Our MPs need not be arrogant
Is the Parliament sacrosanct? Are Parliamentarians above the law? Can’t they be called to order by the very people who elected them in the first place? Anna Hazare has made a call for giving voters the right to reject elected candidates either by negative voting or using a right to recall. Such a right provides citizens an important democratic license to remove non-performing or corrupt legislators from office before their term ends. At the same time one must ask oneself how to choose a candidate to stand for elections. His antecedents must be looked into. This, unfortunately, is frequently forgotten. Many are known to buy candidacy and this has been the bane of politics since India became free.
According to Madhav Godbole, a distinguished civil servant “the seeds of rampant corruption in government and the ruling party were sown in the Nehru era”. To read his book India’s Parliamentary Democracy on Trial is to learn a lot about how our political parties function and how our MPs have misused the trust placed on them. Firstly, let it be said: No party is clean. They have succumbed to pressures from seekers after power. According to The Times of India (March 11, 2009) of the 543 men and women elected to the Lok Sabha in May 2004, as many as 125 had criminal charges against them. Of the 125 there were at least 96 who faced charges with potential sentences of two years or more. Worse, many who faced criminal charges were not becoming MPs for the first time. They had earlier served three terms.
I may be permitted to quote liberally from Godbole’s highly instructive book, on how the Parliament has been working over the years.
* The most shocking episode during the 10th Lok Sabha was the blatant purchase of votes by the ruling party…. to save the government from defeat in a No-Confidence vote. This set a low in ethical standards in India’s parliamentary democracy.
* The Lok Sabha functioned for just 66 days in 2007, one of the lowest ever. But the year 2008 will go down in parliamentary history as the year when Parliament held the lowest number of sittings – a mere 46.
* A record was created in April 27 when nearly 20 MPs did not turn up in the House though their questions were listed for oral answer.
* In the Monsoon session in 2001, MPs passed 33 bills in 32 hours, in some cases the legislation was rushed through in a matter of minutes with just a few members present.
* An important Bill on Non-Productive Assets (NPAs) of bank was passed by the Lok Sabha with only 38 members present.
* On the last day of the winter session of the Lok Sabha in 2008, eight important bills were rushed through in 17 minutes with no discussion whatsoever. This is a world record!
* In the 14th Lok Sabha, out of 1,738 hours and 45 minutes of sittings, 423 hours were wasted because of disruptions.
* When the discussion on the Agra Summit between India and Pakistan was scheduled in the Lok Sabha during the NDA regime, not a single member was present on the Treasury Benches.
* When Arun Shourie, the then Minister for Disinvestment, got up to reply to a 5-hour debate in the Lok Sabha in December 2002, only 28 MPs were present in the House.
* The 14th Lok Sabha set some dubious record. MPs were expelled from the House for asking questions in Parliament for cash and one for human trafficking.
* Twenty three per cent of all MPs had criminal cases registered against them. Two MPs were in jail for much of their tenure.
* The Railway Budget and the Appropriation (Vote on Account) Bill totalling a mind-boggling Rs 3,94,156 crore to meet government expenses for part of 2007-2008 and Rs 3,86,337 crore towards the supplementary expenditure for 2006-2007 was bludgeoned through in less than a minute without scrutiny in both the Houses.
* At times persons who have been defeated in the Lok Sabha elections have been given ‘tickets’ to contest elections to the Rajya Sabha, Showing disregard altogether to the mandate of the people.
* About 70 MPs of the 15th Lok Sabha have violated the Lok Sabha rules by not filing declarations of their assets and liabilities within 90 days of taking oaths as members.
* The data for 1952 to 2002 showed that five per cent of the elected Rajya Sabha members did not belong to the states from which they had been elected.
All this happens because, in the first place, such information does not occupy media space and few people are really aware of it. We don’t have a record of attendance of individual MPs or of names of MPs who have never spoken a word during an entire term. In the second place, some politicians have come to think that that the Parliament is their family property. In the last sixty odd years there has been a mushrooming of political dynasties. In the 2009 Lok Sabha elections as one commentator has noted, Congress, with 208 members has 78 or 37.5 per cent of the Lok Sabha members who owe their status in life to their moms, dads or grandfathers. They must be thinking that being present at sittings is for them to decide and not for their voters to insist.
Arrogance is the name of the game. Such MPs don’t think that regular attendance is a must and cannot be casually treated. But most distressing is the rowdy behaviour of some MPs who think nothing of disrupting sessions. Such behaviour should be totally unacceptable to the country. It is no part of Opposition behaviour to stop proceedings, throw mikes and chairs and anyone engaged in such activities must be summarily disqualified. The last point to be made about our Parliament is the increasing number of crorepathis who are making it to the Parliament. The Lok Sabha is getting to be made into a Rich Man’s Club and rich men don’t like to be questioned by anybody, least of all by the media. It is about time a body is appointed to check out on every MPs contribution or lack of it to serious discussion and debate and to be told off in no uncertain terms, if the record is abysmal. Both the Lok and Rajya Sabha must be under constant scrutiny.