Celebrity MPs gets thumbs down for parliament performance

By Darshan Desai, IANS,

New Delhi : What is common to cricketer Navjot Singh Sidhu, filmstars Govinda, Vinod Khanna, Hema Malini, Dharmendra, Jaya Bachchan and Jaya Prada, wrestler Dara Singh, industrialists Vijay Mallya and Rahul Bajaj, director Shyam Benegal and economist Bimal Jalan?

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They are all celebrities, all achievers in their respective fields, but singularly unimpressive as members of India’s two houses of parliament.

The Citizens’ Report on Governance and Development 2008-09 by civil society organisation National Social Watch (NSW) has given the 12 MPs a definite thumbs down and detailed their lack of interest in Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha proceedings.

According to the report, none of these MPs attended parliament for more than 20 percent of its 34 sittings in 2007. The sittings were held over 64 days in two sessions.

In the few days they showed up in the Lok Sabha, the Who’s Who of India did not take part in the debates more than four times. In the Rajya Sabha, they were only a shade better with three members joining in the debates 10-18 times.

None of them raised even one percent of the almost 80,000 questions asked in both the houses. As many as 55,145 questions were asked in the Lok Sabha and 22,794 in the Rajya Sabha.

Bollywood star and Mumbai North MP Govinda did not attend the Lok Sabha at all during the period the NSW researched the proceedings in 2007.

Dharmendra, the Hindi movie hero of yesteryears, did not ask a single question or participate in any debate. The attendance percentage of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MP from Bikaner was a dismal 1.5.

His wife, actor-dancer Hema Malini, a nominated Rajya Sabha member from the BJP, fared better with 10 percent attendance. She asked 179 questions and participated in the upper house debates 15 times, but her questions formed only 0.78 percent of the total raised.

Former Reserve Bank of India governor Bimal Jalan, also a nominated Rajya Sabha member, asked just one question though his attendance of 20 percent was the highest among the celebrities under the NSW study. He participated in parliamentary debates 10 times.

Eminent filmmaker Shyam Benegal, another nominated Rajya Sabha member whose films have essayed contemporary social issues with great intensity, had no question to ask the government and spoke during the debates in the house only twice.

Liquor baron Vijay Mallya’s 126 questions comprised 0.55 percent of those raised in the Rajya Sabha and his attendance was seven percent. Dara Singh’s upper house performance was 131 questions, zero participation in debates and 14 percent attendance.

Former cricketer and BJP’s Amritsar MP Navjot Sidhu may have impressed everyone with his banter and smart repartee but was uncharacteristically quiet during Lok Sabha debates. He asked only 0.38 percent of the questions and attended the house only for six percent of the time.

BJP’s Lok Sabha MP from Punjab Vinod Khanna, who has essayed a variety of Bollywood roles with elan, had just four questions to ask the government and spoke only twice in the discussions while his average attendance was 5.5 percent.

Samajwadi Party’s Lok Sabha MP Jaya Prada and Rajya Sabha member Jaya Bachchan, both actors, fared the best. Jaya Prada asked 178 questions and Jaya Bachchan 159, the latter being more active in the debates.