Parliament must discuss people’s concerns
The country expected much better from its elected representatives. Many questions related to the pandemic still need to be raised and answered in Parliament
“First of all, an apology to those who died in the second wave, but whose deaths were not even being acknowledged... It’s a personal pain, I don’t want to talk about numbers…There is not a single person in the House, or the other House, or outside it who can say they have not lost someone known to them...People think he is an MP (Member of Parliament), he will arrange oxygen... The people that have gone have left behind a living document of our failure. This apology is not just from me… it’s a collective failure of the governments from 1947 till now.”
When Manoj Jha of the Rashtriya Janata Dal spoke in the Rajya Sabha recently, it was as though someone gave voice in the country’s largest panchayat to the collective suffering of 1.39 billion Indians. At the same time, people had hoped that more MPs from both Houses would speak of this issue with empathy and sincerity. But so far, this has not been the case.
Many ministers and MPs do not lack eloquence. But they often prefer to toe the party line. That is why on July 20, when the minister of state for health and family welfare, Bharti Praveen Pawar, said that state governments and the Union Territories have not reported any deaths due to the lack of oxygen, I was not surprised.
The minister was not technically wrong. In their affidavits, many chief ministers (CMs) had stated that no one died due to a lack of oxygen. Some of these CMs had also been vocal about the lack of oxygen earlier. None of this detracts from the colossal failure of the State and system. Those who died and those who went bankrupt while undergoing treatment were all voters in the states and Centre, and were confident that their elected leaders would come to their aid in a crisis. This did not happen.
Barring a few exceptions, leaders shut themselves away in their palatial homes. Parliament lost many members, yet the august Houses did not dwell much on this. I would like to humbly submit that the country expected much better from its elected representatives.
Many questions related to the pandemic need to be raised and answered in Parliament. But, so far, the monsoon session has been marked by the ruckus over the Pegasus spyware scandal. Congress leader Rahul Gandhi has been tweeting and making allegations about how parliamentarians should be the voice of the people and should discuss issues of national importance. He has asked the Narendra Modi government not to waste Parliament’s time and let inflation, the farmers’ protest as well as the Pegasus spyware issue be discussed.
Parliamentary affairs minister Pralhad Joshi replied saying, “A non-issue is unnecessarily being made an issue. Can thousands of people across the world be spied upon? What Rahul Gandhi says, he doesn’t understand. That is his basic problem. He speaks most immaturely.”
Should this war on Twitter be a priority at the moment? MPs of all parties could have framed their agendas in advance. In 1987, when the Bofors issue emerged, Parliament was paralysed for 45 days and in 2001, it was suspended for 17 days after the Tehelka revelations. The 15th Lok Sabha (2009-2014) broke the record. About 39% of the time in the Lok Sabha and 34% in the Rajya Sabha were lost over the 2-G and coal mine allocation issues.
In September 2012, the then leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha, Sushma Swaraj, had said that Parliament had to be disrupted to expose the government and its corruption. Ensuring the functioning of Parliament is the responsibility of the government, not the Opposition. And so, now, defence minister Rajnath Singh is slated to talk to the Opposition to end this deadlock.
What finally happened to the 2G issue? A special court acquitted all the accused. So, how is it justified to obstruct the proceedings of Parliament on issues that are to be decided by the courts? The work of Parliament should be consistent and meaningful. A day’s proceedings in both Houses cost ₹10.5 crore which comes from the people.
Those who are paying for these parliamentary sessions are the same people whose relatives have died during the pandemic due to a lack of timely medical help or oxygen. The same people are suffering from the fallout of a pandemic-hit economy. Their lives are full of trouble and pain. How and when they will emerge from all this is difficult to predict. But the largest panchayat in the country can boost their morale by discussing their issues with concern and offering them some succour in their time of need.
Shashi Shekhar is editor-in-chief, Hindustan
The views expressed are personal