Parliament reflects the erosion of societal values
The composition of the House is very different from the early decades. Earlier, for years, the Parliament as a representative institution of the people, did not represent the grassroots of society. It is only now that you have representatives from the illiterate poor and from the farming classes. says Subhash C Kashyap.india Updated: Aug 13, 2002 14:22 IST
By Subhas Kashyap
Even before the emergence of coalition politics, there have been fundamental changes in the way the Parliament has been functioning in recent years. Even the way in which the members perceive their role has changed. The composition is very different from the early decades. Earlier, for years, the Parliament as a representative institution of the people, did not represent the grassroots of society.
It is only now that you have representatives from the illiterate poor, from the farmer class, candidates with weaknesses and corruption inbuilt into their lives. In that sense, Parliament is today far more representative of society…it is almost like a microcosm.
The first few terms were more about "elitist" politics and the single largest group was made up of barristers. In the last few Lok Sabhas, the largest group has been "farmers" and then of course the entirely new class of "political and social workers". This category represents professional politicians, who have taken up politics in the last few decades as a get-rich-quick formula for gaining power and influence.
Naturally, the very nature of Indian politics has changed. Instead of being an instrument of service and selfless sacrifice, it is now perceived as the profession that guarantees the best of comforts and instant elevation to a "new privileged class" of society.
Ironically, the literacy figures of the present Lok Sabha are heartening. While about 10 per cent of the members of the first Lok Sabha were non-matriculates, about 5 per cent of the members fall in that category in the present Lok Sabha.
Also, in those days, the focus of debate in the House used to be international policy. More so in Nehru’s time. Then, the focus shifted to national issues, when Lal Bahadur Shastri was the Prime Minister and now finally, the transition to regional issues is complete.
Also take note of the fact that interest of the House in legislation has waned. In the first Lok Sabha, the time devoted to legislation was 48 per cent, whereas the time taken now is 12 per cent. Attendance during legislation is also very poor these days.
To sum up, I would say that the rot in the Lok Sabha started from the 9th House onwards. This can also be linked to overall change in the character of society and the general decline of values in public life.
I think the saddest thing in recent years is that the members of Parliament have suffered a sense of loss and self-esteem…and as supreme representatives of the people, they should try and see that respect is restored to the institution to which they belong. I feel sad and concerned and I wish that the members would do something about it without any delay.
(Dr Subhash Kashyap is a former Secretary-General of the Lok Sabha and has penned both erudite and entertaining books on Parliament. This article is based on an interview with Nandini Guha)