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The glue that keeps this country together

May 17, 2012 12:47 IST

No one can deny that but for Parliament our unity as a country could never have been what it is today, says Suresh Prabhu, who has been elected to the Lok Sabha four times.

Earlier in our series celebrating 60 years of Parliament:
Aakar Patel: Parliament's role in making India a great nation is over
Subhash Kashyap: People feel that for our MPs the nation comes last
Arvind Kejriwal: MPs are bonded labor of their parties
Shashi Shekhar: Nothing diminishes the fact that we are a Great Nation
Rajeev Srinivasan: Parliament: Is it worse than it looks?

When we became independent from British rule, there were many who were sceptical about India's ability to be a truly independent nation.

The talk revolved around the extreme diversity in our culture, what would be the national language in view of the many languages we speak, the religious and ethnic variety, caste divisions and what not.

There were enough doomsayers who even placed bets on how long this Republic would last. There were few, including our own citizens who thought the British would be back soon.

Sixty five years after Independence, the concerns of all such sceptics have been put to rest.

How did we prove them wrong?

There are many things that we did right, but if I have to identify only one of them -- it is the Parliament of India.

Each state and Union territory sends its quota of members to Parliament. The Lok Sabha elects MPs directly and the state assemblies elect their representatives to the Upper House, the Rajya Sabha.

The MPs come to Parliament wearing different costumes, speak different languages, make speeches in Parliament in their mother tongues, belong to different castes and religions, have different educational, social, economic backgrounds, but they all work together.

Parliament is one platform where diversity converges into a functioning institution.

I am aware of and also agree with some of the criticisms of Parliament and its MPs. But no one can deny the fact that but for this one great institution our unity as a country could never have been what it is today.

There have been instances where some MPs were elected by questioning the State itself. Their separatist agenda or an extreme left agenda was their winning formula. They entered Parliament as firebrand leaders, assuring their supporters that as MPs they would give them separate sovereign territories or homeland. Some ultra leftists promised to change the system overnight with their new status as elected MPs.

But when they left Parliament they were no longer the same persons that had entered it. They had realised that their extreme agenda wouldn't work after having worked with their fellow MPs.

Parliament has been a unique platform for all shades of opinions. It also brings the realisation of the futility of the extreme viewpoint which no longer is acceptable to a larger audience.

We still recall the raging language controversy of the 1960s. The southern states, particularly Tamil Nadu, was protesting against the imposition of Hindi upon non Hindi speaking states. There were genuine fears about what this agitation would lead to. Now it is heartening to see the ministers from the same states attempting to speak in Hindi in Parliament.

I remember my many conversations with Mr Kanshi Ram, the founding leader of the Bahujan Samaj Party, about his very strong views on how the Bahujan Samaj has been at the receiving end in preceding several centuries and how we need social engineering in India. He could articulate these genuine grievances of our downtrodden population on the floor of Parliament.

Our Constituent Assembly debated extensively on what Parliament should be. How it could reflect our basic tenant of being 'federal in nature and unitary in character.

The Lok Sabha is literary the House of the People. Almost all, barring three nominated members, are directly elected by the people. Having borrowed the Westminster model of democracy, the Lower House is fashioned on the pattern of the House of Commons.

But rightly so, the Upper House is not the House of Lords like in the UK. It is not a nominated House, but mostly elected by a unique system. All the members of the state legislatures -- the MLAs -- elect members of the Rajya Sabha.

The Upper House is also not the same as in the United States, where the people elect their Senators. We have ensured that the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha, if were to be created by the process of direct elections, would create a poignant situation, and thus avoided a possible conflict.

We have so far conducted 15 elections to Lok Sabha.

Sixty years after the joint session of Parliament took place for the first time, we should apply ourselves to see how we can consolidate these gains of a functioning parliamentary democracy and improve upon it to face the challenges of the future. We have already noticed the noisy scenes as well as the frequent disruptions in the House.

These days the notion that the House is working because Parliament is in session no longer holds good. Adjournments, mostly for days together, have become a norm than an exception. It is no longer a routine to see that the normal business of the House is transacted from 11 am to 6 pm, the normal working hours of the Lok Sabha.

We know of the long and learned speeches of great parliamentarians who through their well studied scholarly debates would significantly contribute to the process of law making or of new policy formulation. Now debates have made way to shouting and noise. There has been a growing phenomenon where MPs raise issues about their own states, thus bypassing the official agenda, the business before the House.

Shouting an MP down rather than answering him through counter debate is no longer considered a viable option. The Treasury benches hardly respond with respect to the very genuine concerns of what they consider a very important public matter. There is a new breed that thinks the Opposition must not let the government speak.

As a member of four Lok Sabhas (the 11th to the 14th) I feel all these issues are signs of some breakdown in the system. These are symptoms of a much deep rooted problem. We thus need to look at revamping the system in many ways.

Suresh Prabhu represented Rajapur, Maharashtra, in four successive Lok Sabhas.

Suresh Prabhu