Back from a three-nation tour of Africa, where he interacted with the Indian diaspora, business leaders Presidents and top political leaders of Botswana, Zimbabwe and Malawi, Vice President M Venkaiah Naidu speaks with Krishn Kaushik & Abantika Ghosh at his official residents on his expectations from Parliamentarians for smooth running of the House, the role political parties can play towards, and why institutions need internal discussions for a democracy to thrive. Excerpts:
When do you think Winter Session of Parliament will commence? After the Assembly elections?
It’s for the government to decide – dates have not been finalised. But in all likelihood it will be in December, because elections are going on in four major states (and) MPs will be busy.
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There were disturbances in the last session. What kind of a session do you foresee?
I want to see a good session — I don’t want to foresee anything. Parliamentarians of all shades should understand that in Rajya Sabha, we must maintain standards, decorum. And then follow what Pranab-babu (Mukherjee) has said, with all his experience – we must discuss, debate and decide, not disrupt. That’s my expectation. I have been in touch with different party leaders and I have been stressing on that.
Second, time has now come for political parties to really think of having some code of conduct for their members. Because when you talk to them, some members…(who) get into the Well, they say ‘Sir, the party has decided’. At the end of day, if you want to improve the system, the party should take interest about the decline (in discourse), and the effect it has on the image of Parliament. Institutions weakening means democracy will be weakened, public interest will be affected.
I can’t dictate anything to them (MPs); there has to be a voluntary code of conduct and every party should take care to see that their members adhere to that. People ask, why doesn’t the Chairman take action? Action is the last resort. This is Parliament – it’s not a school or college or local panchayat. So voluntary code of conduct, self-correction is always better.
Of course, at the end of the day (if) action is required, that’s a different matter.
Talking of institutions, two institutions have been in news lately – the CBI and the RBI – and going by the way the Opposition is talking, both issues are likely to come up during the Winter Session. Do you think these issues could have been handled differently?
Let me be frank – the problems are internal. Self-correction is needed in those institutions. You see what happened even in Supreme Court…. All these are internal issues, so there has to be internal corrective mechanism.
Regarding Rafale, the Opposition is discussing the need for a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC). How do you see that panning out?
Let us see what is going to happen in Parliament. I don’t want to foresee. The Opposition has got every right to raise every issue. The government has to respond, (and) it will respond. Whatever is as per the rules, depending on the importance and urgency, I am always of the view that issues should be allowed to be taken up, but provided that the House functions. Allow the House to function, and take advantage and raise issues, discuss the issues, and find out solutions…. That’s why I say the Opposition must have its say and the government must have its way. That’s a broader principal.
As Chairman, you recently put a cap on the number of study tours a committee is allowed. Why is that necessary?
What is the purpose of the committees? They have to study, understand various proposals the government is making, various provisions of a Bill or aspects of governance, and then come to some conclusion. For that, you need discussions, you need to call the officers, you need to interact with them. For that, going by experience, one committee going out means a number of officers who will be engaged with them, and then expenditure (rises). Keeping overall interest of committees and previous experience, I said two visits per year – that is more than sufficient.
In the last session some Opposition members said the Chair was too strict and did not allow them to raise certain concerns.
The Chairman is not supposed to hold a press conference, nor even give an interview…. Point is, there is a mechanism. I am trying to be liberal and trying to accommodate various points of view to the extent possible.
In Africa, the threat of China overtaking India in terms of diplomatic relations is very real, and it was mentioned during the last trip. How does India cope with that?
We are not indulging in competitive politics or competitive diplomacy. We are trying to strengthen our relations, and we have the advantage of (being a) democracy, an advantage of the past, and the advantage of cultural closeness. That’s the difference between others and us. I don’t want to name any country.