Price of noisy sessions
Expectedly, the monsoon session of Parliament has brought up the same old question – why our lawmakers indulge in noisy slogan-shouting and why...
Expectedly, the monsoon session of Parliament has brought up the same old question – why our lawmakers indulge in noisy slogan-shouting and why the presiding officers take recourse to quick adjournments. As things stand, the question may haunt us in the years to come even if our electorate decides to end its fascination with split verdicts and allow the country to return to single-party rule.
The lament that the standard of parliamentary debates has fallen is neither here nor there. Nor is the criticism that political parties, with an eye on winnability factor, have sent noise-makers to Parliament. Sociologists, psychologists, and political scientists should put on their thinking cap and offer a workable way out. Political reporters are not qualified to pass value judgment on the working of our lawmakers.
One thing I can say for certainty with my nearly four decades of exposure to Parliament and three State Assemblies is when you meet these so-called unruly members outside the chambers of the Lok Sabha or the Rajya Sabha, you are bound to revise the impressions you have collected from the press gallery or TV grabs. They are not ill-mannered or ill-tempered. Each one of them is conscious of the fact that they represent a lakh-plus people. And they know the art of putting across their views forcefully and coherently. So what makes them act in the manner they do often on the floor of Parliament, which as Muppavarapu Venkaiah Naidu, a BJP stalwart once said, is a talking shop. Yes, it is a put-on act because they become their normal selves the moment they return to their seats after a shouting bout near the Speaker’s podium.
Take the first week of the monsoon session. It began with protests by Telugu biddas. As the week progressed the ambush on LoC made the BJP draw blood while Defence Minister A K Antony’s flip-flops made his detractors in the Congress and on various high grounds nearby sport a smile. In between these two extremes, we had the Samajwadi Party with its frayed tempers. And Meira Kumar, the Speaker in the Lok Sabha, and Hamid Ansari, the Chairman in the Rajya Sabha, took recourse to adjournments as often as they felt such a need.
Adjournment at the slightest possibility of trouble is a recent phenomenon. It all started when Balyogi was the Speaker. It became a pronounced trait under Somnath Chatterjee, who, like Shivraj Patil, one of his immediate predecessors, used to admonish the so-called unruly members, and try his best to make them return to their seats before grudgingly allowing them to take the floor.
This is in contrast to the technique adopted by the likes of Rabi Ray, the socialist, who presided over the Lok Sabha during the tumultuous National Front days, and Balram Jakhar, the Congressman, whose stewardship saw the Opposition fire the Bofors guns at the Treasury benches. What Rays and Jakhars did was what their peers did and it was to allow the members to speak.
Jakhar, for instance, rarely obstructed even when the entire Opposition front bench was up on its feet talking animatedly. Jaswant Singh, a BJP senior, and Yerran Naidu, the tall TDP leader, when in the presiding officer’s chair, used to nudge the angry members to take the floor. This quick recap is not to say that the present presiding officers are less tolerant than their predecessors or to criticise that they are not allowing the members to speak. It is only to point out that adjournment just because some members have trooped into the well is not the way out. The so-called angry members are prone to repeat their angry act when the House is reconvened after a short break.
This is what we have been witnessing these days not only in Parliament but also in most Assemblies. One way out, as some constitutional experts and scholars in Parliamentary procedures say, is to name the unruly members, send them out or even suspend them, as provided for under the rules. Speaker Meira Kumar has frankly rejected the advice. And she has rightly ruled out recourse to such action. She has cut her parliamentary teeth in the school nurtured by her father, Babu Jagjivan Ram, one of the most outstanding parliamentarians of all times.
Both now and in the past, the morning headlines set the stage for the sitting of Parliament or a State Assembly on any given day. By instinct, the Opposition loves to score, and, if possible, make the government bleed. This is a hazard the government must learn to face squarely.
Since the successors to Babuji are the likes of Rajiv Shuklas, the treasury benches are ill-equipped to face Swarajs and Jaitleys when they demand the Defence Minister’s response to the LoC ambush. And the standard reply that the Defence Minister would come and make a statement buys them no peace. The same is true in respect of screaming by MPs from Seemandhra. Instead of allowing them to shout on a vitamin tablet they could have been allowed to speak their mind.
It is necessary to appreciate that the lawmakers are politicians first and foremost. They have constituencies to nurse to remain in public life even if victory at the hustings is decided by ‘hawa’. Not all ordinary MPs have the luxury of changing constituencies in every election. What they want is an opportunity to air the concern of their electors. What is wrong?
There were umpteen occasions in the past when both Houses allowed impromptu discussions to let the members to let off steam. Such discussions became possible because the treasury benches did not stand in the way of the chair. Also because they had enough members who could puncture the Opposition balloon with effortless ease. Never in the past did some members of a ruling party troop into the well as the Seemandhra Congress leaders did, and their high command treated the act with understanding and sympathy. Result? Noise replaced healthy debate. A heavy price it is to size zero politics.
When you meet these so-called unruly members outside the chambers of the Lok Sabha or the Rajya Sabha, you are bound to revise the impressions you have collected from the press gallery or TV grabs
Malladi Rama Rao
(The writer, a Delhi-based journalist, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)