Wednesday, February 28, 2024

‘Parliament was treated like a temple once’

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New Delhi: The discipline of Parliament has been lost with sloganeering and noisy scenes replacing patient debates, feels veteran parliamentarian Rishang Keishing, 91, who was a member of the first Lok Sabha and recalls the time when Parliament was like ‘a temple and the speaker its priest’.

As Lok Sabha completes 60 years next Sunday, Keishing, presently a Rajya Sabha member from Manipur, remembers how veterans waited for their turn to speak, and the decision of the chair was considered the last word — ‘treated with respect’.

“There is a gulf of difference in the Parliament then and now. The way things are going, discipline has been lost… It is not good for the nation,” Keishing told IANS.

“When I joined the Lok Sabha, all eminent leaders from the freedom struggle were there…,” he said, recalling the names of the first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, first Lok Sabha Speaker GV Mavalankar, and others like Jan Sangh founder Syama Prasad Mookerjee, NC Chatterjee and Acharya Kripalani and others.

“They were all great leaders…Parliament at that time was like a temple and the speaker, with his Gandhi cap, looked like a priest,” he said.

The veteran recalled the debate when states were being formed, citing it as an example of tolerance and discipline at that time, which he finds missing now.

“When the states were being recognised, members could have shouted, as happens now… After all, someone’s territory was going in some state… But they took it very calmly,” he said.

“The Chair’s ruling was respected; the members were very clean hearted and all had love for each other. We had come together after a struggle. Discussions, debate and speeches were listened to with great attention.. These things like shouting in groups, raising slogans and marching to the well were not there,” he said.

Keishing, who completed his graduation in 1949 from St. Paul’s Cathedral College in Kolkata, entered politics as a fire brand socialist with Jaiprakash Narayan’s Socialist Party and won his first Lok Sabha seat of Outer Manipur in 1952.

He came back to the third Lok Sabha in 1962, once again from the Socialist Party. However, when China attacked India in the same year, he decided to join the government’s side as his home state was in risk.

“I felt at that time that I should be in government’s side, so I went to Pt. Nehru and asked him to take me in Congress, and he agreed,” recalled Keishing, adding that Nehru made him mediator for talks with the Nagas.

Keishing, known as an articulate statesman, also served as a key leader in the movement to get Manipur, which was a princely state, annexed with India. He was the Chief Minister of Manipur thrice, first for a brief period of less than a year from November 1980 to February 1981, and then after a brief President’s Rule, from June 1981 to 1988. He was again Manipur Chief Minister from 1994-97. Later, he was elected Rajya Sabha member in 2002 for the first time, and in 2008 at the age of 88 for the second time.

Keishing, who has had a vibrant career in politics for over six decades, recalls most fondly former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi as ‘a woman who kept her word’.

During the Jan Sangh government, he recalls, a false case was levelled against Indira Gandhi in Manipur.

“She was asked to come to Imphal, and asked to stay in detention for three days… She called me and asked me to arrange tickets,” he says.

“There was a huge crowd in the hotel she was staying, she sent everyone home saying she was going to be there for a few days… Next morning, on the pretext of going for a walk, she went to the airport… As the airplane was about to close its doors, she pulled up her sari, and ran towards the plane and boarded it,” he recounted with a smile.

Even at his advanced age, Keishing has 83 per cent attendance in Parliament, way above the national average of 76 per cent as per information on the PRS Legislative Research website.

Asked what keeps him going, he said with a smile, “My duty for the people.”

Parliament will hold a special sitting next Sunday to mark 60 years of the Lok Sabha. (IANS)

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