With the 13th consecutive day of parliamentary proceedings washed out, international observers of this functional anarchy (also known as democracy) might be wondering why managing the Houses is such a big deal in India. It was observed soon after Doordarshan started telecasting the Zero Hour and Question Hour in the 1990s that many an MP was provoked to nonsensical action in the presence of the television camera. The presumption was that the people’s representative must be wanting to show to his/her constituency he/she wasn’t sitting idle in the august House. Ever since, bills have been shred to pieces before they could be placed on the table of the House; one member has grabbed another by the collar of the latter; ‘Well’ has acquired an unusual meaning and “pandemonium” is no longer a bombastic word. A “walkout” in parliamentary parlance is as common as a walkover is in a league of a sport. And these are not our observations alone; the late parliamentarian and former Speaker PA Sangma had once expressed a similar sentiment in the House. He was dismayed at the fact that this was how the media, as well as the people, viewed the elected politicians. While the issues raised by the opposition led by the BJP during UPA rule and those raised by the opposition shepherded by the INC during the NDA reign may be different, judging what contentions were more meritorious would deviate us from the issue of this editorial: Management of the House. The factor of provocation can be addressed by a new broadcast policy: Telecast only such portions of a session where the MPS present are seen engaged in a meaningful dialogue. When the media must report that a day was washed out, those guilty of wasting public money should be projected as clowns rather than well-meaning interjectors. Where the opposition must complain that some of its ‘valid’ issues were ignored by the treasury benches, they have the option of addressing the press with the grievance. Not letting Parliament function does not solve such issues in any case. But if the government is ultimately responsible for the functionality of this ‘temple of democracy’, it should also enjoy some systemic advantages that enable them to ensure that the sessions are all worthwhile. A suggestion follows.
International archrivals Israel and Palestine or India and Pakistan have never thought of settling scores on the floor of the General Assembly through fisticuffs. And the reason is not the racial stereotype that Indians and Pakistanis behave in the presence of foreigners. The agencies of the United Nations have an altogether different setup for debates in their respective ‘Houses’. If it is a speech, there are only two microphones in the hall; in the Indian Parliament, there could be one with the Speaker of the House and the other, on a sound-proof, closed, glass podium, next to the Speaker’s seat. Any member, whose turn it is to speak, will have to walk up to the podium to address the House from the podium, like in the conferences of the UN General Assembly. Nobody will be allowed to speak — let alone scream — from his seat. Even if an MP does so, he/she cannot outshout the person with the mike (who, anyway, cannot hear the shouts from inside the sound-proof podium). Further, the microphone circuitry shall be connected to a voice detector and programmed to switch off automatically after the minutes for which the Speaker has allowed the given MP to speak. This way, no MP can cross his/her time limit.
When the delegates at a UN function speak from their respective desks, none stands up to make a point. However, the two halls in which Indian Parliament conducts its businesses do not have enough space to spread the tables of 545 MPs in the Lok Sabha and 250 in the Rajya Sabha so far apart from one another. Speaking from one dais in turns is, therefore, Indian Parliament’s only way out. Finally, some human intervention will still be needed. Any member who monkeys around, in the rows between the seats while someone else is speaking from the podium, has to be physically dragged outside the House by hugely built marshals without needing the Speaker to order them to do so. After about a year or so of this new system being in vogue, MPs will come to terms with it and no one will have to be pleaded with or forced to maintain the decorum of the House. When the ruling BJP gains a majority in the Rajya Sabha as well, later this year, necessary rules can be introduced and the relevant law amended. A developing country such as India cannot afford to waste crores in washed out sessions of Parliament. Ruckus is inevitable in the parliaments and assemblies of countries that have India’s kind of a setup.