Three cheers to Parliament
April 17, 2012
comes up with innovative ideas. ?Prime Point,' set up by a
gentleman known in true Tamil Nadu-style as ?Prime Point
Srinivasan,' has instituted a set of awards for parliamentarians
called Sansad Ratna Awards. ?PP' felicitously chose Ambedkar
Jayanti for the conferment ceremony this year and conferred the
honour on four MPs:
Anand Rao Adsul ? Number 1 in Questions (754). The total tally
of debates, private bills and questions raised ? 784.
Hansraj Gangaram Ahir ? Number 1 in private bills ? 20 in
number. Questions raised ? 755.
S.S. Ramasubbu ? Number 3 at the all-India level with a total
score of 742 questions. Attendance ? 97 per cent.
Arjun Ram Meghwal ? Number 1 in debates with 251 debates to his
credit. Attendance ? 100 per cent.
I was asked to do the honours, I do not know why. I have never
been elected to a legislative body. Nor am I ever likely to be.
But then the ?gracing? of occasions is ever done by those
singularly unqualified for the role. Seated on the dais at the
IIT-Madras auditorium with me was one who was eminently suited
for the event, the veteran Era Sezhiyan. An opposition MP for 22
years, Mr. Sezhiyan has shone as a studious parliamentarian
whose lack of interest in the perks of that position has been
diametrically opposite to his fascination for the
work-opportunities Parliament gives to a serious legislator.
Rajaji once said: ?It is easy to fast sitting at home on Ekadasi
but very difficult to fast sitting in the middle of Modern Caf?
at meal time?. Whether or not the award-winning MPs have been on
a metaphorical fast or working away during ?meal time,? they
have been clearly conscientious legislators.
As I applauded them, I could not but recall to myself Dr. B.R.
Ambedkar's words spoken on November 4, 1948 in the Constituent
Assembly: ?The parliamentary system differs from a
non-parliamentary system inasmuch as the former is more
responsible than the latter but they also differ as to the time
and agency for assessment of their responsibility. Under the
non-parliamentary system, such as the one that exists in the
U.S.A., the assessment of the responsibility of the Executive is
periodic. It takes place once in two years. It is done by the
electorate. In England, where the parliamentary system prevails,
the assessment of responsibility of the Executive is both daily
and periodic. The daily assessment is done by Members of
Parliament, through Questions, Resolutions, No-confidence
motions, Adjournment motions and Debates on Addresses. Periodic
assessment is done by the electorate at the time of the election
which may take place every five years or earlier. The daily
assessment of responsibility which is not available under the
American system is far more effective than the periodic
assessment and far more necessary in a country like India. The
Draft Constitution in recommending the parliamentary system of
Executive has preferred more responsibility to more stability?.
The early days
The early Lok Sabhas
and Rajya Sabhas more than rose to the standards of ?daily
assessment? set by Dr. Ambedkar, especially in MPs' stellar
debating contributions. The lyrically thoughtful Nehru was
matched by the rasping Kripalani. The Houses were well-served by
the laser-eyed Feroze Gandhi, the fiery Bhupesh Gupta, the
impassioned Hiren Mukherjee, the sedate Lakshmi Menon, the
thermal Violet Alva, the acerbic Rammanohar Lohia, the
excoriating Nath Pai, the striking Renu Chakravartty, the
diligent Minoo Masani, the startling C.N. Annadurai, and, of
course, the poetic Atal Bihari Vajpayee.
But even in our ?own' times, the recent debate on the Lokpal
Bill saw some exceptional speeches. Pranab babu , Sushma Swaraj,
Kapil Sibal, Rahul Gandhi and Sandeep Dikshit spoke with
persuasion in the Lok Sabha, as did Arun Jaitley, Sitaram
Yechury, D. Raja, Shobhana Bhartia and Abhishek Singhvi in the
Rajya Sabha. As a citizen, as a voter, I felt proud hearing them
and knew that Dr. Ambedkar would have felt proud hearing them as
well, because they were actuated by a clear sense of
The Lokpal debate brought in many dimensions of the issue, each
critical, each controversial. No one spoke like the other.
