Parliamentary debate has become something of an oxymoron judging by the manner in which our elected representatives have been conducting themselves. This doesn’t mean that they are averse to heated debate and discussion. It is just that they prefer to do this in any forum other than the one to which they were elected by the people to raise concerns of public interest. So you find our netas, all spiffily dressed, in TV studios, in the columns of newspapers, at seminars and, of course, on public platforms in congenial climes abroad. If and when they deign to set foot in Parliament, invariably a ruckus ensues and most of us lose track of the issue at hand. They will shout, they will hector, they will rush to the Well of the House and they will derail any debate howsoever vital.
This is what has led an exasperated Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee to refer the names of 32 MPs to the Privileges Committee for disorderly conduct in this session of Parliament. Unfortunately, since the majority is from the opposition NDA, there are bound to be charges of partisanship. True, the brouhaha began over the price rise issue and that of preferential treatment of Union minister TR Baalu with regard to gas allocations. These are indeed serious issues that require debate and discussion. But did we see any of that? No, all we saw was the unseemly spectacle of our MPs wasting our time and money trying to be one up on the other in lung power. It seems to matter little to them that for every minute stalled, Rs 20,000 of the taxpayers’ money goes down the drain. From Rs 100 a minute to run Parliament in 1951, the cost today is Rs 26,000. We elect people to represent us. But while they used to attend Parliament at least for half a year earlier, today they barely make it for a 100 days a year. As retired Supreme Court judge VR Krishna Iyer said, “Politicians are not worried because they live by exploiting the taxpayer’s money in India”. Mr Chatterjee’s censure is not likely to bear any positive results. Rather it will become a war of political one-upmanship.
As this session draws to an end, is there any debate or discussion that impacted the lives of people? Was any legislation that could have improved people’s rights or quality of life deliberated upon? Well, if there was, it was a well-kept secret. The Speaker may generate a lot of bad blood with his move to censure errant MPs. But the public is likely to be with him. Our netas have taken public silence and accommodation as licence to misbehave. Public censure will make at least some of them mend their ways. But what is needed isn’t a rap on the knuckles once in a while. A mechanism that monitors parliamentary performance and conduct on a routine basis needs to be put in place. Like in any other corporate, the bottomline should be that you either shape up or ship out. If it works for India Inc, it should for those who make its rules.