Parliament Freezes

Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde Syndrome

By Sabina Inderjit

Winter session of Parliament being a washout was a foregone conclusion. The Opposition changing its stance on discussion over demonetisation in both the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha too didn’t come as a surprise. There simply wasn’t a cohesive strategy. Their belligerence rubbing off on the Treasury benches at the fag end of the session raised eyebrows, and worsened the deadlock. Exasperated Chairman and the Speaker’s pleas were drowned in the full-throated sloganeering and adjournments became the order of the day, every day. Is it worth even asking leaders of parties and their members to introspect?
Rajya Sabha Chairman Ansari’s valedictory address is worth more than a thought. He stated, and I quote: “I had fervently hoped that I would not have to repeat what I said at the conclusion of 221st Session in December 2010. My hope stands belied. Regular and continuous disruptions characterised the session. The symbolism of dignified protest, so essential for orderly conduct of parliamentary proceedings, was abandoned. This deprived Members of the opportunity to seek accountability of the Executive through Questions and discussions on matters of public interest.
The prohibition in the Rules about shouting slogans, displaying posters and obstructing proceedings by leaving their assigned places, was consistently ignored by all sections of the House. Peace prevailed only when obituaries were read. All sections of the House need to introspect on the distinction between dissent, disruption and agitation.”
In the Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan had this to say: “I hope this coming year brings new hope and new energy in our lives and we reflect with resolve that in the New Year we will take conscious decision while using all Parliamentary instruments to forcefully register our dissent and disagreement, if any, and will attempt to ensure less disruptions.”
The anguish is understandable as figures of the number of hours lost in disruption in both Houses is appalling, to say the least. Rajya Sabha lost 86 hours (it sat for 22 hours), whereas the Lok Sabha lost 91 hours and 59 minutes and sat only for 19 hours and 26 minutes. Is it right for the members to claim their attending fees of Rs 2000? Can rules be changed that this amount be given only if the Houses run smoothly for at least half the day? They earn and the taxpayer feels the pinch.
The other question to be asked is why did the Opposition say one thing at the start and changed later? It started the discussion on notebandi on the first day, suspending the business in the Rajya Sabha. 14 members belonging to various parties took part in the discussion, which lasted for over six hours. But the next day, the Opposition sprung a surprise and demanded that Prime Minister Modi must be present during the discussion.
The change in tack was for two obvious reasons. One, the debate pretty much fell flat on the opening day (admitted even by some members privately). Two, the Opposition counterparts in the Lok Sabha were perturbed over their colleagues showing unusual enthusiasm for starting the debate on the very first day. Instead there should have been hungama as per a combined strategy or they should have followed suit.
While the Opposition had its say in bits and pieces on the plight of the common man because of demonetisation, as the Speaker was obliging after saying a no to their adjournment motion, the parties in the Lok Sabha were too disjointed. Members of various parties moved an adjournment motion seeking debate under Rule 56 the first phase. The next phase they ‘showed magnanimity’ and were willing to have the discussion on Rule 184. The insistence on the two rules was it entailed voting even though the Treasury Benches had a ‘brute majority”. What was it planning to achieve? Apparently, if it succeeded, then the demand for the same could be raised in the Rajya Sabha, where it enjoyed a majority! The Treasury benches obviously wouldn’t relent.
However, two parties particularly, the TRS and the BJD wanted discussion under Rule 193 and were willing to start, the moment they got the go-ahead. Clearly showing the divide between them. Guess, both have their reasons. The BJD had from day one welcomed the scheme and has been seeking a special package from the Centre. Likewise, the TRS doesn’t want to be seen as a hot-headed opposition. But unlike TDP in neighbouring Andhra it is neither an ally. Best option is to be on the right side of the Government.
So the divided House in the third phase, last week of the session, the 16 parties in the Opposition changed their stand once again. “We are ready for an unconditional debate” i.e. without voting and please start discussion they were heard urging the Chair. What made them change their mind? Rahul’s googly – of having explosive evidence on Modi’s ‘personal corruption’. At a press conference he vociferously stated: “The Prime Minister is personally terrified of me being allowed to open my mouth inside the Lok Sabha because I have information about the Prime Minister that is going to explode his balloon. And, I am not being allowed to speak in the House.” All these weeks why didn’t he speak, and if he was not being allowed why didn’t he let the nation know through his press conference?
This too has its intrigues. Already besieged by defamation cases, he sought to speak in the House as he would enjoy Parliament immunity. However, he claimed that as an MP he had to right to speak in Parliament. The big question is when does Rahul want to corner Modi? Is he going to wait for the Budget session in February to exercise his right as people’s representative? Or will he do this closer to the biggest State Assembly election, Uttar Pradesh. While it may have got people talking and wondering, the fact is that the longer he takes his credibility will take a further knock. He needs to decide the auspicious time.
In the midst of all the wrangling for one upmanship between the Treasury and Opposition benches, members surprisingly put on hold their differences. Just two days before the winter session was ending, they decided to put lung power on hold briefly to pass the long-awaited Rights of Persons with Disabilities Bill, 2014. In the given time, the Rajya Sabha cleared the Bill, with members keeping their points short so that it could be sent to the other House. The Lok Sabha too complied and the Bill was passed in one voice Ayes. At least one part of the electorate was relieved.
Sadly, the camaraderie and rare unanimity that was shown was short lived. Prompting Ansari in the Rajya Sabha to say: “Don’t introduce a Jekyll and Hyde personality in the House…we have been functioning well. Let’s continue …you can’t have two personalities at same time…I fail to understand…” He is certainly not the only one. —INFA

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