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Sunday, January 23, 2022

Silencing the 55 per cent

🔴 Ritesh Pandey writes: Government has not allowed Opposition its rightful space in Parliament

Written by Ritesh Pandey |
Updated: November 30, 2021 7:29:19 am
Parliament's extensive framework presents many opportunities for robust debate, discussion, and dissent. During the Question Hour, key data on the operations of the government is up for public scrutiny. (File)

When I first entered Parliament, they thought I was the driver. As I drove past the barricades of the Vijay Chowk entrance, the pompously-clad security detail ushered my car to the parking lot. As a first-time MP representing Ambedkar Nagar, a mainly agrarian and rural constituency in the heart of eastern Uttar Pradesh, I didn’t know what to expect from the next five years. I didn’t know if what I said in Delhi held any weight in Ambedkar Nagar, or if all they wanted was a sadak-kharanja-makaan — things that an MP cannot guarantee. Then there was the unfamiliarity of it all — the grandeur of the halls, the complexity of the rules, the nuances of MP culture — that would make any eastern UP chap feel out of place.

Much has changed since. We have had eight parliamentary sessions, and I have become the leader of my party in the Lok Sabha. And in this time, I have realised the sheer power of Parliament, the nation’s largest Panchayat. To the armchair elite sitting in Delhi or Bombay, the relevance of Parliament is easily cast aside: Politicians are self-interested, MPs are busy all day playing petty politics on public funds, and shrill accusations seldom replace quality policy discourse.

Suhas Palshikar writes: |Making the House work

But when I raised a Private Member’s Resolution on the demands of anganwadi and ASHA workers, I witnessed how advocating for their cause in Parliament strengthens the resolve of communities fighting for their rights. Anganwadi and ASHA workers form the backbone of health, nutrition, and education in rural India, but they are paid a paltry stipend of a few thousand rupees per month (when they are paid at all), and most of their centres don’t even have adequate toilets. After I raised their demands in Parliament, about 500 members of the Anganwadi and ASHA Workers’ Organisation visited my house, invigorated with the resolve to rally other MPs to support their fight. Additionally, proceedings of Parliament make the local news cycles — a vital avenue of intellectual engagement for rural youth who have little else available for such stimulation.

Parliament’s extensive framework presents many opportunities for robust debate, discussion, and dissent. During the Question Hour, key data on the operations of the government is up for public scrutiny. Adjournment Motions allow members to propose urgent topics of national interest which, if admitted by the Speaker, are discussed and debated in lieu of any other agenda of the House. The process of passing a bill, on paper, is a powerful tool for MPs to represent diverse interests.

But all of these instruments of government accountability that are afforded to MPs have been weakened, eroded, and destroyed by the current ruling dispensation. For Parliament to have an impact, it must function normally. Mainstream media reported on the perceived lack of productivity during the monsoon session due to disruptions by the Opposition, and the government’s subsequent appeals for order. But they failed to mention that Opposition parties were disrupting parliamentary proceedings because they were not given their rightful space to dissent within due parliamentary processes. A Calling Attention Motion on the government’s Covid mishandling? Denied. A discussion on repealing the three farms laws? Forget it. Adjournment Motion on Pegasus? No — but we did get a defensive monologue by the very minister who was one of the software’s targets.

Laws were passed, or in the words of my colleague MP Manish Tewari, they were “shamelessly and brazenly railroaded” by the NDA government without any opportunity for representation of the interests of the 55 per cent of the voters who did not vote for it. The laws that did pass through regular deliberations in previous sessions were bereft of inputs from the Opposition due to petty partisan politics — the BJP’s brute majority and yes-manism ensure that even amendments worthy of discussion are overlooked. When parliamentarians aren’t given space to do what they are elected to do — represent the will of the people — bad laws are passed. Nowhere is this truer than the three farm laws that the Modi government was ultimately forced to repeal.

As climate change worsens rural distress and existing inequalities, we need leaders with the political will, and perhaps more importantly, the political ability to represent and advocate for the real growth and development of their constituents. Although disruption as a protest tactic has also been favoured by the ruling party in its time in the opposition, the status quo must change. In the upcoming session of Parliament, I hope that lessons have been learnt and a new page can be turned. I hope that grandiose idols will turn into regular people, and listen for a change. I hope that the parliamentary vehicle runs on both its wheels, the government and the opposition. On my part, I will be behind the wheel.

The writer is a Member of Parliament representing Ambedkar Nagar, Uttar Pradesh, and Lok Sabha Floor Leader of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP)

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