Why should these fine temples of democracy be allowed to become hostage to arrogance of power, frustration of the opposition and sloganeering fest of the brainless politicos?
ANURADHA BHASIN JAMWAL
[dropcap]A[/dropcap] joke in circulation on the internet, recently, was that ‘Arvind Kejriwal only believes in making rules, not following them’. Well, looking at the recent proceedings inside august house of parliament and legislatures including in Jammu and Kashmir, where everything is observed in breach – whether it is decorum, observance of rules or tolerance, the ‘aam aadmi’ idol certainly has the basic characteristics of an average Indian politician – short on patience, contemptuous of law and lacking any respect for decorum and dignity that should come with the position of being in the lead.
And, all this has been on shockingly brazen display for over a week – Delhi, Jammu or Lucknow. Everything from vocal chords let loose to breaking chairs, from spraying pepper sprays to going topless has shocked the nation like never before. And, added to that is the decreasing impatience of the ruling classes to allow healthy dissent to emerge in and outside these august houses.
The parliament and legislatures have become noisy places where the din rises with everybody inside, whether he has something concrete to say or not, first of all a lover of his or her own voice. Decision making, public good and an exchange of ideas should be the notions that come to mind while talking about these temples of democracy. What, however, they remind us of are words like ‘din’, ‘pandemonium’ and ‘ruckus’ and added to these are the occasional images of ugly hooliganism and violence.
The importance and significance of the legislatures was aptly underscored in the words of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, speaking in the parliament in 1958, “Legislatures, apart from doing important work, do something – to set a tone of conflicting opinions being debated calmly, peacefully and in a friendly way….. Parliament does set some kind of an example to rest of the country.”
Realizing that the onus of maintaining discipline and decorum was on everybody including the rulers, he added, “ As we behave to each other, towards our work, towards the general public, so to some extent others will behave elsewhere, whether in the state legislatures or in many other organs of the self government……on all of us rests this great responsibility, not only to behave as we should behave, but to remember always that a million eyes are upon us and we may not do something that brings the slightest discredit on Parliament or set a wrong line before the people.”
Political discourse in this country was not always at such a degrading low and many old timers recall anecdotes of quality debate held in the backdrop of pin-drop silence, mutual respect from the parliament that would do any nation proud. And that was achieved not solely by the discipline of the members of the House but also by the responsiveness of the government to take all issues of public importance with the seriousness these deserved, of the level of accountability of the executive to the legislature.
The first few parliament sessions are exemplary and the debates of those times need to be revisited. In a debate on Kashmir, Maulana Masoodi of Kashmir is said to have made a remarkable speech in chaste Urdu in defence of Sheikh Abdullah and the state government headed by him, prompting a starch critic of the Sheikh, Shyama Prasad Mookherji, to get up and congratulate the Maulana while admitting his limited knowledge of Urdu and despite his own opposition to whatever had been said. Such was the quality of dignity, maintained by respect for the other.
On another occasion during the first parliament, a member, Satyendra Narayan Sinha sought to draw the attention of the government to some starvation deaths in Orissa. While he was speaking in the House, prime minister Nehru, who got some feedback from the officials in the gallery, interrupted to angrily snub the member, saying, “It is absolute rubbish!” The very next day, Nehru returned to the parliament, having done more homework on the matter, and said that he would first of all like to apologize to Sinha for having snubbed him.
He admitted that he was misinformed by the officials and that the story of starvation deaths in Orissa indeed was true and assured to look into the matter. Such was the commitment and seriousness of the treasury benches and the reflecting patience of the opposition and other members, marked not by animosity but by mutual respect, lending dignity to the parliament and adding to its glory and prestige. At the same time, there was also unanimity about enforcing discipline. It was a parliamentary resolution that sought to expel H.G. Mudgal, a Congress MP, after a parliamentary committee found him guilty of impairing the dignity and decorum of the parliament by taking favors from business house to speak about its issues on the floor of the House.
With examples such as these and with a rich historical legacy they form, how can politicians of the day allow legislatures to be turned into slanging matches of vocal chords or fists? Why should these fine temples of democracy be allowed to become hostage to arrogance of power, frustration of the opposition infused by the sole ambition of embarrassing the government and sloganeering fest of the brainless, ideology deprived politicos? The remedy may lie in the past and also in a vision of future – of a country where politicians become role models and where in everyday lives, our streets and public places become spaces that see lesser impatience, rudeness and violence.