The occasion was sad since the debate was on the horrendous rape of a Delhi woman, but the manner in which the members of the parliament ‘debated’ was encouraging, even uplifting. The very words, the indignation, the outrage of the law-makers, were befitting the circumstances.
Some words and expressions used were remarkable. Derek O’ Brien said “I stand here scared” being the father of a 17-year-old daughter. The usually voluble Renuka Chowdhary said the rape will not remain “a mere statistic”. Jaya Bachchan was “helpless” unable to hold back her tears in parliament.
There was that unspoken acknowledgement that Indians were people, and that the people can be outraged and be demanding. The attempt to sync with the justified popular mood was visible. They spoke like the people they represent would speak if on the same platform.
Such candour is more often than not missing from regular debates, which Bachchan put well, as how they as MPs, “deal with facts” and not emotions, meaning that the Upper House and the Lok Sabha are platforms for impersonal judgement of realities and remedies.
She also forced the presiding officer to soften and let her speak. She said, she was not talking politics, that there was to be no time constraints on such issues. Such sensitivity to the issues and the willingness of the chair to use his discretion are rare events in the parliament which one would like to see more often. It showed how, if they chose to, the politicians can rise to the call of their duty without being blinkered by party lines and whips which ties them up in knots.
On Tuesday, this connect between the politician and the people’s issues was refreshing. The House was sombre, suitable to the subject being discussed without being mournful, and above all, meaningful. None dared interrupt the other, none protested against the rape by walking down the aisle into the well.
In short all of them shed their typical characteristics — of being noisy, rumbustious, unmindful of rules and the need and rights of others to have a say — and earned the respect of the public. For once they were not partisan.
While the Tuesday performance brought them closer to the people, one wonders if soon enough they would walk back into their usual self and hold the parliament to ransom, not let business proceed, demanding that despite the Opposition’s numerical weakness, the Treasury should bow to their will.
If the show of anger by disrupting the parliament was a substitute for their inability to persuade the government to a point of view, then they should realise that their stellar performance over the rape issue where they urged death sentences for the criminals, was what was best for citizens’ interest.
This approach on issues would be healthy and even allow the parliament to be purposeful without letting partisan prejudices and philosophies ground the very functioning of parliament. When, for instance, debating the Lokpal, a similar attitude would have been helpful. Is it that rape touches people more than widespread corruption which also runs deep?
There is this nonsense in Indian politics where the Opposition has to oppose what it would have liked to support were it in power, but can’t if the ruling government proposes it. On the grave issue of rape they did cut across party lines but on other equally strong issues, machinations, manoeuvres, backroom deals, threats and lures are employed defeating the very purpose of parliamentary business: deliberate well and fully and come up with what is best for the country. That is when parliament which represents the country as a whole hives itself into smaller parts.
A country riddled with corruption, deliberate misgovernance because of the sway the former has over the latter, the neglect of real issues, has come to pass because of political vested interests. A bipartisanship to wipe out the blight is what the doctor orders but will be denied in the future as it has in the past.
One, however, is pleased that the parliament has shown its potential to be useful. Will the MPs excel themselves every day they meet for business and earn the gratitude of the people? Don’t forget, MPs are not exactly the most respected of people in the country. They will have to regain their respect, even if slowly.