By Vijay Darda | 27-03-2017
It was indeed worrisome that several ministers were conspicuous by their absence during the question hour in the Rajya Sabha last Tuesday when they were supposed to respond to the supplementary questions related to their ministries. It is but natural that Rajya Sabha Chairman and Vice President Hamid Ansari should express his displeasure at such absenteeism. When this matter was raised in the ruling BJP parliamentary party meeting, the prime minister had to admonish all ministers and MPs to be present in the House. He went on to say: “I can do everything, but I cannot mark the attendance of MPs.”
This is not the first time that this has happened! Absenteeism among ministers and parliamentarians has become a routine affair. Lok Sabha speaker and Chairman of Rajya Sabha have always expressed displeasure over the situation but to no avail and on the other hand, the situation has continued to worsen. The MPs show considerable interest in the Q & A period, and Zero Hour, but many times the situation also takes a serious turn. I’d like to remind you that for the first time in Parliament the question hour had to be cancelled on the morning of November 30, 2009 at 11 am. According to the schedule of the Parliament, 38 MPs were to ask questions. As per the convention of parliament, all the parliamentarians are given the written instructions in advance but on that day only 4 MPs arrived in the House.
I was a member of the Rajya Sabha for 18 years and I’ve seen during this period that on many occasions quorum was not met. Same is the case with Lok Sabha. Grave concern has been expressed on this state of affairs several times and at different levels. I think there is a need to create a sense of dignity and respect of Parliament among the parliamentarians to change this situation. This time it is all the more important because in the 16th Lok Sabha 315 MPs are new. More than this (376 new MPs) were elected only in 1977. BJP’s 59 per cent of the MPs reached the Parliament for the first time while the percentage of the Congress MPs is only 20. The number of new MPs in the Rajya Sabha is more than 100. These new MPs must understand why they reached Parliament and what their responsibilities are? They need to understand that crores of rupees are spent to enable them to ask question and get a reply.
They need to be told that the Parliament is the largest institution in a democracy, which represents the country. Parliament is there to consider the well-being of each of our countrymen, make new plans, new laws, and to think how to develop the country and how fast. Partisan politics does not count in Parliament. Parliament is to debate and discuss, not to create disturbances.
On March 21, I met the President Mr Pranab Mukherjee. I was accompanied by a number of senior MPs from various parties. During the conversation, the President expressed his deep concern over the Parliament not functioning properly. He said that in a democracy everyone has the right to express opinion on an issue. If something is wrong, it should be opposed but the way of opposition should be proper. Parliament should be allowed to function. The amazing thing is that the ruling party says it is ready for debate and appeals not to create hurdles but when the same party loses power, it starts creating hurdles. During my tenure, I never disturbed the House. I had also told Sonia Gandhi that we would not disturb the House.
I would like to mention the country’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, who made every effort to create a dignified Parliament. He used to be always present in the House. During his tenure, the Congress had a huge majority but he always respected the Opposition. On behalf of the party in power at that time, the front seats used to be occupied by Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, Dr Bhimrao Ambedkar, Govind Vallabh Pant, CD Deshmukh, TT Krishnamachari and the Opposition benches were occupied by Shyama Prasad Mukherjee, AK Gopalan, Acharya Kripalani, Hiren Mukherjee, Ram Manohar Lohia and so on. The debate would be outstanding. There used to be occasional wordy duel but with all respect! They used to listen to each other’s speeches with rapt attention. Nehru used to applaud the speech of young Atal Behari Vajpayee. I would like to mention here that Feroze Gandhi’s speech used to be very sharp, but it was listened with rapt attention.
I’ve felt during my three terms that most of the MPs don’t study the Bills that are tabled in the House. It goes without saying that when they don’t study, how will they express an opinion? This is the case of MPs from all parties! I vividly recall that Sonia Gandhi had kept a register to ensure the attendance of the Congress MPs in the Parliament. We used to sign in two registers; one register used to be of Rajya Sabha Secretariat and another register that of the Congress president. This is not a good situation. MPs need to understand their duty to be present in Parliament.
I think that all parties should work together to make a few hard and fast rules so that no MP or minister can remain absent from the House or could create disturbances. Suspension of MPs and MLAs because of the ruckus in the House has become a normal occurrence. As many as 19 legislators in Maharashtra have been suspended for 9 months in the case of burning the copies of the Budget!
I remember that the MPs who were protesting the Women’s Reservation Bill in the Rajya Sabha in March 2010 had torn copies of the Bill in a scuffle with the Chairman Hamid Ansari. In fact, there would be no exaggeration in saying that the Houses of Parliament and the legislatures of various states have turned into the wrestling arenas. The kind of incidents that have happened recently have put the entire nation to shame. In many state legislatures, members hurled chairs and assaulted each other. Who can forget the events of February 14, 2014, when MP Rajgopal had used a pepper spray in the Lok Sabha on the issue of Telangana. Many MPs were injured! The question that arises time and again is: Had the stalwarts of freedom movement and specialists who established the parliamentary system ever imagined that such ruckus creators would ever reach the Parliament? Now the things are getting really serious. To protect the dignity of Parliament, all parties will have to unite to take some hard decisions!
Before I conclude…
Recent terrorist attack in the UK is a lesson for the whole world, but the question is how to identify the lone assailant and an even larger question is how to eliminate the Islamic State? The problem is that different countries have different yardsticks to determine whether an organization is a terrorist outfit or not. In Iraq the US is fighting against the Islamic State and killing the militants, and it is helping the Islamic State in Syria because the Russian troops there are killing the IS. Nearer home, the Taliban (Mujahideen at that time) in Afghanistan that had driven the Russian military out of Afghanistan is now being armed and helped against the United States by Russia. As long as such a dual policy continues, terror will continue to thrive.