Monday, December 7, 2009

Power & Politics / Mail Today, December 07, 2009

THERE is no better way to lose one’s faith in parliamentary democracy than watching Lok Sabha TV. The chaos, bedlam, frayed tempers on display and the frequent fisticuffs would make the most conscientious of citizens skip his next date at the polling station. In the last fortnight, we saw our parliamentarians at their best and their worst. One day, the ruling and the opposition benches were going for each other’s throat over the Justice Liberhan report on the Babri Masjid demolition. A few days later, the Lok Sabha witnessed the dubious spectacle of Question Hour being suspended because most of the members who put up questions were not present in the house. I can’t remember the last time something like this happened and am not surprised that Sonia Gandhi sent a stinker to her partymen warning against such truancy.

In the midst of such delinquency, it was refreshing to see a very, very courteous, civil and meaningful session in which our MPs were seen living up to the word “ honourable” prefixed to their names. The debate on Climate Change and the impending Copenhagen Summit in the Lok Sabha last Thursday was a revelation in more ways than one.

But what really took me by complete surprise was something that I saw for the first time: tucked away in the back benches of that high domed hall, was a bundle of young talent. That’s something that augurs well for our political parties.

The 15th Lok Sabha has as many as 82 MPs who are under 40, the highest ever.

Jayant Chaudhary is one of them but you have probably never heard of him because he is not part of the “ official” babalog setup.

He is the grandson of the former Prime Minister Charan Singh, son of the Rashtriya Lok Dal chief Ajit Singh and holds a Masters in Accounting from the London School of Economics. 36- year- old Jyoti Mirdha, granddaughter of Congress veteran Ram Nivas Mirdha is a doctor by profession. The two were among the nearly 25 MPs who were listed to speak during the debate. It’s a different matter that nearly a dozen of them were content merely laying copies of their written speech on the table of the house. The debate was initiated by the BJP’s Murli Manohar Joshi, but it was the younger lot — Chaudhary, Mirdha, the east Delhi MP Sandeep Dikshit and Sharad Pawar’s daughter Supriya Sule, to name just a few, who stole the thunder.

While the senior MPs could not resist the occasional chance to score brownie points, the jun- Supriya Sule iors chose to be assertive, yet non- combative. Earlier too on the same day, there was an occasion when younger MPs showed a maturity that should make many of their senior colleagues sit up and think. Anyone who has watched zero hour will admit that it is a truly rambunctious moment when Parliament resembles an overcrowded railway station where all the trains are running late. But last Thursday, you could hear a pin drop on the green carpet as members sat in silence when Harsimrat Kaur, the first term MP from Bhatinda and wife of the Punjab Deputy chief minister Sukhbir Singh Badal spoke on “ giving justice and dignity to the victims of the anti- Sikh 1984 riots”. So effective and so moving was her brief speech that Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee who is the Leader of the House later responded to her saying “ all of us are ashamed of what happened.

While we can’t bring back those dear lost ones, we can take a vow that it doesn’t happen in the future”. It used to be said that there is so much sleaze in politics that the new generation abhors it and stays away. The very fact that there are 82 MPs, many of them first timers, aged under 40 implies that this notion now stands dispelled. Still the fact that many of these young MPs are not given their due makes me think that some see in them potential threats to their own ambitions. For far too long, our Parliament and legislatures have been exclusive clubs for geriatrics, sticking to their outdated dogmas and narrow partisan politics and refusing to hand the baton over to the next generation.

Chaudhary, Mirdha, Dikshit, Sule and so many others hold out so much hope. We can only hope their leaders — the old and the not so old — allow them to fulfill their promise.

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