PC wants Parliaments to Emulate House of Common

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The Economic Times, July 30, 2011

The recent debate in the House of commons, in the course of which David Cameron, the British Prime Minister, fielded questions on the News of the World affair should be an emulated by our parliamentarians, says Home minister P Chidambaram. “I wish we could emulate that example and that style of debate,” the 65-year-old MP from Tamil Nadu said.

Chidambaram, who heads a group of ministers tasked with presenting the state version of events to the media, said that the government is obliged to answer all criticism with facts and figurers. But the opposition should conduct itself within the rules and conventions of parliamentary democracy, he said, presumably referring to the practice, common in India, of disrupting parliament proceedings.

He said it was natural for the opposition parties to use the media, particularly at a time when round the clock media coverage magnifies issues making them appear larger and more alarming than reality. “It is the right of opposition parties to oppose the government but it should be done in a restrained language,” Chidambaram said in an e-mail interview with ET.

There is uncertainty in the business world, but it would pass, he said referring to how the government had tackled the securities scam of 1992 soon after the first set of reforms in 1991.

The group of ministers on media was appointed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in May to put forth the government’s point of view and tackle the perceived damage to its image post the fast undertaken by Anna Hazare in April this year. Hazare, a well-known civil activist, had gone on an indefinite fast in the capital to push for action on the Lokpal bill.

Senior cabinet ministers, including law minister Salman Khurshid, telecom and HRD minister Kapil Sibal, information and broadcasting minister Ambika Soni, and health minister Ghulam Nabi Azad, are part of this seven-member committee.

The ministerial panel has been meeting regularly over the last few months to plot the government’s response to developments and issues that have made headlines. The government’s communication has improved, the minister said, citing the Lokpal Bill and the increase in prices of petroleum products as some of the instances where the government was able to explain the rationale behind the decisions.

June saw several instances of back to back press conferences on a single day by the civil society representatives led by Anna Hazare and Arvind Kejriwal followed by briefings by cabinet ministers like Kapil Sibal or Salman Khurshid on the nuances of the deliberations at the drafting committee of the Lokpal Bill.

But isn’t the government in a reactive mood, appearing to be fire fighting on almost every key issue. “When a fire is lit, the fire has to be fought,” the minister said explaining that it was obvious that in some cases, the government would appear to be fire fighting. The government’s rebuttal, after the former communication minister A Raja claimed that the PM and Chidambaram had known and approved of his decisions, was one instance where the government managed to effectively douse the fire by the evening through some deft talking, he said.

Raja, former communications minister, is facing trial for allegedly orchestrating the so-called 2G scam.

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