Home >Opinion >Columns >The foremost panchayat comes up short again

“A few things are being said on behalf of the common man of this bereaved republic. First of all, an apology to those who died in the second wave, but whose deaths were not even being acknowledged... It’s a personal pain, I don’t want to talk about numbers. Mera aankda, tumhaara aankda. Apni peeda mein aankda dhoondiye (My number, your number. Search for numbers in your pain). There is not a single person in this House or the other House or outside it who can say he has not lost someone known to him... People think he is an MP, he will arrange oxygen. Of a hundred phone calls, in the evening we would sit and see. Success rate two, success rate three. Who will explain numbers to me? I don’t want to talk about numbers. The people that have gone have left behind a living document of our failure. This apology is not just from me... it’s a collective failure of the governments from 1947 till now."

On that day when Manoj Jha was speaking in the Rajya Sabha, it seemed as if someone had given voice to the collective suffering of 135 crore Indians in the largest panchayat in the country. At the same time, a wish also emerged that if there were some more MPs in both Houses of Parliament who think, understand and speak with the same sincerity, it would surely be more meaningful to call ourselves the largest democracy of the world. However, here it need not be mentioned that Manoj Jha represents the Rashtriya Janata Dal in the Rajya Sabha.

It’s not that other members don’t speak well. Some ministers and MPs have both fluency and articulation, but their speeches are often held to further the ‘party line’. That is why on 20 July, when minister of state for health and family welfare Bharti Pravin Pawar said that state governments and Union territories have not reported any deaths because of lack of oxygen, I was not surprised. Since Independence, this is how our government has been.

The minister was not technically wrong. In the affidavits of the chief ministers, it is written that no one died because of lack of oxygen. Those same chief ministers were making so much noise about lack of oxygen. Now, whatever they may say to get rid of the embarrassment, it is true that it was an unprecedented failure of the entire Indian state and system. Those who died or those who went bankrupt while undergoing treatment were all common voters of the political parties that are enjoying power. They were sure that whenever a crisis came, our elected leaders would come forth to help us. What happened was just the opposite. Except for a few, all the leaders had imprisoned themselves in their safe mansions. Parliament also lost many of its members. Yet, no one in this country got the impression that this foremost panchayat is committed to taking care of us. I would like to say with great humility and respect that the country expected better attention from its honourable representatives. The country is disappointed.

Not only that, there are many such questions that need to be voiced by Parliament, but so far the monsoon session has been marred by the debate over Pegasus. In such a situation, Rahul Gandhi tweets and makes allegations: “The foundation of our democracy is that the parliamentarians should be the voice of the people and discuss the issues of national importance. The Modi government is not allowing the opposition to do this work. Not to waste Parliament’s time and let inflation, farmers and Pegasus spyware issues be discussed."

Then, there is a reply from parliamentary affairs minister Pralhad Joshi: “A non-issue is unnecessarily being made an issue. Can thousands of people across the world be spied upon? What Rahul Gandhi says, he doesn’t understand. That is his basic problem. He speaks most immaturely."

Is this Twitter war worthwhile? It would have been better if the honourable MPs of all the parties had set their agenda in advance, but this does not happen often. This has not happened for years. In 1987, when the Bofors issue emerged, Parliament was paralyzed for 45 days. In 2001, it was suspended for 17 days after Tehelka’s ‘revelation’. The 15th Lok Sabha (2009-14) broke the record. On the issue of 2G and coal mine allocation, 39% of the time in the Lok Sabha and 34% in the Rajya Sabha was lost. In September 2012, Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha, Sushma Swaraj, had said that we had to disrupt Parliament to expose the government and its corruption. Running Parliament is the responsibility of the government, not the opposition. It seems that her party has not forgotten this sutra. Defence minister Rajnath Singh will talk to the opposition to end this current deadlock.

What happened to the 2G issue after so much remorse? A special CBI court acquitted all the accused. Now, no one knows when and where the case will go, in the higher courts. The same happened with Bofors. So, the question arises as to how justified it is to obstruct the proceedings of Parliament on issues that are to be decided in the courts. That is why people are beginning to feel that the work of Parliament should be moderate, consistent and meaningful. It has been said many times, but there is no harm in mentioning again that a day’s proceedings of both the Houses cost 10.5 crore from the pockets of ordinary Indians.

What is the condition of those who are paying for all this? These are the people whose relatives died because of covid, without medicine or oxygen. The same people who were already suffering from a covid-hit economy. They are those whose daily life goes through many difficulties. When will they emerge from all these troubles, no one can predict, but the largest panchayat of the country can boost their morale by discussing their issues.

Shashi Shekhar is editor-in-chief, Hindustan. The views expressed are personal.

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