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Sunday, September 26, 2021

‘Parliamentary democracy witnessing its darkest days but we are committed to protect the Constitution’: Fauzia Khan

"Regardless of political ideology, ego or ambition, we must all uphold the ideals of freedom and democracy," said NCP Rajya Sabha MP Fauzia Khan.

Written by Parthasarathi Biswas | Pune |
Updated: August 11, 2021 11:28:42 am
NCP MP Dr. Fauzia Khan speaks in the Rajya Sabha during the Monsoon Session of Parliament, in New Delhi, Monday, August 2, 2021. (RSTV/PTI Photo)

The ongoing Parliament session has seen the acrimonious exchange between treasury and opposition benches. NCP Rajya Sabha MP Fauzia Khan urges the government to listen to the opposition when it raises issues like inflation, the rising rate of unemployment, national security and so on. Excerpts from an interview.

Most of the opposition members have expressed their concern about how they were not allowed to raise questions during the Parliament session. What has been your experience?

Our Parliament is the custodian of our democracy. It is the foremost responsibility of all of us to preserve, protect and defend the ideals and values that so many freedom fighters have struggled for, gone to prisons for, fought for and died for. Regardless of any political ideology, ego or ambition, we must all uphold this freedom and these ideals. What was sad during this Parliament session was how the government of India is crushing the voices of the opposition and attacking the sanctity of the Parliament. Bills were being passed in less than ten minutes each on average and the government was stifling the voices of the opposition and making efforts to conceal any form of democratic protests.

We parliamentarians, in both houses, have been elected to voice the concerns of the common man and contribute to the process of legislation, irrespective of which side we are on. We must also look at how the government is undermining the importance of parliamentary proceedings and standing committees, which is proven by the way the three farms bills were passed and the fact that very few bills are sent for scrutiny. Issues regarding our farmers, serious concerns about the economy and inflation, the rising rate of unemployment, national security; all are above party lines. But at this moment, this BJP-led government and those at the helm of affairs have clearly shown they don’t believe in these things. Are the concerns of the opposition about snooping not valid? Should we wait for a time when the honour of our women becomes compromised, when we realise that our bedrooms and bathrooms are being watched through our mobile phones? When France and Israel can institute an investigation into this sensitive issue, what does our government have to hide?

What were the questions that you had planned to ask or raise which you could not due to the logjam?

I would firstly like to say the government is running away from answering questions and discussing issues that matter the most today, right from the Pegasus issue that could directly concern national security, the farm laws, the economy, the soaring prices, inflation and so on. Despite various requests from the opposition, the government has simply chosen to ignore them. We, the members of the opposition, aren’t being obstructionist but we want discussion on these pressing issues and we do not want to remain silent, while institutions are being bulldozed. Expecting us to only discuss what the government wants is unfair!

I, individually, wanted to raise several issues, for instance, the Right to Healthcare (especially after having experienced the pandemic), the need for gender-neutral rape laws, parental leave benefits, the abolition of Jat Panchayats and many more. I also wanted to expose the instances of corruption and misuse of public money and make valuable suggestions for amendments in the Arm’s Act, Juvenile Justice Act etc.

What is striking, is to see how the replies are tabled on the floor of the house. They are vague and incomplete and this is something that I have experienced myself on several occasions. For instance, when I asked a question about the expenditure on advertisements, the reply was not even close to what a proper answer should have been. Another instance, which I feel is extremely unfortunate is when my colleague Ms Chaya Verma asked some pertinent questions on the Rafale deal or on the Pegasus spyware or other issues, which the government probably felt embarrassed to answer. They simply removed these from the listed questions, even after being balloted at number one or two. She has written to the chairman about this. I wish justice is meted out to this extremely relevant complaint. I must say that our Parliamentary democracy is seeing its darkest days but we are committed to fight for the nation and protect the Constitution of India.

The government has blamed the opposition for this problem. How do you respond to this?

