by Piyasree Dasgupta Aug 16, 2013 08:44 IST
The only other thing that is a constant in the present Lok Sabha apart from speaker Meira Kumar's back-from-a-vipassana-vacation smile, is the promise that it will be adjourned at least thrice in a single day. It's difficult to see a reason why our MPs, who have to pretend to be employed for just a third of the year, should demand so many breaks in a single work day.
The logic behind a body like the parliament's functioning is fairly simple - facilitating governance through passing legislatures and making sure that the government doesn't run amok under the critical watch of a body in political opposition. However, expecting an essentially political organisation to function exclusively on those lines is probably as realistic as expecting Bollywood to stop making actresses lip sync to songs playing out of mountain tops and other scientifically inexplicable locations.
This is the reason why Congress MP Milind Deora's editorial "The Social Media Cacophony" in The Times of India doesn't hit the right notes with those outside the ambit of Parliament. Deora, in his editorial, suggests that while social media might be a strong platform to share ideas and views, it can't host a serious political dialogue thanks to the many distractions it is prone to.
Important issues of poverty alleviation, the state of our economy, public policy choices or Narendra Modi's secular credentials are capsuled down with rhetoric, wit and spin to make a point. As a nation in transition, unless we are able to challenge all perspectives in a political debate, not limit it to a Congress versus BJP argument, or one individual versus another, we are not going to be able to build political consensus to make well-thought-out choices for ourselves.
Though it is tempting to agree with his description of a political debate on social media - 'unfettered, noisy and sometimes meaningless' - the fact that he attributes the qualities only to debates in the virtual medium is slightly difficult to digest.
Take for example on Tuesday, how the upper House of the parliament arguably populated with seasoned politicians, several of them well-read and informed, pushed chairman Hamid Ansari enough to question if the MPs want to be called a 'federation of anarchists'. From the sound of the House alone, which somewhat resembled a wholesale fish market, there's no reason to question Ansari's description.
What followed Ansari's angry outburst was just a vindication of what could essentially be an overwrought suggestion. The MPs, who were till then demanding a debate on Robert Vadra's suspicious land deals, raised a deafening outcry against Ansari, demanding the statement be withdrawn. The ruckus adjourned the entire day's business and continued well into Wednesday's session.
Amid the back and forth between Ansari and some MPs, one of them was heard screaming 'I am not an anarchist' in a loud, dizzying, delirious tone. Unfettered, noisy, meaningless much?
The reason why the parallels between the Indian parliament and social media is being drawn here is because Deora suggests in the end of his article that a valid platform for political debates is the Parliament. He says:
We need a mechanism that allows us to be heard and yet channelises our voices into policies, laws and generally consensus that take us forward. Perhaps we can begin with that trusted institution that's lasted several centuries — Parliament?
There can be just two reasons why Deora might have said it. Either he has immense confidence in the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha TV channels' un-watchability (here I take the liberty of coining a new word). Or like Bollywood insiders who believe the industry actually empowers women, Deora too is in a similar state of denial about his own vocation and his colleagues' talent for rabble-rousing.
Unfortunately these days a debate in the Parliament is just like how Deora describes Twitter - where style and noise drown substance. If there are a clique of Twitter users labelled trolls who burn the midnight oil to come up with pop politics gems like #fekuexpress and #PappuCII there are metaphor artists in Parliament who would put Bollywood's penchant for cheesiness to shame with their rhetoric for debating important issues.
Remember how the anti-rape bill was debated in the Parliament? How, making Bigg Boss look like a temple of sanity and good sense, our MPs debated whether it was the length of a girl's skirt, Internet, mobile phones, condom commercials on TV or dance reality shows that put Indian women in danger of sexual assault? How, a majority of the women MPs made marital rape sound like a thing as unreal as the Cyclops and hence pleaded with the house that Indian men be spared the trauma of having such accusations levelled against perpetrators against them?
Sharad Yadav famously defended stalking saying the anti-rape bill is detrimental to India's appetite for romance. He said:
“When you watch Sheila ki jawaani or Munni with her Zandu Balm what goes on in your mind…?” Yadav says teasingly, adding, “So what, we are all men after all!”
A debate in Indian Parliament is not really a 'debate' in the true sense of the term - it is mostly a bunch of people ticking each other off. What's worse, even when this perpetually discordant group agrees, they feel compelled to demonstrate who agrees more and with more spirit. These are a group of people who make the simple and usually genial act of agreeing seem like an India-Pakistan cricket match. "I agree more than you", "I agree better than you" - that's the Indian parliament for you!
For example on Wednesday, the entire Lok Sabha agreed that the Supreme Court had committed a grave sin by ruling that recruitment of faculty in super-specialty positions in medical colleges like AIIMS and engineering colleges should be merit based. No caste based reservations should be entertained. The entire house was up in arms against the court and its audacity to comment on something that forms the backbone of their votebanks. The Indian Express had reported on the SC judgment:
Justice Jeevan Reddy, who wrote on behalf of four judges in the Mandal case, had observed there were certain services and positions where, either on account of the nature of duties or the level at which they come, merit alone should count and it may not be advisable to provide for reservations.
But the house questioned the befuddling logic behind recruiting people who are truly good at their jobs, when people can be recruited with the sole idea to placate electorates. What's a few lives for a price? The good thing here is that the entire House unanimously agreed to the idea. But the session was adjourned within five minutes of them agreeing. Because law minister Kapil Sibal felt it was important to remind the House that it was his party and his government who had always backed the right of the 'backward classes' and the Opposition wanted to to tell him, "Not more than us sir."
How is any of this different from the Feku-Pappu duels on Twitter, the Subramanian Swamy followers abusing Digvijaya and the Congress fans (they exist too) trolling the Modi lovers back? If you ask me, not a thing. Except for the fact that those inside the Parliament get ferried in cars with beacons - paid for by our taxes - to carry out their trolling responsibilities.
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