It seems to be playing out in a loop, this endless drama in Parliament. Like a very bad re-run which one does not want to watch but does so with a horrified fascination, I have been watching the same belligerent discourse, the shouting each other down, the rushing to the Well, the helpless Speaker pleading for calm and the bullying tactics which bring business to its knees.
Something’s got to give, you think hopefully. But while hope may spring eternal in the human breast, with each passing session, nothing does. Like truant children, our parliamentarians are either part of the disruption brigade or are forced into silence by their rambunctious colleagues. I have to bring to your attention one particular scene which at once annoyed and amused me. A bunch of MPs, some of them very experienced, was seen marching outside Parliament, raising throaty slogans demanding that Chandigarh airport be renamed after the martyr Bhagat Singh. While this may be a noble endeavour, surely this could have been put forward in a decorous manner without the high-decibel agitprop.
This may bore you but let me remind you of the cost of running Parliament, it is Rs 1.5 crore per hour for the Lok Sabha and Rs 1.1 crore per hour for the Rajya Sabha. This will truly offend you but a mere three hours and a bit were spent in each house on the Chennai floods. On drought the Lok Sabha spent a footling 7.5 hours and a similar amount of time on intolerance. Of the 68 Bills pending this session, just 10 were passed.
If that was not bad enough, Rajya Sabha chairman Hamid Ansari lamented the vehemence in language as he put it mildly. I could go on, but it will only make your blood boil. Sixty-three years after the august institution of Parliament began functioning, would it be too much to ask that it conduct its business even as political battles are waged?
The usual argument given by the offending party is that its opponents had also tried similar obstructionist tactics in the past. An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind, as the Mahatma once said. Earlier we used to lament the fact that there were few parliamentarians who could scale the Nehruvian heights of oratory, few who could match an Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s poetry, the wit of a Piloo Mody and so on. Today, I am glad just to see a minister or MP get through their presentation without disruption. We are meant to be argumentative as Amartya Sen famously put it, but surely argument is accompanied by reason.
Let us look at where all this is hurting us. We are very proud of our growth figures, better than those of many other countries. But such figures can vanish like the dew on the grass in the morning unless growth is nurtured. It has to be bolstered constantly by progressive and enabling legislation, the GST Bill being one of them. India has to be seen to be a welcoming place for the investor. No one, but no one is going to come with bucket loads of money and set up shop here unless there is something in it for them and quick.
But just put yourself in the place of an investor who has a few million to throw India’s way. He looks at how easy it will be for him to set up shop and finds that little Singapore is a far more welcoming destination. He looks at how safe his staff might be in our cities and finds that this is going to be a big problem. He looks at his quality of life and finds that the toxic smog may see him end up in hospital. Well, another time, maybe, he thinks — when things look up a bit.
If this can occur to me, just a common or garden hack, then surely it has struck our parliamentarians too that they have to get it together and slap on the smiles while laying out the red carpet for those investors we so desperately covet.
And here I blame all parties. Just because you are not in power does not mean that you are not accountable to the people who elected you. They expect their elected representatives to look into education, health, jobs, safety and so on. But, instead, the representative once ensconced in a Lutyens bungalow devotes his or her time to yelling the place down like a recalcitrant rocker rather than a measured statesman.
The very nature of politics has become debased and personalised. I have never in my living memory heard a chief minister call a prime minister a pyschopath and a coward. Yes, you can have disagreements but these epithets are worthy of a bar room brawl, not any form of civilised discourse.
In recent times, every move made by many politicians turns into a show of strength, as if this was necessary to convince the public that they still matter. The atmosphere is so toxic that I often feel that like the warring couple in the iconic movie War of the Roses, there can be no end to the bickering, it just gets ratcheted up until it reaches a point of no return. MPs and ministers freely pass communal and sexist remarks. They simply seem to have no fear of the public, which watches all this aghast on 24/7 television.
As if to convince people that they mean business, once in a while a Bill will be passed like the Juvenile Justice Bill in the Rajya Sabha and we feel delighted. Parliament should be a place where the elders lead by example and the younger politicians can hone their skills. But what chance does even the well meaning have in this bedlam? Yet, come every five years we talk about the reaffirmation of our democracy. Again and again, the people have shown infinite patience and harbour infinite hope that politics will work for them.
So we had a Parliament session which has produced very little. And nothing much has been resolved in terms of differences on legislation or perception. No one has stepped in to effectively play the role of political manager for any of the parties. While some leaders enjoy affection across the political spectrum, their services do not seem to be sought after. The younger MPs seem unable to break free of the political gridlock they find themselves in.
Yet, I know that come the next session, perhaps fretting and fuming, I will still be watching, hoping against hope that I will see the riveting cut and thrust of Parliament, which I have seen on occasion like a rainbow only to fade away before the angry thunder clouds which gather all too quickly these days. But who knows, maybe the rainbow will give way to a nice clear day and our parliamentarians will rise above the fray and surprise us by just doing the work they were elected to do. That is not asking for too much, is it?