Parliament vs people: Time our MPs learnt to take criticism

Two parliamentary worthies, Rajya Sabha members Ram Gopal Yadav (Samajwadi Party) and Mohammed Adeeb (Independent), have moved a privilege motion against actor Om Puri and Team Anna member Kiran Bedi for making rude remarks about MPs and politicians last week.

Among other things, Om Puri derided parliamentarians as “anpad” and “ganwaar” (uneducated and illiterate), while Kiran Bedi had mocked politicians by wearing a “ghunghat” saying they were undependable.

 Parliament vs people: Time our MPs learnt to take criticism

Members of Parliament in Lok Sabha. PTI

While Om Puri has already apologised for what he said, Bedi has not. Lord Meghnad Desai thinks her antics were little more than “street theatre” and there was no need for an apology.

He also asked our politicians to stop taking umbrage at such kinds of criticism and pointed out that worse things were done in the British media and there were no consequences. Politicians took it in their stride.

Firstpost would now like to raise a larger point: can parliament use its powers against ordinary people who are just critical – maybe harshly so – of its actions and behaviour? Even if MPs think they are being maligned, they should take their grievances to the regular courts for redressal – and not use their own special powers for retribution. The powers of parliament are not meant to be used against citizens this way.

During the debate on Saturday, several members – Sharad Yadav and Lalu Prasad among them – made caustic remarks against members of the media and civil society.

Lalu Prasad questioned the role of the media, and mocked key members of Team Anna. Sharad Yadav not only criticised the media, but also the role of spiritual leaders in the anti-corruption campaign.

While it is nobody’s case that the media conducted itself very well during the Anna campaign (it certainly needs to introspect) or that things that should not have been said were indeed said at Team Anna’s Ramlila camp, parliament members cannot, on the one hand, arrogate to themselves the right to criticise anyone from the house and then hide behind their privileges to hit out at their detractors.

This is an unequal fight – where parliamentarians have extraordinary power over citizens but the latter have no right to hit back.

The fact is, many members of parliament do not behave with the sense of decorum they ought to. Also, parliament is invested with too many powers of contempt which an ordinary citizen does not have. This means libellous statements spoken in the house are protected from action in courts, but the public has no such protection.

This is a complete travesty of the constitution’s basic guarantee of equality. “We, the people…” cannot be at the mercy of “We, the law-makers…”.

RJD chief Lalu Prasad participates in the debate on the Lokpal issue. PTI

It is time parliament’s members realised that the public has much of a right to criticise MPs as the latter have of them. MPs cannot use parliamentary privileges to target members of the public whom they don’t like, especially when good sense has prevailed and apologies have been offered.

Few citizens believe that our MPs are doing a great job. In fact, Om Puri was talking about legislators who threw chairs and mikes in the house. The public often thinks poorly of our politicians, and this factor comes out repeatedly in polls on corruption and public perceptions.

Our parliamentarians should wake up and smell the coffee. It is completely unacceptable for them to think they are immune to criticism and caricature and unfair of them to use parliament’s powers to target civil society.

These privileges should be used rarely and only in exceptional cases. If used to silence critics and political adversaries, they will be guilty of having contempt for their own people.

It is time they grew up.

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Updated Date: Aug 29, 2011 17:27:56 IST