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Speaker, VP must share blame for winter washout

December 21, 2016 12:14 IST

Sumitra Mahajan in Parliament

IMAGE: Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan.

If the Opposition is bent upon shouting its own agenda on a deaf ruling dispensation, then it becomes binding upon the chair to ensure that the parliamentary affairs aren't reduced to a farce, argues Sudhir Bisht.

Vice-President Mohammad Hamid Ansari is also the chairman of the Rajya Sabha which is also called the House of Elders and formed by 245 wise men and women.

They are considered important enough by the political parties to be in Parliament, but some may not have the mass base to win a direct election when the people of India cast their vote.

A few of the these elders are also the defeated candidates of the Lok Sabha elections, but their inclusion in the Union council of ministers requires them to be accommodated in the Upper House of Parliament.

Ansari has been our VP since August 2007. He has also been an ambassador and a vice-chancellor. As someone who is almost going to be 80 years of age, he is expectedly one of the most respected statesmen of our country. So it shouldn't be tough to handle a House of eminent, retired, retiring and educated politicians.

Sumitra Mahajan is the Speaker of the Lok Sabha and has been a member of seven Lok Sabhas in the past. Her fellow members of Parliament, the Lok Sabha MPs, represent the voice of India.

These men and women have gone through the grind of direct elections and are sensible enough to know that they have reached the top echelon of their political careers.

I am sure that the Lok Sabha MPs realise that they ought to work inside the temple of democracy in a manner that those who elected them feel proud of their conduct.

Combine the four elements of parliamentary democracy -- the VP and the Rajya Sabha MPs; the Lok Sabha Speaker and the Lok Sabha MPs -- and you should have a well-oiled machinery that should work in a civilised and orderly manner.

But unfortunately the winter session of Parliament that just went by proves quite the opposite.

The MPs behaved as if they were competing for the gold medal in exhibiting outlandish behaviour.

The chairman of the Rajya Sabha and the Lok Sabha Speaker appeared to have forgotten that it takes a lot more than just raising their voices and expressing anguish if one were to manage members who seem to be taking pride in their disorderly behaviour.

A distraught VP unable to enforce order in the Rajya Sabha was matched by an exasperated Speaker who failed to control the street fighters masquerading as Lok Sabha members.

In the order of precedence of the Republic of India, the Vice-President is ranked number two after the President and the Lok Sabha Speaker is ranked at a high number six, alongside the Chief Justice of India.

The two of the most powerful positions in India are given the task of ensuring the smooth functioning of Parliament sessions.

The objective of Parliament sessions itself is fairly simple. It is supposed to discuss and debate the issues facing the Republic and to legislate.

However the winter session saw nothing of that sort happening in either of the two Houses of Parliament.

The 21-day session was the least productive session in several years. It has been called a washout and at least one Member of Parliament, the Biju Janata Dal's Jay Panda, was so distressed that he has declared that he would not be taking any salary for this period.

Panda is a sober man and his is an act of listening to one's conscience and is worthy of praise, but in the overall scheme of things, it is too insignificant to make an impact on the collective image of parliamentarians.

The principal Opposition party's leader in the Lok Sabha, Mallikarjun Kharge and his counterpart in the Rajya Sabha, Ghulam Nabi Azad, have said that it is the duty of the ruling party to ensure that Parliament functions smoothly.

What does it mean? That the ruling party should allow the Opposition to dominate Zero Hour and allow them to modify the bills in whichever way it wants and that the ruling party should drop the bills that the Opposition doesn't agree with?

Do Kharge and Azad, egged by the Gandhis, believe that they have been ordained by God to determine which member of the ruling party should be present in the House to listen to their tirade against the ruling party?

If a junior minister replies to their question, they object and seek the answer from the Cabinet minister and if the finance minister participates in the debate on finance matters, they demand answers from the prime minister.

Kharge and Azad want that the ruling party members should smile as they mock the finance minister when they suggest that even he didn't know anything about demonetisation.

Is the sole job of the Opposition to slander the prime minister by saying that he has the 'blood of Indian jawans on his hands' outside Parliament?

Does the Kharge-Azad duo consider it their divine right to stall Parliament if their party vice-president is not allowed to speak in the House without sufficient advance notice on a subject that is not listed for discussion?

The Opposition has been saying that since the current ruling dispensation stalled the House proceedings when it was in the Opposition, it is their fate to suffer the frequent stalling of Parliament now.

Can there be something more loathsome as this line of action?

So Parliament is meant for tit-for-tat ego trips?

I gather from media reports that only two bills were passed in the winter session.

The Lok Sabha functioned only for 19 hours in the entire session and the Rajya Sabha for 22 hours.

Some of the most crucial legislative work that pertained to the Goods and Services Tax couldn't be taken up for discussion. The Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha lost 176 hours of work and at an estimated cost of Rs 2 crore (Rs 20 million) per hour, the nation lost nearly Rs 352 crore (Rs 3.52 billion).

But then we have an Opposition that cares too hoots for several thousand crores of Indian currency. I recall that the same set of people had called the loss of several more crores due to the 2G spectrum scam as a notional loss.

By berating the Opposition, I am not calling the ruling party an assembly of saints either.

I think that the National Democratic Alliance leadership could have been more accommodating.

I think the prime minister should have been in Parliament more often for sure.

I think that the floor managers of the ruling party could have reached out to neutral (on demonetisation) MPs from the BJD and Janata Dal-United to impress upon the leadership of the Congress and Communist parties to allow the House to function.

I think that the magnitude of opposition demonstrated by the Trinamool Congress could have been softened a bit if some of NDA leaders had spoken with Mamata Banerjee directly.

I think BJP patriarch L K Advani could have shown his anguish to Sonia Gandhi and not to Ananth Kumar.

So in my belief the resident of 7, Lok Kalyan Marg didn't live up to expectations, but the primary blame for failing Parliament rests with the lady who calls 10, Janpath her home.

And now I come to the two eminent Indian leaders who could have salvaged the pride of Parliament.

The chairman of the Rajya Sabha and the Speaker of the Lok Sabha should not have just presided over the chaos and cacophony by repeatedly adjourning the two Houses. I wish they had shown some ruthlessness and evicted the members who were responsible for the washout.

I wish they had taken inspiration from Speaker Ramanlal Vora of the Gujarat assembly who in August evicted and suspended 50 Congress members for their unruly behaviour.

I wish Ansari and Mahajan had found courage from the act of Tamil Nadu Speaker P Dhanapal who suspended 89 Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam MLAs from the assembly for continuous disruption of proceedings in August.

I wish they had followed the steps by Madam Speaker herself when she, in August 2015, suspended 25 Congress MPs for five days when they were wilfully and persistently obstructing the House from carrying out its day-to-day business.

If the Opposition is bent upon shouting its own agenda on a deaf ruling dispensation, then it becomes binding upon the chair to ensure that parliamentary affairs aren't reduced to a farce.

Sadly both Ansari and Mahajan were found wanting in their resolve to rule with a whip.

So the ultimate blame for the session's washout must rest upon those who are responsible to ensure that such things do not occur. And I will not hesitate to put the blame squarely upon the Chairman of the Rajya Sabha and the Lok Sabha Speaker.

I hope Parliament functions much better in the next session.

I hope that the Opposition stops being a croaking frog in the well of the House.

I hope the ruling party has better floor managers and most importantly the VP and Speaker crack the whip.

Sudhir Bisht, author and columnist, tweets at @sudhir_bisht

Sudhir Bisht