The irony of ironies is that you can hardly notice when you are in the middle of one
BV Rao | May 16, 2012
“We should firmly reject those who would mock the institutions of our democracy that have developed over decades of experience.”
– Prime minister Manmohan Singh during the special session on May 13 to commemorate 60 years of parliament
The irony of ironies is that you can hardly notice when you are in the middle of one. On May 13, most of our 785 members of parliament, and then some, turned out on a Sunday to pay glowing tributes to 60 wonderful years of parliament even though they avoid parliament like the plague on any normal working day. Contrast that with Monday, May 7, when the important Indian medical council (amendment) bill was put to vote in the Lok Sabha. There were just 157 members present and voting. That is less than one-third (28% to be precise) of the 543 we send to the Lok Sabha.
They all spoke about what a glorious institution parliament is without realising that most of that glory has come as a fixed deposit invested generations ago and inherited decades ago and that the current and immediate past bunch of parliamentarians are earning little interest and running mostly on overdraft.
It also did not strike them as odd that they were meeting and extolling the institution of parliament as the temple of our democracy and freedoms—which indeed it is—just days after they openly murdered academic freedom in one shameful conspiracy of collective self-interest. They pulled out an NCERT textbook which carried a cartoon of Ambedkar, the author of our constitution which holds that all rights, including the right to freedom of expression, are fundamental to our democracy.
This they purportedly did to undo the “insult” to Ambedkar more than 65 years after the cartoon was drawn by the legendary Shankar, respected and revered by most stalwarts of that era. Ambedkar or other leaders of his time apparently had no problem with the cartoon because Ambedkar himself believed that nobody should be deified to the extent that they are beyond all reproach. “Bhakti in religion may be a road to the salvation of the soul. But in politics, bhakti or hero-worship is a sure road to degradation and to eventual dictatorship,” Ambedkar told the constituent assembly on November 25, 1949. That dictatorship is now operating in his name!
When a person of a not very sound mental disposition landed a slap on Sharad Pawar’s face, this very bunch of parliamentarians condemned the attack in the strongest of terms and sought to blame the anti-politician mood in the country rather than try to seek the reasons for the anger. A day after these honourable members forced the ban on the cartoon and demanded action against those responsible, they got action, a lot of it. The office of Suhas Palshikar, one of the NCERT advisors responsible for including the Ambedkar cartoon, was vandalised in the Pawar pocket- borough of Pune. But forget about a strong condemnation of the vicious attack, there was not even a squeal of protest or concern in the two houses. It was almost like the attack had parliament’s silent approval.
Irony again, considering that it is parliament’s primary responsibility to ensure our right to life, liberty and safety.
Of course, the honourable members saved the best for after the Sunday binge. A day after patting themselves on their backs largely for their predecessors’ good work, the Lok Sabha stood up as one again. This time to demand the withdrawal of all NCERT books with all political cartoons with potential to “poision” young minds against politics and politicians. Only one member, just one (Sharifuddin Shariq of National Conference), spoke with wisdom in a house full of honourable wise members.
So, when the prime minister says that “institutions of democracy have developed over decades of experience”, count out at least the last two. These two decades have hardly added to the good experiences and have been particularly responsible for taking some sheen off parliament. That is why while an Ambedkar did not have to worry about how parliament will be perceived and portrayed in the public eye, a Manmohan has to advise us to “firmly reject those who would mock the institutions of our democracy”.
There is nobody outside parliament who can as much as look in its direction with anything other than outmost respect. If parliament has been stymied, it is because of what has been happening or not happening inside it rather than outside. Nothing has mocked parliament more than the poor conduct of its recent keepers. Yet, when the prime minister says we should “firmly reject all those who would mock the institutions of our democracy”, he is, for some strange reason, addressing the outside rather than the inside.
PS: And, as the picture above suggests, the ironies just don't end. The treasury benches were empty on Wednesday, May 16, during zero hour. Just two ministers (Kapil Sibal and P K Bansal) and one honourable member from the Congress party couldn't find better things to do than attend parliament. But by the time Sushma Swaraj rose to lambast the Congress party and the government's lack of interest in the house, Bansal did manage to find more important stuff to attend to. It was just Sibal holding fort. And his response to criticism? "Ministers have many things to attend to. They are not required to be in the hosue during zero hour." Indeed, but what about all the congress MPs? Are they not required as well?
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