Indeed none could have, for each came from different political
addresses. Yet, basically, what they were all saying was: The
world's largest democracy deserves the world's best Parliament.
We may be far from that state yet, but the country should trust
the institution to rise to the occasion whenever necessary.
But so high are those ?occasions,? so tall our expectations, so
pressing our needs for Parliament's attention, that our
disappointment at its failure to meet our aspirations blinds us
to the advantages of ?daily assessment?.
Such an assessment would add up to an impressive tally by any
standards. If untouchability has been abolished in our country,
let us acknowledge the fact that it has so been abolished by the
wisdom of the founding fathers of our Constitution and our
Parliament. If that ugly stain on our society ? dowry ? has been
outlawed in our country, it is by an Act of Parliament.
Likewise, land reforms were brought in by Parliament, police
reforms, prison reforms, labour law reforms, and an enactment,
perhaps the first of its kind in the world, for the prevention
of cruelty to animals.
Gifts to the country
All these are the
gifts of our early Lok Sabhas and Rajya Sabhas to the country.
They also bent to heed popular opinion, most notably, in the
amendment to the States Reorganisation Bill, which had in a
rather wooden manner proposed a composite state of Bombay, to
divide it far more realistically into Maharashtra and Gujarat.
One might say all that ?happened' in the golden days of
And so it did. But then the record has continued. The landmark
reservation of seats for women in our local bodies happened long
after and, in our ?own' times, if domestic violence has been
made a crime in our country, it is by an Act of Parliament; if
the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme is
a fact of life today, giving employment and wages and
nourishment to millions, it is because of Parliament; if the
Right to Information is a household name today, being utilised
across the length and breadth of India, and the Right to
Education Act promises education to all of India's children, it
is because of Parliament. If several States have Lok Ayuktas and
the Centre may ? inshallah ? soon have a Lokpal, it is again
because our legislatures have responded according to their own
lights to public opinion, to public campaigns.
We ought not to take a measure of Parliament's height (and that
of our Legislative Assemblies) on a low tide. Nor put the tape
to where an exceptional high-scaler has reached. We should go by
the mean level of our legislative record.
And yet, there is a
sense of something missing in our parliamentary record,
something that is slipping through the fingers, almost.
?Committee work' in Parliament and in our Assemblies can be
exacting. But then, some seem to work far harder than others.
And on the floor of the House, some attend regularly, others
frequently, yet others fleetingly, and another category, only
And speeches? Some make a tidy number of them. Others opt for
silence. It has been said speech should improve upon silence.
Individual silence cannot improve on ambient silence, except in
a Rishi's hermitage. Walkouts too are optional, as is raising
one's voice beyond the requirements of audition, stepping into
the Well of the House, tearing up documents. Those options are
more visibly exercised.
Individual legislators do shine, sparkle and even stun us by
their good performance. But going by the strict standards of
responsibility that Dr. Ambedkar spoke of, it is Parliament as a
whole and our Legislative Assemblies as a collectivity, that
must be seen to pass the tests ? rigorous, exemplary tests
prescribed by him.
The most important step that needs to be taken in the matter of
improving the ?daily record? of our legislatures is to increase
substantially the ?daily? nature of its business ? in other
words, to have them meet oftener, sit longer, conclude the
listed business. The Ministries in New Delhi bemoan the number
of Bills that are ?languishing? in Parliament. The Lokpal Bill
is only one among many bills, each of great import, that are
just unable to come up for discussion. Surely, this situation
The people of India will not begrudge the happy perquisites of
MP-ship and MLA-ship if they are proportionate to the work put
in, to high attendance, to the number of serious
questions-per-session, and quality debates on bills. The people
of India are generous. But as they also happen to be hugely
intelligent, they want to see a good perk-work balance.
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