Vociferous laments following the tragic Lok Sabha ‘proceedings’ of February 13 have little meaning and relevance if things do not change drastically, and urgently. People are ashamed of several of their elected representatives, who may be literate but are surely uneducated. The young of India are bewildered to witness how uninvolved, ignorant and egoists could damage the very fabric of Indian democratic traditions. It appears that for some, being an MP means more and more pelf, privileges and perks. To use pepper spray in Parliament is certainly not acceptable in a civilised society. The honourable MPs were not even arrested because of the privileges they enjoy. What would have been the fate of an ordinary citizen in the visitors’ gallery had he done the same? He would certainly have landed in jail after a humiliating thrashing by the ‘security’. Who says the law treats all as equals? Can teachers behave like this in classrooms? Think of a school teacher of civics/political science entrusted the task of teaching a lesson on Parliament of India and its functions. Think of the schools which, after considerable hassles, bring their children to New Delhi and take them to the visitors’ gallery to watch live parliamentary proceedings. Spare a thought for the principal of a school or college who lectures his students to behave decently and gracefully everywhere. Think of the task assigned to schools to inculcate humanistic, ethical, moral and democratic values among impressionable young children. Does becoming an honourable MP absolve him/her of such obligations?
The manner Parliament was functioning during the last few years had given sufficient indications of increasing deterioration. Part III of the Constitution deals with Fundamental Rights in detail. Surprisingly, it initially had no chapter on Fundamental Duties as these were considered to be part of Indian social and culture practices. In 1976, Article 51 (A) was added under ‘Directive Principles of State Policy’ listing 10 (later 11) Fundamental Duties. These include “to abide by the Constitution and respect its ideals and institutions”, and also “to cherish and follow the noble ideals which inspired our national struggle for freedom”. A large number of MPs probably have no idea of the ideals of the freedom struggle and what sacrifices gave them this opportunity to sit in that august House. They only know their rights, and regularly splurge with additional privileges but pay no heed to their duties and the aspirations of their electors and also of the nation.
The Parliament has suffered its worst loss of grace. Obviously, MPs also need education in public interaction and also in duties and responsibilities. They require training in parliamentary behaviour and education in the essence of the spirit of the Constitution. There are MPs in the current Lok Sabha also who have never shouted slogans or entered the well of the House. They now have an added responsibility to strive hard to restore the dignity of the House. What is wrong if the candidates filing their nominations are given a pretest by the Election Commission on their understanding of responsibilities after election? Let them be graded and let that be made known to their electorate. It could also publish an annual performance sheet of every MP indicating how many questions he asked, speeches made and issues raised. It should also contain how many times he disturbed the proceedings and walked in to the well of the House. EC could examine how it could take an affidavit from all the candidates to behave decently, not to disturb Parliament or indulge in unethical conduct. The time is ripe for the EC/Government of India to create a statutory institute of training and education in democratic practices, particularly for MPs and MLAs.
Extraordinary situations require innovative and imaginative alternative policy response. Indian Parliament badly needs it at this juncture.
Rajput is a former director of the NCERT