Houses of discord

Houses of discordGone are the verve, vigour and desire to hold a candle to the ruling alliance. On the contrary, the opposition seems to be more interested in reducing the hours meant for debating issues, by forcing adjournments of the two Houses.Vijay SanghviWhy has the opposition, lately, been lagging in pursuing opportunities in the two Houses of Parliament to put ministers and the government on the mat on various issues? Gone are the verve, vigour and desire to hold a candle to the ruling alliance. On the contrary, the opposition seems to be more interested in reducing the hours meant for debating issues, by forcing adjournments of the two Houses. In fact, it is becoming increasingly intolerant, non-cooperative and disinterested in healthy and fierce debates.What opposition members have started to resort to instead is rushing into the well and starting a physical fracas in a bid to put a muzzle on the mouth of ministers when they take the stand to reply to debates. And so it happened in the Rajya Sabha when the finance minister went on his legs to reply to the budget debate in the House. Instead of allowing him to meet the points raised by the members (including some stalwarts from the opposition), senior member SS Ahluwalia rushed to prevent the finance minister from speaking; the BJP, wanted an immediate debate on the police violence in Nandigram where the poor were protesting against the acquisition of agricultural land for setting up a Special Economic Zone.Seeing Ahluwalia rush to the finance minister, a few Congress members tried to stall him. The Congressmen ought to have known better about the temperament of Ahluwalia for he was a prominent member of the ‘shouting brigade’ of the Congress party in 1990 when Vishwanath Pratap Singh was the prime minister. Seeing the Congressmen cordon off the finance minister was a signal to other opposition members to proceed to grapple with them. The entire incident showed a total lack of grace on both sides. The presiding officer was compelled to adjourn the House for 10 minutes and deliver a lecture to the members.The state terror employed at Nandigram against protestors provided the provocation to the BJP to stall proceedings in the two Houses, with a demand for immediate debate. It does appear, however, that the BJP was more interested in embarrassing the Congress with a demand for dismissal of the Marxist-led government in Bengal rather than debate on the issue by allowing the House to function normally.The next incident was in the Rajya Sabha when a union minister was introducing a bill to the House. The minister was stunned when several members of the Left parties from Bengal rushed to him, snatched the copy of the bill from his hand and tore it to pieces. This provoked members of the DMK to run to rescue the minister who belonged to their party.The minister was proposing to establish a new marine sciences university at Chennai.  This enraged the members from Bengal for they saw in the move an attempt to deprive Kolkata of its old marine institute that had been functional for decades. Perhaps their anger was justified because the minister was displaying totally parochial considerations in his proposal to shift the scene from Kolkata to Chennai, his own state. In fact, this has been the normal practice by all railway ministers since the time Ghani Khan Choudhary was the railway minister. In Choudhary’s time, Malda was considered first for every new rail project. Other ministers who followed him have continued the practice. Lalu, the union minister in this case, was merely doing what the long line of railway ministers had done in the past. The DMK members rushed forth more so to ensure the presentation of the bill, so that Tamil Nadu would not be deprived of the new institute, than to protect their party man. This is a new and unhealthy trend resulting from the politics of coalition — every minister thinks in terms of his state and constituency rather than the country as a whole. And these recent incidents in the two Houses are indicative of intolerance and mistrust between the two sides in the two Houses.