In matters parliamentary there is a little more to Pranab Mukherjee and LK Advani than one being the President and the other a former Deputy Prime Minister. They would be among the most senior legislators still active in public life, they have served in both Houses, and their contribution registered in more than the years with which they have been associated with the institution.
Hence when both, separately, express dismay at the defilement of the “temple of democracy” their words ought to count, serve as alarm signals to those presently “calling the shots”. That their cautionary words of wisdom were contemptuously ignored confirms apprehensions that those playing lead roles on either side of the “aisle” hardly measure up to the task. And as for the Speaker, well, after what Advani said there is little to add. Both veterans were angry enough for one to remark, “for God’s sake do your duty” and the other to ask “why not sine die” after yet another of the frequent adjournments of the Lok Sabha.
Actually, both were voicing the frustration and disgust of the common folk whose faith in parliamentary democracy has been eroded over the past decade or so. Though Mr Advani was “pacified” by BJP leaders after his rare outburst, a telling insight was available in the Rajya Sabha the next morning when Cabinet minister M Venkaiah Naidu virtually defied the Chairman and led the treasury benches in trying to shout down the Leader of the Opposition who had been “given the floor”. Pranab-da’s comment was subsequently used by a minister of state for parliamentary affairs to slam the disrupting tactics of the Opposition, but that the minister overlooked the fact that it is government’s responsibility to “run” parliament was underscored the same afternoon when the Elders was adjourned after the treasury failed to muster a quorum — even though the bell was rung twice.
The Prime Minister is not a “creature of Parliament”, seldom attends when not specifically required to do so. The leadership of the Opposition parties have collectively failed to use the legislature as the forum in which they can “rattle” the government — as Dr Manmohan Singh did when his critique of demonetisation had the government writhing in discomfort. A previous Speaker had attempted to inspire elevated functioning — at least that was the claim — by having a statue of the Mahatma (deemed unsuitable for the “chattri” near India Gate) installed near the main entry to the legislature. It has since become a rallying point for the most “un-Gandhian” kind of protests — proof that rather than legislate the way to national upliftment, most “honourable members” prefer using the forum to launder dirty linen in public.