The alleged atrocities on Dalits have been a raging issue for all political parties. But when the matter finally came up for discussion in the Lok Sabha on Thursday, parliamentarians left the nation disappointed by their seeming lack of interest.
Nine reasons why the debate in Parliament did little to address the issue.
1. The debate started almost five minutes behind schedule. But even this additional time was not used by errant MPs to reach the Lok Sabha to participate in one of the most important debates of this monsoon session of Parliament.
2. When the debate started, there were about 60 MPs present in the lower house. This means eight of every nine Lok Sabha members was absent from the 545-member House. If any MP had demanded a quorum — the minimum number of members to be present to carry on the proceedings — the House would perhaps have been adjourned for lack of numbers.
3. Though PK Biju of CPI(M) opened the debate, not all Left MPs were sitting. Both the Opposition as well as the ruling side took the debate lightly. In fact, the front rows of the six blocks of seats in the Lok Sabha were near-empty during the time.
4. Over the course of the controversy, the government had been at the receiving end of the Oppositions attack. But three hours into the debate, only four union ministers — Rajiv Pratap Rudy, Ramkripal Yadav, Harshvardhan and Hansraj Ahir were present in the House.
5. The height of embarrassment for the government came when newly appointed minister of state, Arjun Ram Meghwal’s name was called out for his speech, and Meghwal was nowhere to be seen. Rudy tried to tide over the situation saying it was a “chhoti ghatna” (small issue) while BJP emissaries went out to locate Meghwal. A good five minutes had passed when Meghwal finally rushed in to the House.
6. By 5pm, the numbers barely climbed to about 62 MPs in attendance. CPI(M) — a vocal opponent of the Modi government on Dalit issues — was represented by its lone MP from Tripura in the House. Its arch rival, the Trinamool Congress, did one better — two of its 34 MPs were present. Biju Janata Dal, the fifth-largest party in House had only one MP present — its floor leader Bhartruhari Mahtab.
7. In the Congress bench, chief whip Jyotiraditya Scindia, KV Thomas, KC Venugopal and a few leaders were sitting. But the party’s floor leader Mallikarjun Kharge, himself a Dalit, was absent throughout the debate.
8. Among the prominent Dalit faces of the government, only union minister Ramvilas Paswan sat throughout the debate, along with his son, Chirag.
9. It turns out that many MPs left Delhi to head back to their constituencies on Thursday as the monsoon session concludes on Friday.