If you have woken up today with a hangover from an overdose of politics, I don’t blame you. Images of the impassioned speeches in Parliament, magnified by 24/7 television still linger even though, hopefully, a more quiet New Year is underway.
I was struck by the number of times the term ‘august House’ came up during the lokpal debate in the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha. A description clearly lost on many, especially the smaller parties who have escaped scrutiny so far, thanks to the towering performances of the lead players from the bigger parties.
Even though implacably opposed to each other on many issues, the two main parties, the Congress that piloted the Bill, and the Opposition BJP, had clearly done their homework. But the smaller parties appeared to have come along for the free ride, if not to freeload. Let me point out the performance of our political uber wit, Lalu Prasad of the RJD. For years, people have been subjected to his particular brand of humour. Yes, long ago and far away, this was a novelty, something many were unused to in the stiff and starchy confines of Parliament. The same humour was trotted out during the lokpal debate, which, in case it has been lost on anyone, was one on which the government and Opposition had both literally staked their reputations.
One of Lalu’s so-called witticisms included asking the prime minister to take on the job of the lokpal and have someone else take his place. Another was that with the lokpal in place, the CBI will have nine husbands, unlike Draupadi who only had five. Obviously, this was meant to be earthy humour and it did raise a few titters in the House. But this is wearing thin. Such wit hardly carries any resonance with most people today. And what was Lalu’s concrete contribution to the debate? I’m really not sure at all.
Our parliamentarians have vast resources at their disposal. This allows them access to information on all subjects that come up for debate in Parliament. That the lokpal would be fought to the bitter end — as it was — did not catch anyone by surprise. Samajwadi Party strongman Mulayam Singh Yadav underwhelmed us with observations that the Bill was a sarkari one, that it would not end corruption, and so on. The JD(U)’s Sharad Yadav did little beyond emphasising that the Bill would hamper the federal structure of the polity.
These are merely general political points. As was the BSP’s SC Mishra’s allegation that the CBI would be misused by the government. “You are not emperor Akbar,” he said. The TDP did little beyond accusing the government of orphaning the Bill.
These may all be very valid points. But these are observations that could have been made by anyone. Hardly any of them seemed to have studied the Bill and did not refer to any specific provisions that could be amended or reworked. Surely, that’s the job of those in Parliament. Meandering speeches and stand-up comedy do not make up for substance.
The smaller parties must realise that they are part of the democratic process and have to earn their right to be considered part of the highest law-making body in the land. All of them were vociferous in reiterating that the buck stops with them as they have been elected to legislate laws. No arguments with that. Why then did the smaller parties not come up with constructive suggestions in the debate instead of confining themselves to B-grade Bollywood-style drama?
Many of them pulled out the hoary old chestnut of reservations in the lokpal. The BSP direly warned the government not to forget the minorities. Quite obviously, this is simply part and parcel of their votebank baggage. Yes, their numbers count when voting takes place. But their views should also count for something. To many, the numbers are merely a weapon with which to bludgeon bigger parties during voting. Parliamentary etiquette, too, seems to be an alien concept with many smaller parties. They seem to think that walk-outs, ramblings and self-indulgent speeches qualify them for this high office.
Today, people are looking to Parliament for accountability. Coalition politics may mean that formations are led by the bigger partner. But this does not give the other constituents the right to be sleeping partners and yet demand their pound of flesh.
I have some advice for smaller parties this New Year: Parliament is not a comedy club or just a parking slot. You need to stand up and be counted. So MPs better pull up their socks and get down to real business. No matter which party they may belong to.
Here’s wishing all our readers a happy and productive new year.