As India tucks into breakfast Thursday morning Prime Minister Narendra Modi will not be at the table. He is undergoing a day’s fasting as a mark of protest against the forced shutdown of the Budget Session of Parliament. Not a days’ work was done in the second leg of the Budget Session which started on 5 March and ended on 6 April with the daily litany of disruptions leading to adjournments making a mockery of the bastion of democracy. The prime minister's party workers will do likewise in a show of solidarity.
We Indians have used the fast (and the hunger strike option) effectively over the centuries. Wives fast for the long lives of their husbands. Politicians fasting unto death and lesser goals have been constant in our history and our leaders have been quick to sit down on a white sheet with marigold garlands for company and turn ‘not eating’ into a flint-edged weapon. Rebels with and without a cause, religious leaders, even efforts to propitiate the gods they all go for it.
But this exercise seems a bit superfluous and while the Congress opposition can critique it in great measure it has been the Rahul Gandhi-led party that was instrumental in blocking Parliament’s functioning. Consequently, labelling Modi’s decision as a ‘farce’ and asking him to apologise for denigrating the House seems self-indulgent. If anything the Congress conduct has been farcical and it should apologise to the people and the House. In fact, all 545 members of the Lok Sabha and the 250 members of the Rajya Sabha (including celebs who don’t attend sessions) should apologise to the 1.2 billion Indians who are being taken for a ride.
There was a time perhaps when a fast such as this would have been impressive and the people would have nodded at the wisdom in it. No more. There is something uneasy and not so edifying about a sitting prime minister engaging in a fast along with his team. That’s okay for sadhus and gurus and out of the limelight opposition figures and Anna Hazare and the like. Your status and your official standing do not permit acts of orchestrated self-deprecation and what exactly is the point of it all. Even though the media will dutifully carry the coverage the optics are dreary.
India is a lot smarter now.
If the prime minister truly wants to hit the heart of the masses do something tangible. Go to the president and ask him to place the Lok Sabha on warning, something he should have done much earlier in the session. That if there is any more disruption the president will be so advised by his prime minister to dissolve the House before its five-year term. Article 85(2)(b) gives the power to the President to dissolve the lower house of Parliament before the expiry of the five year period.
Now that is worth doing and also indicates Modi means business. A lot more than missing lunches.
If such a step is too drastic then extend the session by the same number of days that were wrecked and compensate for it. If they can do it in schools and colleges and a thousand workplaces why not the House that represents the people.
There is a third option. By extraordinary decree cancel all perks, privileges, allowances, subsidised meals, gratis accommodation, free flights and especially the Rs 75,000 laundry allowances. Now, that makes sense and will earn Modi brownie points form a gleeful public.
Go a step further. All that money saved on those who reneged on their duty can be shared with the Indian Commonwealth Games contingent for representing India with more grace and dignity than our elected representatives.
Have your breakfast prime Minister and get real.
Updated Date: Apr 11, 2018 19:39 PM