
tools that the members put into practice. It includes instances of discussion, debate, posing questions,
adjournments, disruptions and the procedures of carrying out legislative functions.
The second chapter consists of an institutional-functional analysis of the gradual shift in legislature
over the years that made parliament a more representative body in the post-independence era. The author
captures the representativeness of the Indian parliament by examining its social composition and to what
extent it mirrors Indian society over seven decades, using six categories to map this: age, occupation,
wealth, education, gender, caste and religion. The correlation to performance in parliament uses variables
of attendance; questions asked; and participation in debates. The chapter also looks at four other features
of the Indian parliament: criminality, dynasticism, the number of people represented by each MP and
re-election rates of incumbents. The analysis on occupation reveals interesting facts such as how the
number of lawyers, journalists and educationists has decreased in the lower house, while there has been
a rise in MPs classifying their occupation as agriculturalists and businessmen, industrialists and traders.
Titled Please Take Your Seat, the third chapter is dedicated to disruptions and explains how over the
years there has been a significant rise in disruptions and protests in the parliament since the 1970s. This
has led to reduced productivity of the House, especially with a decline in the number of sitting days of
the House. Sen shows how disruptions have become a part of the normal culture, as MPs too have
increasingly come to see them as standard and entrenched practice, and explains why many solutions
mooted to prevent them are most likely to be ineffective. Sen suggests that the role of the Speaker is
crucial when it comes to controlling the activities of the House and preventing disruptions, which are
also caused by the members’ and leadership’s temperament of being non-accommodating and not
listening to others. With televising disruptions of parliamentary proceedings, this is being accepted as
part of India’s political culture.
Studies in Indian Politics
12(1) 142–151, 2024
© 2024 Lokniti, Centre for the
Study of Developing Societies
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/23210230241235369

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