Members of Parliament bound by the party?s whip and ideological line may not appear to be more than a mass of ?ayes? and ?noes? when asked to make their presence felt in the House, but there are ways in which at least some MPs are espousing causes close to their heart.
The Biju Janata Dal?s chief whip in the Lok Sabha, Tathagata Satpathy, shook awake a rather somnolent Lok Sabha in the recent monsoon session by advocating legalisation of cannabis. This startling advocacy was certainly not the official position of his party.
?I feel in these socially conservative times, somebody is needed to bell the cat,? Mr. Satpathy told The Hindu. ?Cannabis is a drug that has been given a bad name, the alcohol lobby, peddling something far more dangerous, has managed to club cannabis with more dangerous narcotics,? he said.
?Not only legalisation of cannabis, I?m in favour of decriminalising Section 377 [criminalises gay sex] of the Indian Penal Code, and against the ban on pornography,? Mr. Satpathy said, adding that he was making common cause with young people, and that as representatives of a very young population ?we cannot be mundane and outdated?. He said his party has allowed him the freedom to raise issues which he considers important.
Another MP with a cause, BJP?s Rajya Sabha member Tarun Vijay fell foul not of his party high command, but ?north Indian? colleagues over his championing of the Tamil language and poet Thiruvalluvar. Mr. Vijay, who is in the process of getting a statue of Thiruvalluvar installed in Haridwar on the banks of the Ganga, said his unlikely championing of this cause had very mundane beginnings.
?It was during the UPSC agitation, when examination papers were being demanded in Hindi that I realised that north Indians had a disproportionate sense of language chauvinism,? said Mr. Vijay, who hails from Uttarakhand. How many of the MPs finding common cause with agitating students sent their own children to Hindi medium schools, read Hindi literature or even newspapers, he asked. ?You are not preserving Hindi in your States and you want Tamilians to learn Hindi?? Mr. Vijay asked. Since then he has been quite a champion of the Tamil language, leaving his colleagues wondering as to just what he would gain from this.
Another MP facing the same question is Shobha Karandlaje of the BJP who is a co-sponsor of a private member?s Bill in the Lok Sabha on transgender rights, which has already been cleared in the Rajya Sabha. That Bill, the first private member?s Bill to be passed in any House of Parliament in 40 years, was steered by Tiruchi N. Siva of the DMK. ?Even as Minister in the Karnataka government I initiated several measures for providing identity papers, ration cards, and pension for transgenders, therefore when this Bill was cleared in the Rajya Sabha, it was important to sponsor it,? she said. One of her co-sponsors is Baijayant ?Jay? Panda of the BJD.
Parliament provides time each week for members to move Bills which they sponsor privately away from party lines. Most don?t clear any legislative stage and are largely unreported in the media. The 16th Lok Sabha may yet see that changing.