What is in a word?

Unparliamentary Or Gag?

By Poonam I Kaushish

What’s in word? Everything when it comes to our polity. We were treated to one such last week. Our Right Honourables re-discovered one new parliamentary term: unparliamentary.
As Parliament’s monsoon session begins a row has erupted over a 50-page words compilation unfit for use in Parliament which would be expunged if used during debates or otherwise in both Houses. Namely, jumlajeevi, baal-buddhi, Shakuni, taanashah, taanashahi, nikamma, Jaichand, vinash purush, khoon se kheti, anarchist, dictatorial, Khalistani, corrupt, ashamed, abused, betrayed, drama, hypocrisy, Covid spreader, snoopgate and even common word ‘incompetent’ are now unparliamentary.
Followed by Rajya Sabha notification that dharnas, demonstrations, fast or religious ceremonies are not allowed in Parliament precincts. Predictably, this double whammy stirred a hornet’s nest with Opposition slamming Centre’s attempt of “throttling” democracy by trying to “gag” as terms used by it described “reality” of Government.
Trust Lok Sabha Speaker Birla to douse flames clarifying dharna was from 2009 order and no words had been banned. “No Government can ban words in Parliament and Assemblies. Members are free to express views and no one can snatch that right but it should be as per Parliament decorum.” Sic.
Worse, he justified it by saying it was a tradition since 1954 and the latest list merely compiles words found undignified in a specific context and expunged from Parliament, various Assemblies records and Commonwealth countries Parliaments. In fact, many words were considered unparliamentary during Congress’s UPA era and only 62 words were added.
Interestingly, the Unparliamentary Expressions book, first compiled in 1999 was last updated in 2009 resulting in many State legislatures being guided by it.
In 1999 references were taken from debates and phrases declared unparliamentary by pre-Independence Central Legislative Assembly, Constituent Assembly, Provisional Parliament, first to the tenth Lok Sabhas and Rajya Sabha, State legislatures and Commonwealth Parliaments like UK.
Importantly Article 105(2) states, “no MP shall be liable to any proceedings in any court in respect of anything said or any vote given by him in Parliament or any committee thereof”. MPs do not enjoy the freedom to say whatever they want inside the House. Whatever an MP says is subject to discipline of Parliament Rules, Members “good sense,” and Speaker’s control of proceedings. These checks ensure MPs cannot use “defamatory, indecent, undignified or unparliamentary words” inside the House.
Rule 380 (“Expunction”) of Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business in Lok Sabha states: “If Speaker is of opinion that words have been used in debate which are defamatory or indecent, unparliamentary or undignified he may while exercising discretion order such words be expunged from House proceedings.” Rule 381 says: “The portion of House proceedings so expunged shall be marked by asterisks and an explanatory foot-note shall be inserted in proceedings: “Expunged as ordered by the Chair.”
Pertinently, the word ‘Godse’ was removed from unparliamentary words list in 2015 after Shiv Sena MP Nashik Godse requested removal wondering how an MP’s surname could be “unparliamentary.” Recall, it was first expunged in 1958 when a MP equated Prime Minister Nehru to Godse, Gandhi’s assassin on floor of the House and later again in 1962 when another member equated Godse to Swami Viveknanda. But it is also contextual. A MP cannot praise Godse, but he can say Godse assassinated Gandhi.
Questionably what happens if a MP uses these words? Zilch. No action can be taken against anyone who uses these words, there is no legal sanctity, Speaker has power to expunge any indecent, defamatory expression, it is not restrictive but for exercising restrain as expressions are more important than singular meaning of the word.
Does it mean ‘Jaichands’ who are masquerading as “conscience of the nation” should now be addressed respectfully as “Right Honourables”? Can we accept our netagan to behave like true blue-blooded MPs? Will it add to piling garbage heard before or meet similar fate as other diktats in 1999, 2009 etc: Still born.
Understandable, in today’s digital age if governance is all about ‘feeling good’ then politics is all about ‘sounding good’. Many MPs are highly skeptical. “In a country where principles and politics are two ends of a spectrum, one fails to comprehend how ‘unparliamentary words’ can stem the growing ‘rot of moral decay in our polity.”
True, at one level the row seems trivial as it has run for years without anyone bothered. But it also points to breakdown of democratic compact between Government and Opposition and trust loss. Increasingly bills are being passed sans discussion or debate with electoral hostilities spilling over the House floor.
Asserted a senior Parliament watcher, “Parliament is the highest law-making institution but such limited definition that is central to deliberative democracy would be an act of vishwasghat of its lofty purpose despite both Houses being filled with chamchas or ‘chors’ more interested in ‘dramas’ and ‘abuse’ than addressing ‘corruption’. While Opposition accuses Treasury Benches of ‘jumlajeevis’, they counter with disruptive ‘anarchists’! At this rate MPs will be left with no other option but to use sign language.
Undoubtedly, harsh words are part and parcel of politics. Even Westminster, mother of all Parliamentary discourses is not free from this. One notorious case is of leading Labour right Nye Bevan who often crossed swords with Winston Churchill describing Conservatives as gutter snipes and vermins. In Australian Senate phrases “dumbo” and “liar” among others, are unparliamentary.
In our present all-pervasive decadence, interspersed with growing public distaste there comes a moment of truth and reckoning: Are we putting a premium on ‘hypocrisy’ of leaders which thanks to their Parliamentary privilege grants them unassailable protection to free speech? Is it not merely an excuse to create ‘drama?’
What is most worrying is our politicians are busy eroding credibility and sanctity of Parliament by perfecting the art of cultivating low morality and high greed according to their whims and fancies — and need of the hour which has been made a lot more malignant by our fragmented politics. Wherein slander, sensation smear and sully are the new political dialogues chanted by one and all Parties with each propounding its own recipe of harmony, according to their own warped and selfish political needs.
None cares a damn for decency and decorum except for scoring brownie points against each other. Ends matter not means as winning is the name of the game. Clearly, any slur, slight and disrespect to Parliament would deal a body blow to the credibility and authority of the State. Democracy is not competition in Constitutional indecency and impropriety. — INFA