By Vijay Darda | 17-05-2016
Last week, I completed 18 long years of my parliamentary career. In the customary tradition of the Rajya Sabha, I had the opportunity to deliver my farewell speech. It was a moment to look back on these years spent in the temple of democracy. To say the least, I was simply overwhelmed by the magnitude and the import of that moment. There was an overcrowding of ideas going back to that first day when after I had bowed my head at the altar of democracy as an independent member, I was stopped from entering the Parliament House because I had the tricolour pinned on my jacket. ”This is a label,” I was told and advised that such displays were not permissible. It was my humble submission then and continues even today that let everyone proudly display the national tricolour. Please do not create obstacles for anyone in this respect and let this become an official thing.
I was also full of gratitude for the Congress president Sonia Gandhi who had reposed such faith in someone from Vidarbha and elevated him to the highest parliamentary forum. I also have a debt of gratitude to the Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi who has re-energised the younger elements in the party and the nation. I have been fortunate during these 18 years to have had the support and encouragement of the three vice-presidents and chairpersons of the House – the late Krishna Kant, then Bhairon Singh Shekhawat and the current chairman Janab Hamid Ansari Saab – all these refined gentlemen have gently guided me through my years in the Rajya Sabha. In the same period, I could watch three prime ministers in action – the erudite and masterful orator Atal Behari Vajpayee, the learned economist Dr Manmohan Singh and the current dynamic prime minister Narendra Modi. It has been a great learning experience and has shaped my ideas and thoughts on various aspects of life and nation-building.
The Rajya Sabha is an extremely learned debating forum as it draws its members from all walks of life, and they enrich the proceedings by their participation. But as we all know of late the parliamentary proceedings are known more for their disruptions and less for the debates. As political persons, we are aware of the role of disruptions in the proceedings. These have their own rationale. I also strongly feel that there exists a lot of scope for differences on the basis of ideology. But in our public discourse, there should be hardly any room for a politics that is anchored in personal allegations and counter allegations. These create an acrimonious atmosphere that is not conducive to the growth of healthy democratic traditions. It needlessly sullies the image of the politicians as a class and the media also willy-nilly plays a role in building a negative image for the politicians. The youths who are sensitive in this respect get wrong ideas about the politics of the nation, and in the process there is a growing cynicism in the society. All these are adverse trends.
Our founding fathers – Mahatma Gandhi, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, Dr Babasaheb Bhimraoji Ambedkar – all laid the foundations of our country on the basis of secularism, and built the entire edifice brick by brick. Our Constitution guarantees freedom and equality irrespective of caste, creed, religion and gender. A strict adherence to these fundamental values is our only route to salvation or else we are witnessing the chaos that prevails in our neighbouring countries that have given precedence to the politics of religion in their national affairs.
One of my lasting desires has been that just as a separate Telangana has been carved out, we should soon see that some day not in the distant future a separate state of Vidarbha also comes into being. If the 1956 injustice of Telangana could be corrected, then why leave out Vidarbha which has been in the same boat?
I also celebrated my birthday last week and travelled to Devbhumi – Uttarakhand – to offer obeisance to the lords and seek their blessings in Badrinath and Kedarnath. As I flew over the hills and the temples about 12,000 feet above the sea level, I was simply shocked by the sights I saw. The hills are barren and the rivers are bone dry. These sights portray the havoc that we have played with nature. No doubt we had ravaging floods some years ago, and all engulfing forest fires this year. The famous temple of Lord Shiva was saved by the giant piece of rock that stood Godlike between the all sweeping flood waters and the temple. Quite a simple reminder of the fact that a lifeless rock becomes a God, and the man who is supposed to be endowed with all the wisdom and intelligence destroys everything like a mindless rock.
The simple fact is that places like Dehradun and Mussoorie that got their reputation as retirement hubs for the officers from the civil and military services have never been designed to withstand pressures of the urban influx of populations. These are bound to crumble, and we seem ill-prepared to face the brunt of the challenges of modern developments in these areas. The greed of certain sections of the society is exacting a heavy toll from everyone.
The state of Uttarakhand has been through traumatic experiences in the recent weeks. There has been an assault on its democratic structure and there have been the ravaging forest fires. Of course thanks to the constitutional system of checks and balances, the structure of the popularly elected government is back in place, but there is no knowing as to when the scars caused by the nature’s fury would heal. Indeed, the forest fire conveyed to us the certainty with which the phenomena of climate change will exact a price from us for our follies.
As I look to the future, my concern is whether we will be able to stave off such disasters or would have to simply helplessly live with the consequences of our past mistakes. Can we really prepare ourselves and ward off these incidents or are we condemned to be mere helpless spectators and participants in this destruction? The signs are not encouraging, and unless there are drastic changes in our approach, there is not much of a hope.
Before I conclude…
As I sign off this week’s column, my thoughts go back to my farewell speech in the Rajya Sabha. There were 53 retiring members and everyone had a desire to have his/her say on this moment. Quite naturally, there was a time constraint, and the chairman Ansari Saab placed a cap of three minutes. I do understand his reasons for doing so. But then this was departure from the past tradition when such a cap was not there. The unfairness of it all was quite striking. The leaders from all the parties had no such restrictions, and even otherwise they have all the time to express their views. But the ordinary members who are always squeezed out, were getting a raw deal even on their last day. This was an added burden.