The tale of two houses

As I see our Parliament conduct business, I feel our system is about to collapse, writes Khushwant Singh.

india Updated: Aug 19, 2006 10:34 IST

The more I see the way our two Houses of Parliament conduct their ‘business’, the more I feel that our Parliamentary system of governance is on the verge of collapsing.

Most of my friends agree with me. The recent monsoon session clearly showed that it has been a dismal failure. It was one adjournment after another on issues of trivial importance. Several mornings just about all the members on their feet shouting at each other.

You could not make out what they were saying. Some are known shouters. A Sardarji who has a impressive personage used to be the loudest shouter when he was with the Congress Party. He is today the champion of shouters for the BJP. In all the years he has been an MP, I haven’t heard him make a single coherent speech. There are quite a few others like him.

The Opposition has to answer a few awkward questions. With the total bankruptcy of positive ideas to pillory the government, it has taken up issues of marginal interest to the people. Was there a mole in an earlier Congress-led government? How did the Pathak report get leaked to the media? There were reasons for concern but these scarcely needed to bring proceedings of the House to a standstill. Worst of all, Advani’s bad mouthing the Prime Minister and Vajpayee’s casting aspersions on the fair-mindedness of the Speaker were in bad taste. I often watch proceedings of both Houses and can vouch for the impartiality of both Bhairon Singh Shekhawat and Somnath Chatterjee. The latter has to often act like a schoolmaster. What choice does he have when he has to deal with a class of many hundred who behave like unruly children!

Would a presidential form of Government suit us better? I am in two minds about it. But if the one we have fails to function, we will be left with no other choice.


The first time I met Nandini Satpathy was at a dinner given in her honour by Dr Bannerjee in Bombay. It was more than 30 years ago. She was a minister in Mrs Gandhi’s cabinet. Though the liquor flowed, she did not take a drop; while everyone was trying to impress her, she hardly said a word. She sat quietly, shyly looking at the floor. She ate little and left soon.

Some weeks later the Blitz published excerpts from her son Tathagata’s diary recording his impressions of her behaviour and of the dinner party at Dr Bannerjee’s. He had many nasty things to say about her. But he was not present in the party.

I promptly wrote to the Blitz contradicting whatever it had published. My letter was published as a boxed item. Nandini called me on the phone to thank me and accepted my invitation to come home for dinner. I could not understand what made her favourite son, later editor of Dharitri and now an MP, to write such about his mother.

We welcomed Nandini in our home. I offered her a Scotch expecting her to say no. But she took one, then another and a third. She would not eat anything. My wife refused to give her another drink and gently helped her go back into her car. I realised Nandini had a serious drink problem. We became friends and whenever she was in Delhi she made it a point to spend some evenings with us.

She invited me to Bhubaneswar and took me round to important places in Orissa. I sensed her immense popularity in the state. Men and women rushed to touch her feet. She had been the CM of Orissa twice. She not only won her elections hands down but also helped her husband and later her son win theirs. Like her father Panigrahi, she wanted to make her mark as a poet and short storywriter. She sent me some of her work. I was not impressed. I asked her about her drink problem. Part of it was caused by her husband’s violent reaction to her drinking openly and enjoying it. So she got into the habit of gulping down gin, that looks like water, that she kept hidden in her bathroom. We had many long sessions chatting and enjoying our drinks in a relaxed atmosphere. I became very fond of her.

Then Nandini stopped coming to Delhi or writing to me. I could sense she was in poor health. She brought it on herself. When I read of her death on August 4, at the age of 75, something inside me snapped.

Singh’s secrets

Secrets lie buried in human hearts,
They can’t remain forever in a cage
Every secret has a limited life
It bursts on attaining a certain age.
After several years VP Singh has revealed
(Though he is now out of office and down)
“Zail Singh proposed to make me Prime Minister
But I politely refused to wear the crown.”
“There was an American mole in Rao’s regime,”
Says Jaswant Singh, our ex Foreign Minister,
Though he has not divulged his name
His intention does not seem to be sinister.
Two Singhs have already disclosed their secrets
Guess, what has Manmohan Singh in his pack?
“Sonia Gandhi always supports and stands by me
It is my colleagues who stab me in the back.”

(GC Bhandari, Meerut)

Laluji’s menu

Lalu Yadav was travelling by air to London. Came lunchtime and an airhostess asked: “Sir, are you vegetarian or non-vegetarian? “Neither,” replied Laluji, “I am Indian.”

The airhostess put the same question in Hindi: “Sir, are you shakahari or masahari?” “Neither,” replied Laluji, “I am 100 per cent Bihari.”

(HC Singh, New Delhi)

First Published: Aug 19, 2006 03:45 IST