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Futile figures

Editorial |

Till a fortnight ago few Lok Sabha “watchers” would have reason to list Bairon Prasad Mishra (BJP-Banda) Kulmani Samal (BJD Jagatsinghpur), Gopal Shetty (BJP-Mumbai North), Kirit Solanki (BJP-Ahmedabad West) and Ramesh Chander Kaushik (BJP-Sonipat) as outstanding parliamentarians. Yet they share one impressive record ~ they have recorded 100 per cent attendance in the current House. Mishra has participated in 1468 discussions, the “interventions” of the four others have been negligible. And that points to the futility of an exhaustive study on attendance by the parliamentary monitor, PRS Legislative, for what matters is the quality of participation, not just cold statistics. The figures can present a distorted picture, and the Prime Minister is lucky that he is not “covered” in any such list ~ he is among the select few not required to sign the register which serves as the basis for these calculations. Mr Narendra Modi, like some of his predecessors attends Parliament only when required. Old-timers recall that Nehru spent several hours merely “listening” to debates in both Houses because, he said it enabled him to feel the pulse of the nation, which facilitated policy formulation. Such niceties have been discarded, most ministers deem themselves “know all” and perceive the legislature as little more than a political “sockexchange”, or a necessary evil in processing legislative action. To be fair, among recent prime ministers only Mr Chandra Shekhar was a “regular” in the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha, and never allowed any of his ministerial colleagues to be “grilled”, frequently standing up saying that as prime minister he assumed full responsibility.

The otherwise tedious statistics reveal that while Mrs Sonia Gandhi attended more sittings than Rahul, the latter took part in more debates: her record was 59 per cent, Rahul’s 54. As a “category” the attendance was dismal of film-stars who sought to dabble in politics ~ obviously for them it is either the chief minister’s chair, or nothing. The statistics would also point to low attendance from some of the “eminent” persons nominated to the Rajya Sabha (Sachin Tendulkar and Rekha have been consistently slammed), but without “justifying” their staying away, the system by which “time” is allocated for participating in debates militates against members without political affiliation. Maybe there is need to evaluate statistics from a fresh angle, with the aim of encouraging participation: it would help if ministers did not deem their prestige pricked if they accepted “suggestions” from the floor. Regretfully, Parliament has been reduced to just a head count, even the media no longer offers detailed reports on debates: rowdy behavior attracts more attention ~ particularly on “live” television. No wonder that statistics are now maintained of time “wasted”, and in addition to “expunging” offensive remarks, Presiding Officers now have the technology to “switch off” microphones and TV cameras.