By Poonam I Kaushish
Move over mirchi bhajji and batata vada! It’s time for the wholesome and every time snack pakoda to take a bow on the political platform. Call, it rikwach, bhabhra or fritters, either way this humble nibble has created a storm leaving Delhi and Parliament in the throes of pakoda politics!
It all started with Prime Minister Modi likening a pakoda seller earning Rs 200 per day to someone holding a secure job, chipped in BJP President Amit Shah, “Better to sell pakodas than be jobless.” The Congress ripped into the Government by organizing pakoda ‘feasts’ around the country and saying begging too was akin to selling pakodas. Sic.
Naturally, all hell broke loose. Raising a moot point: Is selling pakodas or it being gainful employment an issue which should become a bone of contention between the BJP and Opposition? Is it a matter to merit a serious debate in Parliament? Have our jan sevaks reduced this temple of democracy to its pakoraonomics crassiest worst? What kind of mentality is this?
Alas, Parliament instead of being a place for reasoned debate and legislative business continues to be trivialised and denigrated. From being called a mockery, tamasha and circus without even the slightest tinge of remorse. Never mind, our MPs go blue in the face about upholding the best tenets of Parliamentary democracy! Sic.
Indeed, a tragic farce was enacted in the first half of the Budget session in both Houses. At a time when our jan sevaks should be concentrating on discussing the Budget, farmers suicide, agrarian crisis, rising unemployment, J&K etc the ten day session was drowned in acrimony, accusations and animosity with the Congress-led Opposition protesting in the well of both Houses, be it Modi’s reply on the motion of thanks to the President’s address or unrelenting protests by Andhra MPs demanding more central assistance for the State.
The scenario in Rajya Sabha was no better, a piece of reckless raucous political theater from ‘Start Up India’ not starting, ‘Stand Up India’ sitting down and ‘Skill India’ becoming ‘Kill India’ culminating in a Congress woman MP’s vociferous non-stop laughter during Modi’s with him sarcastically remarking, “Ramayan serial ke baad aisi hansi sunne ka saubhagya aaj jaake mila hai”. Even though he avoided names the inference to Ravan’s sister Soorpanakha’s evil laugh from Ramayana was not lost, resulting in her filing a privilege motion against Minister Rijjui.
At one level, not a few would dismiss these outrageous happenings as an exercise in political one-upmanship between the Treasury and Opposition. At another, it underscores the petty political points, unprecedented and umpteen body blows administered to Parliament and its sovereignty by all individually and collectively.
The contempt the powers-that-be have for Parliament can be gauged from the fact that our jan sevak’s gleefully pocket their daily allowance of Rs 2,000 even when the House is adjourned on a frivolous issue, besides monthly emoluments, palatial bunglows, bijli, paani and telephone paid for, security paraphernalia, Rs 5 lakhs MPLADs annually et al. “It is our birthright,” they coo. Thereby, affixing their seal of approval on political harlotry of the worst kind.
Undoubtedly, it is nobody’s case that by not allowing Parliament to function our polity is making a mockery of the institution, reducing its importance and relevance. But what is disgusting and perturbing is not that obstructionism is becoming more the rule rather than exception, but that our polity largely continues to drift along smugly without any shame, desire to turn a new page and prevent its crumble.
Shockingly, the decline has been sharp in the last 10 years with MPs gunning for each other, snatching and tearing legislative papers, rushing into the well of the House at a drop of a hat or rivals nearly coming to blows. A sad reflection of the depth to which India’s democracy has disintegrated, transgressing all limits of Parliamentary ethics.
Think, 47% of Bills in the last 10 years were passed without any debate, an abuse of the Parliamentary system. Sixty-one per cent of these (24% in all) were passed in the last three hours of a session and 31% of legislations were passed with no scrutiny or vetting by any Parliamentary standing or consultative committee.
There has also been a steady reduction in Parliamentary hours, from a high of 128-132 days a year during the first 20 years since 1952-72 to just 64-67 days a year on an average in the last 10 years. Not a few times an entire session has been a washout.
Another alarming trend is the decline in educational qualifications of lawmakers wherein doctorate, post-doctorate and post-graduate degrees declined by 62% in the last 20 years. To make matters worse, while educational qualifications of MPs have fallen, their salaries increased four times in the last five years.
Also, dynasty continues to rule. In the last decade 71% MPs below the age of 30 were second or third generation Parliamentarians and among those below 40 years, 57% had similar credentials.
True, the fall in standards is because politics today is all about the numbers game wherein regional satraps use pressure tactics to get their way and say. Not only do they believe in politics of dadagiri as witnessed in chaotic unruly scenes with paper weights serving as missiles, mikes being uprooted in various State Assemblies but also that might is right is the raison d atre of a ‘successful’ Parliament session.
Sadly, we have settled for size and not content wherein Parliament’s supremacy has been replaced with the ‘to the streets’ bugle. Thus, in this deteriorating political culture and ethos, Parliamentary proceedings have little material bearing on the course of politics.
Not many seem to understand the diabolical and dangerous dimensions of making Parliament insignificant. Given it is the bedrock of our nation representing the people who expect it to function as the sovereign watchdog of their national interests. Constitutionally, the Government is responsible and accountable to Parliament every second of the day and its survival depends on enjoying the Lok Sabha’s confidence.
What next? The time has come for all MPs to see how they can strengthen Parliamentary democracy before people begin to mock at it in sheer disgust. One way is that on policy matters and legislative business the Treasury and Opposition should rise above sectarian political loyalties and be guided by what the country needs, the sense of the House than the rule book.
Another is to make the Executive accountable by taking a leaf out of Westminster. The House of Commons has a 40 minutes a week “PM’s Hour” convention wherein MPs can question him on any issue.
Thus, our leaders need to heed voices of reason. Tying up Parliament in trivia, sans business does not behove the world’s largest democracy. Time to change the rules to ensure accountability along-with amending the substance nomenclature whereby educated, honest MPs enter Parliament to serve the people rather than themselves. Perhaps, bring Parliament under ESMA (Essential Services Management Act) wherein disrupting its functioning will become an offence.
With sharp battle lines between the Treasury and Opposition this distrust will only further devalue Parliament and lower its image. Our MPs must introspect about what kind of legacy they are going to leave behind. Will they allow Parliament to sink under the weight of its increasing decadence? —- INFA