The problem is that the government is not ready to discuss relevant issues. It is stubborn about discussing only what it wants. There is no respect for the views and opinions of the opposition. Isn’t it the constitutional duty of the opposition to criticise? They are calling it “intellectual jaundice!” I must say that, if the opposition stops criticising and instead only sits applauding the so-called achievements of the government, the book of democracy itself would have to be closed and shelved. I would call this a narcissistic slumber of the highest order.

The opposition is not just some members of Parliament. Every parliamentarian is the voice of a percentage of the population. Shutting the voice of a parliamentarian is like shutting the voice of an entire constituency that he/she represents. How long will the government keep crying about the last government? It has the mandate of the people and now they are expected to deliver. The reply of the finance minister to the Tribunal Reforms Bill was simply the same rhetoric of what the earlier Congress government had done. And therefore we have no right to ask about the autonomy of the judiciary. How is it relevant for our questions of today and have we lost the right to question forever? It is obvious how values are being compromised and how democratic institutions are being attacked ever since 2014. When we speak of snooping, it reflects how our national security is being compromised.

During the monsoon session, the government introduced the Essential Defence Services Bill, 2021 and it is needless to say how hastily it was passed. While speaking on the bill, I questioned the government, that if the intent behind it is to ensure the safety and security of our nation, then how can snooping of citizens be permitted on the other hand? And within seconds, my microphone was muted. A brute majority cannot dictate how the parliament works. It is the responsibility of the government to ensure that the house functions. As my colleague Mr Derek O Brien rightly says and we firmly believe in it that, “Opposition must have its say and the government must have its way.”

I will say that any common man who applies a little logic can see through the desperation of the government to advertise its compulsion to project a single leader through pictures on free food packets and vaccination certificates. Its hunger to take credit reflects that it wants to hide its failures. The word “free” is a complete disregard of the dignity of the labour of the poorest man in this nation, who is paying through not only his sweat and blood but also through the tax mechanism of our nation. He is an equal owner of this country. So projecting this as charity is demeaning his respect. Many of these things can be done if there is affluence around. But not when combating poverty is our priority. Every digital banner is like snatching food away from a hungry mouth! And the government’s priorities lie in the construction of the Central Vista. It must get its priorities right.

You have raised the need for free education for children who have lost their parents in the ongoing pandemic. What else is your observation about the pandemic and what other interventions do you want the government to do?

It is now well over a year since India has been grappling with the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. Almost every citizen has been affected in one way or another. Most people have witnessed the deaths of their near relatives and a greater number of people have been left unemployed due to the disastrous effect of the pandemic on our economy. India’s death toll has significantly increased as the pandemic has progressed, leaving thousands of children orphaned. While the prime minister’s office has recently announced a scheme that would assist such orphaned children financially, this scheme would only apply once they reach 18. I have written a letter to the Hon’ble Prime Minister Narendra Modi requesting him to announce a reservation for all orphaned and destitute children that shall be applied vertically at every stage of their education, that is pre-primary to post-graduate education. Such a scheme should consider all orphaned and destitute children, as the situation will only become worse after the pandemic ends. This reservation scheme would not only empower such children but also provide them with the much needed academic support and guidance that educational institutions provide.

I have also requested a short-duration discussion in Parliament on the need for rapid research on post-Covid complications like mucormycosis. We all understand that doctors were compelled to administer medicines like Remdesivir, Enoxaparin, Ivermectin, Favipiravir, Amphotericin, Apixaban, as life-saving options at that time. However, now the government needs to conduct a nationwide survey on the long-term effects of these drugs, for further preparedness, especially for children. The emergency use of industrial cylinders that were picked up from scrap and were used to administer oxygen could have been a cause for the black fungus. This research can further our capability to battle short-term and long-term post covid impact on patients. The government also needs to seriously make decisions in terms of the post-covid or post-lockdown distress while simultaneously battling with the soaring prices of essential commodities. And the government refuses to discuss these issues in Parliament.

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