It has been proven yet again that less than a dozen members can hold Parliament to ransom. Their personal whims — or their party leader's whim — on that particular day can hold sway over the chair's repeated rulings and collective wisdom of the House. Rules laid down and decisions arrived at by the business advisory committees are conveniently stated, as and when it suits their political agenda.
Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) chief Mayawati, with only 10 members in Rajya Sabha and zero members in Lok Sabha, did exactly that today. She forced repeated adjournments not because her voice was not being heard but because she had decided beforehand that she had to make a political point to her social constituency and try to regain her erstwhile position as the most powerful Dalit leader in north India.
Before arriving at the Parliament today, she had not cared to inform the Chairman of the Upper House that she wishes to raise Rohith Vemula’s suicide issue. Neither her name nor any of her party members’ names figured among the 31 listed members from across the political spectrum in the House, informing about her decision to “raise a discussion on the situation arising in the Central Institutions of higher education with specific reference to Jawaharlal Nehru University and University of Hyderabad".
The government and the Chair kept on urging her to allow a discussion on same subject but her nine slogan-shouting-members in the well (while she was firmly seated on her chair) ensured that the Rajya Sabha was adjourned. Since the words "Dalit" and “Rohith Vemula” was repeatedly used by her, the Left and the Congress extended their tacit, and on some occasions, even active support to her.
One among Mayawati’s charter of demands was that the government first answer her question before any further discussion. The reply to the questions raised by her would in any case have come when HRD Minister Smriti Irani would have responded.
Mayawati also had the liberty to ask for "clarifications" or stage a walkout, as prescribed in the books, if she was not satisfied. Instead, she chose to not abide by any established parliamentary practices. She has been elected the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh four times and has been a member of both the Houses of Parliament; she knows the rules and parliamentary practices.
Her actions as well as the voices of those supporting her actions (the Congress and the Left) have yet again given credence to the growing feeling among people at large – the irrelevance of Rajya Sabha.
For the last few sessions the Upper House has been making news for its nuisance and disruptive potential rather than for constructive debates, for being the guiding light in shaping public policy and for its willingness to go to mat for the government with genuine scrutiny.
Since the time the Modi government has come to power, the Rajya Sabha (where ruling BJP is in minority) has broadly assumed a veto power to reject or stall critical bills passed by the Lok Sabha or not let it function at all.
The remark made by Deputy Chairman PJ Kurien when he finally adjourned the House for the day at 4 pm is significant.
He sounded concerned and hurt - "Already the message going from the House is not good. The other House is functioning today (Lok Sabha proceeded with normal listed business and even had an extensive though unscheduled discussion over JNU and Rohith Vemula issue). Our House is not functioning. Hope and pray it functions tomorrow."
Tomorrow, Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu will present the rail budget in Lok Sabha. The Lok Sabha has discussed JNU, Rohith Vemula and other such related issue even as it was not listed in the business and despite the business advisory committee,comprising of leaders of all parties and the Speaker, had earlier decided to hold it later in the week.
However, Speaker Sumitra Mahajan, in consultation with the Government, ruled that the House should debate on this subject. By doing so, the Speaker sent a message that she was open to considering adjournment motions and other notices moved by the Opposition parties members. The ruling BJP members and Congress verbally clashed with each other during the debate but then it was all within acceptable limits.
So when the Rajya Sabha begins to debate, if at all it is allowed to take place, the nation at large would be hooked to the contents of the Rail Budget and a debate on JNU and Rohit Vemula's suicide would hardly attract any attention. Rail Minister Suresh Prabhu has to pay a brief customary visit to the Upper House — just to lay the rail budget on table before that House.
As per today's listed business the Rajya Sabha was to take up four bills for consideration and passage — National Waterways Bill, 2015, Carriage by Air (Amendment) Bill, 2015, Bureau of Indian Standards Bill, 2015 and the High Court and the Supreme Court Judges (Salaries and Conditions of Service) Amendment Bill, 2015. None of it came for a mention today.
HRD Minister Smriti Irani may have a point when she shouted back — "a child’s suicide is being used by politicians for political gains" and even vowed to expose the suicide (Rohit Vemula) being used as a political tool, in response to Mayawati’s accusation, or when she countered BSP chief's demand for inclusion of a Dalit in judicial commission, "are we saying that a judge's capabilities to give justice will depend on his caste — but her aggressive demeanour and the shrillness of her voice didn't help the government. But then nobody in the opposition in Rajya Sabha really cared for what she was saying.