Abysmal!

A singular preoccupation of newspaper and magazine editors, columnists, TV anchors, political commentators this week has been and will be ‘Modi ka saal girah’. With each fighting to provide an ‘in-depth analysis’, we are flooded with wave after wave of opinions. But we are not a monarchy, a dictatorship, a corporate firm or a religious order where one all-pervading, larger-than-life figure controls everything. So, why this fever?

This obsession with one person is not new, though. At one time ‘Indira was India and India was Indira.’ An audit of the PM’s first year is a natural consequence of electing a Modi sarkar. But may be it is time we scrutinised not just the PM but all those who were elected, as he was, to the 16th Lok Sabha and are seated in that iconic semi-circular space.

The 16th Lok Sabha has the largest number of women MPs — 62 out of 543 — that any Lok Sabha has had. This in itself is a good thing, though it does not call for any celebration. But has this changed the mindset of the men in the House? The bill that seeks 33 per cent reservation for women is still ‘unpassable’ and the coming together of women across party lines has not made a difference. In the 15th Lok Sabha, we were witness to some wonderful discussions on the Lokpal bill, but the bill has become just another stacked file. These two proposed legislations are only examples for many other Bills that remain in the back rooms of ministries and the Parliament itself.

Beyond the bills, the conduct of parliamentarians within and beyond the precincts of that hallowed space has, by and large, been abysmal. In Delhi’s corridors of power, Smriti Irani, Minister for Human Resources, was treated with disdain because she was not a graduate. I wonder if the same treatment would have been meted out if she had been an ‘elderly’ lady or a ‘man.’ But she herself was far from being a dignified MP, let alone a minister. The way she spoke on the floor of the House to fellow-MP Sugata Bose did no credit to propriety.

But this is not about one Minister or one MP alone. We saw and heard JDU’s senior Member of Parliament Sharad Yadav’s incredibly offensive comment on the skin-tones of ‘South Indian women’. BJP members such as Sakshi Maharaj and Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti were unabashedly anti-minority. This has also been a year where ghar wapsi, a ban on beef, vandalisation of churches, the demand for compulsory Sanskrit have been let loose into our collective.

Labelled pseudo-secularists like me have demanded that the Prime Minister make a statement on these ghastly ideas and, no doubt, he should. But what about the Lok Sabha itself? Some individual MPs may have spoken on some of these issues but is there a sense of the 16th Lok Sabha as such having taken a stand or having spoken up on these issues?

When someone feels affronted, an apology is tendered and everything is forgotten and forgiven. Parliamentarians are seen laughing and making up. But a derogatory or inflammatory statement by an elected representative is not a personal matter; it is an act in the public domain. It does not matter which party they belong to or which constituency they represent; such statements do and should wound us.

Here is a fact to ponder. About one-third of all the Lok Sabha MPs have at least one pending criminal case against them; with some being serious criminal cases. For the record, I want it to be known that MPs from the BJP, the Congress, the TMC, DMK, AIADMK and Shiv Sena have criminal cases filed against them. I know that ‘crimes’ are often committed without the intention to commit them. They just ‘happen’. May it be that all our MPs facing criminal cases are finally found to have had no criminal intent! But there is one act that I cannot call a crime since the IPC does not list it and which MPs commit constantly. And that is obstructing the House, interrupting an MP who is speaking, making the Lok Sabha adjourn. (This happens in the Rajya Sabha as well). MPs are paid what amounts to a salary. They are not in the Lok Sabha for free.

And then we had the case of the ‘perennial prince’ who vanished! Rahul Gandhi has the right to take a break, meditate, rest and remain in solitude. But doing it at a time when Parliament was in session was an act of callousness towards that institution by one of its most ‘visible’ members.

There is one thing for which opposition MPs deserve credit. And that is the way they stalled the anti-poor amendments to the Land Acquisition Act. Beyond that, they and members from the ruling combination were on a par. I leave it to the reader to choose the appropriate adjective for that ‘on a par’.

Originally written for The Hindu

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