Parliament should be home of healthy debate, not disruption: Rajya Sabha deputy chairman
Harivansh, a Janata Dal (United) Rajya Sabha member, was elected deputy chairman of the Upper House on Friday. A former journalist, Harivansh spoke to Kumar Uttam and Prashant Jha about his elevation, the role of Rajya Sabha, and his priorities. Excerpts:
When you were approached to be the candidate of the National Democratic Alliance, what was your first response?
It was entirely unexpected. I am someone who takes up any responsibility with a degree of seriousness. I was in several committees. I tried to ensure that I went into any committee with adequate preparation. I noticed that a lot of work that should happen in Parliament does not happen, but that work does get done in the committees to some extent. But I had a particular vision of Parliament before I came in. This is a site where stalwarts and the best debaters of their times – Bhupesh Gupta, Chandrashekhar, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Prakash Vir Shastri, Nath (Bapu) Pai – discussed key national issues. There was a certain tradition in the house – when someone got up to speak, no one shouted. We have a strong memory of the idealism that drove politics from Gandhi till the time of Jayaprakash Narayan (JP).
But after coming to the House, I saw that this Parliament has travelled a long distance since then. I was often disappointed. In 2016, I wrote a piece lamenting what had happened. I felt that if we do not make it fruitful, fulfil the purpose for which the Upper Chamber was constituted, people will begin to ask about the rationale of Parliament. I tried to ensure I met my responsibilities seriously. I asked over 500 questions and participated in all debates whenever my party gave me an opportunity. I tried to speak about problems and solutions, and conduct myself in keeping with the traditions of the House. You would not have seen me in the Well, make any noise, disrupt proceedings.
When this proposal came my way, I was first apprehensive about whether I would be able to meet this responsibility in today’s environment. It is also true that my political experience is of only four years, though my experience of observing politics closely as a journalist is for over four decades. And I have been attracted to politics since my times as a student. I have been attracted to the ideological worldview of JP ji, (Ram Manohar) Lohia ji, Chandrashekhar, and later Nitish Kumar ji and have had relations with them. So the offer did seem like a challenge. But I thought that seniors in Parliament will guide me, and like I have worked seriously as an MP, I will try to work with commitment in this position.
There is a view that disruptions are a legitimate parliamentary tactic.
I have a different view on this. After becoming an MP, I travelled to a college in Arra (in Bihar). A student asked me, ‘we adopted the Westminster model, practiced in UK, US or Autralia. You will not see a single such instance there. We have an unprecedented situation in Parliament today. India has a rich tradition of debate and you will find it in Jain texts, Mahabharata, Nyay Sutra and other such texts. Frankly speaking, people’s faith in politics and leaders has declined. We have to restore that faith. I believe finally it is politics that changes society and country. We do not discuss issues related to farmers, construction labourers, hawkers, tribals and others. Why not raise issues related to the last man about whom Gandhi spoke? There will be differences of opinion. But there will be a point where we will have to find out a way.
Some leaders argue that the Rajya Sabha should not act as roadblock to a House elected by the people.
Dr (Sarvepalli) Radhakrishnan (the second president of India) said a second chamber is needed. It is believed (that) if Lok Sabha takes decisions under public pressure, then the Upper House, where there are people with creative thinking, would think over it cooly and correct the hasty decision. (MA) Ayyangar (former Lok Sabha speaker) defined it further, saying we should not be a clog. We feel it (Rajya Sabha) is necessary. I have seen brilliant discussion in the House.
Do you think federalism has got strengthened or weakened in recent times?
It is expected from us to raise issues related to states. But we mostly raise issues related to fights these days. There is little debate on how to strengthen the relationship. Regional disparity has increased for historical reasons. There is need for serious debate. This country can progress only when states are empowered. Only an empowered Centre is not sufficient.
Should political parties be more cautious in choosing their members in the Rajya Sabha?
The kind of selection started after 1980s was not there earlier. The challenge before us is to increase the level of debates in the context of development happenings around us, and find a solution to the problems faced by the country. There is debate over jobs – some say promise has not been fulfilled, the other side gives figure. There is debate over artificial intelligence and how it can create job losses. You cannot stop technology. Earlier, ideologies used to change the world, now it is technology. We will soon overtake China in terms of population. No country has been able to find a job model for such a big population; a growth model that can absorb all. Shouldn’t we discuss these issues? Did we discuss it ever? Was there any debate on global warming issues, on missing rivers and drinking water problems?
Do you think there is a rise in communalism and there should be debate on this too?
Anger has increased across all sections. Limited employment opportunity is the main reason. TV has brought a huge change. Advertisement teaches us how materialistic life is good. And when people do not get means to achieve (it), it leads to deep frustration. Today tribals are agitated. The poor are agitated.Young people in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Tamil Nadu are agitated. It is because of the mad race that we have got into. Everyone wants a good life. World is moving towards consumerism. Economist JK Galbraith was the first to warn us about the challenge. We have to address these issues.
Do you see any contradiction in getting elected to the chair with BJP’s support considering that you come from a socialist background and have been critical of the party in the past?
There was a purpose behind forming the NDA. Because of the chair that I occupy now, I do not want to comment on the situation leading to it. But, at least we see a serious effort to address the issues confronting the nation. I think the best we can contribute towards it, we should.
Do you see any challenge for the socialist parties?
Ideologically, you will not find sharper politicians than socialists. I am reading a book by James Crabtree called The Billionaire Raj (on inequality). Socialist thought is most relevant today. The era of politics of ideology is going to return. Without ideology, the economic disparity in the society cannot be addressed.
Critics believe Indian democracy has weakened and its institutions have been attacked...
Not at all. We have seen Emergency. We felt democracy will not return if elections are held. It was only because of this that people in power during that time called elections. Our people are very mature. When they are awake, democracy cannot get weakened. I feel technology - there are some side effects of social media too - also has a positive impact. They keep an eye on everything.
As deputy chairman, what is your expectation from the Centre?
The chairman (M Venkaiah Naidu) gave a slogan - responsive government, responsible opposition. I want the same. PM (Narendra) Modi also told MPs to put so much pressure on the ministers that works, issues that skip their sight are done. House is for this.
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