Crafting that caption might appear inappropriate on Valentine’s Day, but since it refers to the curtain coming down on the 16th Lok Sabha its accuracy can hardly be questioned. This was unquestionably the most contentious and bitter “House” to which the Republic has been subjected, and since precedent counts for so much in the affairs of the legislature it will be nothing short of a miracle if the 17th Lok Sabha succeeds in reviving or restoring the norms and practices that have won Sansad Sadan the accolade of a “temple of democracy”. That even during its farewell sitting the Leader of the House chose to make a political speech (calling for another majority government) and peppered it with digs at his arch-rival betrays the reality that the green-carpeted chamber has been denigrated to a venue for stand-offs, or worse. Not surprisingly, beyond the rule-book the hallowed term “collective wisdom of the House” has gone out of vogue: there is little collective about its decision-making, and any wisdom was politically flavoured.
Admittedly it takes two hands to clap, but NDAII ignored the tradition that it is the responsibility of the government to make Parliament “work”. Statistics on “productivity” may be juggled but they cannot camouflage the reality that this government’s parliamentary managers (which, sadly, must include the Speaker) were pathetically incompetent. Naming names would be improper ~ one has been “elevated’ to national status, another has passed away ~ but they were all afflicted by the plague that caused them to believe that the bench-strength of 282 equated with a licence to do whatever they pleased. They kept stressing that figure ~ only to see how it left the government on the rack in the Rajya Sabha. At no stage did the government make genuine bids at securing consensus, it probably saw that as a sign of weakness for an outfit obsessed with projecting a “muscular” image. Not that the Opposition “shone”: Mallickarjun Kharge was pitiable, and Rahul Gandhi bent over backwards to sustain his “Pappu” image. When Mr Narendra Modi made his Lok Sabha debut he had attracted headlines by touching his brow to Parliament’s steps, alas he did little that went beyond the headline. Even his most ardent admirer would concede he is not a “creature” of the legislature and never attempted to emulate Vajpayee, Advani or even Sushma Swaraj in that direction. Was a single speech of his genuinely memorable? To him Parliament was a rubber-stamp, or speed-bump. An ordeal he had to endure, and enjoyed it only when the Treasury benches defiled the House by chanting “Modi, Modi” when the poll-oriented budget was being presented. There was a little warmth on display on Wednesday ~ after the Speaker had adjourned sine die. That much was made of Mulayam Singh’s “best wishes for a happy return gesture” was revealing. It exposed how the Lok Sabha had surrendered its once-celebrated graces.