The day India’s MPs created history

By Sarwar Kashani, IANS,

New Delhi : It was a rare show of unanimity and purposefulness, going beyond party lines. At the special parliament debate on Saturday, MPs transcended their usual acrimonious and disorderly behaviour to demonstrate that when it matters, India’s lawmakers can deliver.

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They also managed to assert the supremacy of parliament in framing legislations for the nation.

The Lokpal discussion — stretching over nine hours in the Lok Sabha and eight hours in the Rajya Sabha — saw a sober tone echoing in both the houses though MPs did criticise each others’ viewpoints.

But there were no disruptions due to acrimony – a rare sight in the otherwise usually divided houses. There were no angry reactions either and almost every criticism was responded to with a smile.

Bharatiya Jananta Party (BJP) leader Sushma Swaraj, who began her speech pleading for decorum “as the nation was watching”, threw barbs at the Congress for not listening to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on major issues. “Prime minister otherwise also speaks less, but when he speaks you should listen to him,” she chided.

Manmohan Singh, who constantly maintained eye contact with Sushma Swaraj through her speech, responded — with a smile.

And when the BJP was the target of the Congress, Sushma Swaraj and her senior colleague L.K. Advani grinned.

Not only this, thumping of desks for any appreciated viewpoint was not restricted to party lines only.

That is why when Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) leader Lalu Prasad and Janata Dal-United (JD-U) chief Sharad Yadav were asserting parliamentary supremacy in an elected democracy, the Lok Sabha echoed with resonant thumping of the desks.

Almost every MP was seen doing so in agreement.

Sharad Yadav also took a dig at the media, particularly TV, accusing it of fanning the Hazare movement.

“This dabba (TV sets) has robbed us of our sleep,” he said, as the house broke into peals of laughter.

The two Bihar political leaders were greeted as star speakers later as they seemed to have voiced the sentiments of a majority MPs. Many of their colleagues congratulated them.

The tone was set by Leader of the House Pranab Mukherjee as he began the debate. “There has to be a distinction between mobocracy and democracy. To protect the constitution we must abide by it, it is upon us to ensure that there is no conflict between the desire of the people, who are our masters, and what we do.”

In the Rajya Sabha, Leader of Opposition Arun Jaitley also underlined parliamentary supremacy in making laws.

However, Jaitley admitted that Hazare’s campaign had brought out relevant demands and elected representatives could not be lethargic not to pass the anti-graft Lokpal bill for 42 years since it was first proposed.

Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) leader Sitaram Yechury candidly admitted that the wide support for Hazare’s movement was “a manifestation of the disgust of scam after scams coming up”.

The discussion centred around a contentious matter that had nearly threatened India’s parliamentary structure and perhaps the MPs had sensed it and even the usual hecklers were listening quietly.

And when parliament accepted “in principle” a resolution admitting the three conditions set by Hazare — a citizens’ charter, an appropriate mechanism to bring the lower bureaucracy under the purview of the proposed Lokpal, and the establishment of Lokayuktas in states — opposition leaders reached out to Mukherjee to congratulate him.

(Sarwar Kashani can be contacted at [email protected])