Thursday, July 18, 2024

Wading in the jungles of the Indian Parliament


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By Patricia Mukhim

Our two first time MPs Dr Ricky AJ Syngkon and Saleng Sangma have found their voices in parliament when they took oath and the former when he was given the opportunity to speak, albeit very late in the evening. They must have surely been overwhelmed by the uproar and the continued booing especially when the Prime Minister stood up to speak. More than that it must have sounded like they were in some temple (not the temple of democracy) when chants of ‘Jai Shri Ram’ rang through the hallowed halls of the sanctum sanctorum of democracy. There have been disruptions in the past too but the walk-outs from parliament were few and far between. A sort of unwritten bonhomie existed between the ruling and the opposition MPs. There were no attempts to belittle anyone as the ruling party MPs and their cohorts outside the House continue to do with Rahul Gandhi who is today the Leader of the Opposition (LoP)in the Lok Sabha. This is an era of ugly dog-whistles which were unheard of before. Crude and indecent language have become the order of the day in India’s political firmament.
Once there was a sense of parliamentary decorum where the Speaker would remain a neutral, countervailing force and would not bend over backwards to please the ruling party. That’s no longer the case today. Om Birla stood up when the Prime Minister rose to greet him. He didn’t rise when the LoP congratulated him on being elected Speaker. When this was pointed out to Birla he gave a bland, unconvincing answer that Modi is senior to him in age and he was taught to respect his elders, whereas Rahul Gandhi was a younger colleague hence he did not feel the need to stand when the LoP congratulated him.
The problem with Parliament today is that the Prime Minister does not realise the value of time. He spoke for over two hours mainly taunting the Opposition INDI Alliance. There is not much difference between the Prime Minister addressing parliament and Narendra Modi addressing an election rally. The barbs and superciliousness were all too evident. More parliamentarians should learn to use wit and sharp communication techniques as Mahua Moitra does. Each word of hers must have hit the Prime Minister and the BJP MPs bang on target. Without batting an eyelid she listed out what she lost when she was unfairly targeted by the Modi Government in her last avatar. Amongst the things she lost was her “uterus” since she had to undergo hysterectomy. She must also have lost her peace of mind but Mahua’s sweet revenge came when all those MPs who were in the Committee overseeing her case lost the election. Moitra said all this in just a little over 30 minutes but covered so much ground from Manipur to Ayodhya to Kashmir. That’s what makes a good speech – incisive and delivered with precision.
In the Lok Sabha the Speaker allowed members in the ruling benches to retort to Rahul Gandhi’s speech and to Mahua Moitra. On several occasions a much-chastened Amit Shah got up to defend the Government. But in the Rajya Sabha where the Prime Minister went overboard to harangue the Opposition, the Chairman Jagdeep Dhankar, would not allow a riposte. The partisan behaviour was so conspicuous that the only way that the Opposition could protest was to walk out of the Upper House.
It’s plain as daylight that the parliament sessions in the next five years are not going to be constructive but confrontational. In this confrontation it is the people’s issues that will get short shrift. While the parliament session was going on Hathras happened. Over 120 people died in the melee and many are still being treated in hospital. What do we have to say about a country where lakhs of blind followers of self-proclaimed god-men continue to flock to their gatherings in the 21st century? Is this blind faith also not a result of illiteracy; of ignorance; of hopelessness in a governance system that has created more inequalities and of not seeing a way forward and therefore finding solace in the opiate-inducing speeches of god-men? We actually have to look beyond the stampede where the state has completely failed in its basic administration and analyse why Indians place such blind faith on god-men and women? Where is the scientific spirit which the BJP claims has been an intrinsic part of ancient Indian texts? Or is governance failing especially the poor millions in this country and they resort to anything that will bring temporary solace? But at what cost?
The shameful truth about India is that the tall claims about its growing GDP and human development indices are not reflective of the ground realities. With a Prime Minister who has turned into a bully pulpit, things are not going to get better. Until Indians rise above partisan politics that has divided this country like no other time; until they get out of the rhetoric of chauvinism and forced patriotism and realise that country is above party politics, India shall continue to fall from grace even if this fall is window-dressed so that the world does not see it. There are shameful truths that are being played down such as the continued lynching of Muslims where the perpetrators are never arrested. Instead of arresting such murderers there is instead the tendency to gloat about such killings as if they are achievements and that with an overweening pride.
Shillong MP, Dr Ricky Syngkon has learned the ropes of negotiating his way through the corridors of power to demand what Meghalaya rightly deserves. His first tryst with the NDA Government was with the Minister for Road Transport and Highways, Mr Nitin Gadkari who has promised the necessary amount for repairing of the Assam-Meghalaya-Mizoram-Tripura lifeline – National Highway 6 at a cost of Rs 200.81 crore. There are a total of 54 Union Ministries and 93 departments that make up the Indian Government. Several officials that have served in these departments have confided that most MPs representing the North Eastern states have never come to these ministries to pursue projects for their states. Let’s hope that the 2 MPs from Meghalaya will check into all these ministries, particularly the ministries of Civil Aviation, Agriculture and Farmers’ Welfare, DoNER, Tribal Affairs, Ministry of Environment and Forests, Food processing; Women & Child Development but above all Education. The two MPs are well placed to adjudicate about the state of education in Meghalaya and the need for adequate funding of educational institutions.
But wait a minute, the most important Ministry that the Shillong MP needs to pursue is the Health & Family Welfare Ministry. NEIGRIHMS needs urgent intervention as it is unable to employ adequate human resources. It may have the infrastructure and equipment but if there are not enough competent personnel to handle them, then the institution is unable to give its best to the growing number of patients from the entire North Eastern region. Without health care people will not be able to give their best, so health is a priority as much as road and rail communication are.
Yesterday the Ministry for Road Transport and Highways had stated that Meghalaya would be allocated Rs 24,000 crore for the construction of a four-lane road from Umiam to Silchar via East Jaintia Hills district to improve the road connectivity to Assam, Mizoram and Tripura. Out of the total amount approved, Rs 12,000 crore has been sanctioned for the construction of the 100-km stretch of road between Umiam and Malidor (both in Meghalaya).The amount also includes compensation for landowners. This project would help ease the travel to and from Guwahati to Silchar, Mizoram and Tripura. The remaining Rs 12,000 crore is earmarked for the construction of the remaining 4-lane road in Assam.
Rs 12,000 crore is a lot of money and I am sure the land mafia in Meghalaya are already sharpening their knives and counting how much they will get out of the land compensation. They must already be in touch with land owners to hike up the price of land along the stretch of the highway. This is what kills all road projects in Meghalaya. And this is where the VPP’s commitment to eradicate corruption and provide clean governance, which also means eliminating all the middle-men who benefit from land acquisition by government, comes in.
Corruption in projects related to roads and highways is a mortal sin and a plague that has to be uprooted. This will not be an easy task but if the VPP has the people on their side they should be able to achieve what they had promised the electorate.


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