Public Affairs: In-House celebrities

If icons like Sachin Tendulkar and Rekha feel that they cannot find the time to even attend Parliament, then they should resign

Actor Rekha and I were at school together in Chennai. All I can say is that in those days she did not look like she does now, but was still warm and fun and laughing all the time. And then she became a star. Our paths hardly crossed, and when she got nominated to the Rajya Sabha, I did not even expect her to recognise me. I stepped back and watched in awe when she entered. The proceedings of the House came to a virtual standstill. Members of the Rajya Sabha of all ages, male and female, were looking at her and there was discernible excitement. Members took turns to go sit next to her and talk, and she was gracious and pleasant. And the moment she stepped outside, she was mobbed! More than one MP expressed jealousy towards Javed Akhtar who was seated next to her.

And dear reader, take my word for it, as long as she sat there, not much attention was paid to the goings-on in the House.
So imagine my pleasant surprise when, the moment she saw me, Rekha let out a shout and came to give me a big hug! It brought me more admiration than a good speech would have.

Much the same happened when Sachin Tendulkar was sworn in. Although, the glamour quotient and excitement were a tad less than when Rekha entered, admiration for Sachin was way higher.

Celebrities who sat in the Rajya Sabha when I was still a member included, apart from a host of prominent figures in science and the arts, R.K. Narayan, whom I used to constantly besiege and who hardly spoke at all in Parliament, but kept making gentle and astonishingly witty remarks to me in Tamil. “But why do they shout, amma?” he would ask me in genuine child-like amazement. “What does it solve?” I would stay away from him on the days I was shouting myself! M.F. Husain used to sit in silence, but would be sketching away — he presented the Rajya Sabha with a book of Rajya Sabha sketches but never spoke in the House. Fali Nariman, whom I admire greatly as a lawyer, gave up in disgust because he could not get a word in edgewise. Even well-known author Amrita Pritam would just look around in a bemused way, saying very little.

Shabana Azmi, and only Shabana, changed the paradigm for nominated members. From the very first day she entered Parliament she started speaking out on a host of issues, particularly those relating to human right violations, on issues concerning women and children, and communalism. She was well informed, worked hard and was always well prepared. She was passionate about her causes and kept working on them. She made a huge positive impact on the legislature and helped her causes a great deal. She was never afraid to say she did not know something, and was always willing to learn. She was a great nominated MP, and her absence is a loss to Parliament.

It is, therefore, with no small surprise that I read about the controversy surrounding the absence from Parliament of nominated members such as Sachin and Rekha (Rekha put in an appearance on Tuesday). Since this has more or less been the norm over the years, it is difficult to understand why this issue is being raked up now. Further, an important dimension which has not been addressed to date is the actual ground-level situation in Parliament. Assume that nominated members like Sachin and Rekha have 100 per cent attendance, how much exactly will they be able to contribute to the working of the House?

First, both the Houses of Parliament barely function. For several years now even when sessions happen — although the number of sittings are now vastly reduced, probably less than 80 days a year as opposed to half a year earlier — members usually raise topical political issues of the day and disrupt the proceedings of the House.

Suspension of Question Hour, adjournment motions and trooping to the well are no longer occasional parliamentary practices, but have become daily occurrences, leading to the Houses usually being adjourned for the day. Even elected members from political parties have little to do. Therefore, to complain that celebrity members are not contributing is, to say the least, stretching credulity a little.

On the ideal and rare occasions when Parliament does function, time to speak is strictly apportioned according to the strength of the political party. The largest parties will have 90 minutes or so for all their members in a three-hour debate, the Opposition party a little less, and so it goes in descending order. Nominated members may be allowed roughly six minutes in total or two minutes each if three of them want to speak, at the very end of the debate. Active nominated members have long complained that they rarely get a chance to speak in the Rajya Sabha and that government business and political parties hog most of the time available to the House.

Ultimately the only option for a nominated member is to speak at a special mention (three minutes time regulated to two special mentions in one sitting and strictly to be read from the copy approved by the Chairman) or get up and speak during zero hour (imagine competing with the lusty voices of young elected MPs) or ask a question in Question Hour (which is hardly held) or move a Private Members Bill, which is scheduled for two hours every Friday during sessions, and drawn by lots before being approved by the Chairman. With all these constraints the frustration of nominated members unused to the hurly-burly of parliamentary business is unsurprising.

However, despite all the constraints, which were certainly not the reason Sachin and Rekha did not come to Parliament, nomination to the Rajya Sabha is a tremendous honour. Icons like Sachin Tendulkar and Rekha should respect Parliament and the people, and make a serious effort to attend and contribute to the proceedings of the House. The nation expects nothing less from them, and if they feel that they cannot find the time to even attend Parliament, then, well, they should resign and let someone more interested take their place.

The writer is a political activist. the views expressed in this column are her own.

( Source : dc )
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