Sushma Scored With Words, Sonia With Her Silence - The New Indian Express

Sushma Scored With Words, Sonia With Her Silence

Published: 23rd February 2014 07:03 AM

Last Updated: 23rd February 2014 12:05 PM

It is an interesting mix of contrasts and overlap. The true character of the 15th Lok Sabha, which was among the worst performing in history, if judged along certain parameters, is not entirely reflected in their parliamentary performance and behaviour.

Sonia Gandhi, as Congress president and UPA leader, occupied the front row of the treasury benches along with PM Manmohan Singh. Across her sat BJP stalwart and Leader of Opposition Sushma Swaraj. A comparison of the two top women politicians reveals some salient and not-so-obvious facts about an extremely raucous House that got a sedate burial on Friday.

First, the basic stats: Sushma Swaraj logged in with a very impressive 94 per cent attendance. Sonia Gandhi trails far behind at 47 per cent, but part of that can be attributed to the bigger organisational role she had to play in politics as the leader of UPA, and part to health reasons. (These were the years when she suffered from an undisclosed ailment, travelling abroad for treatment). But her record, otherwise, did not any way show that she was leading from the front.

A more revealing statistic is the two politicians’ performance on the one thing Parliament asks its members to do. The word derives from a French root meaning ‘to speak’ and it’s naturally expected that leaders articulate their opinions and participate in consensus-building. The contrast is stark. Sonia spoke four times. Sushma was far ahead.

Sushma is a naturally forceful and resourceful speaker. Sonia is more taciturn, and somewhat hamstrung language-wise. So she found it expedient to adopt the air of a senior matriarch who lets others do the everyday chores, taking the floor only on very key issues or on more ceremonial occasions.

Her most dramatic absence was, of course, during the Food Bill voting, where she took ill in the House. That was one of her pet legislations, and one of her four speeches had come earlier in the day.

Sushma, on the other hand, as the LoP, gets her chance by protocol and maximised it. The numbers speak of a feisty parliamentary warrior, leading from the front.

She took part in 135 debates and also got in on 31 special mentions. Besides, she asked 43 questions, engaged in discussion on eight bills and one private member bill.

One of Sushma’s best moments was her March 6, 2013, speech during the motion of thanks to the President’s address.

Two years ago, during a debate on the Wikileaks cable issue on March 24, 2011, she had a sparring match in Urdu verse with the PM, where the reticent but Urdu-literate PM responded to her “kaafila kyon luta” couplet with a well-chosen Iqbal plucked out of the blue.

That this was one of the high points of the 15th Lok Sabha was proved on the last day when Speaker Meira Kumar, the third prominent woman in the House besides Sonia and Sushma, expressly desired to see a repeat match in shayari between Sushma and Manmohan. That it did not happen was one of Sushma’s rare “silences”. Or as Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh would have us believe the “changing political equations’’.

But this Lok Sabha was the worst in terms of disruptions, pandemonium sadly described it more than any stray show of eloquence. Here, both Sonia and Sushma have to take equal blame.

If the government’s policies and numerous reports on scams left more than enough room for dissent, BJP made non-cooperation and noisy filibustering the cornerstone of their floor strategy. Things touched a nadir with the washout of the second half of the Budget session on May 7, 2013, when the BJP announced it would not let any bill pass. But there were also moments when they walked jointly.

Cooperation was noticeable on the Food Bill when, despite acute differences, Sushma took the initiative to help get the legislation passed. This was the occasion when Sonia walked up to Sushma in the Central Hall of Parliament, and later Sushma even hugged Sonia.



Manmohan Singh, PM: The PM sat looking inscrutable, saying little except "My heart bleeds" when  T-MPs created unparliamentary furore in the House.


Rahul Gandhi: Participated in just two Lok Sabha debates, asked no questions and brought in no private member Bills. His attendance was just 42 per cent.


T R Baalu (DMK): Became the voice of DMK in Lok Sabha as the leader of DMK Parliamentary Party. Always tried his best to raise the issues of Tamil Nadu.


Sharad Yadav: The Janata Dal (United) leader, one of the champions in the implementation of the Mandal report, raised issues of weaker sections.


Basudev Acharya: As chairman of standing committee on Agriculture, CPM veteran leader kept up pressure on the UPA government.


Mulayam Singh Yadav: The SP chief supported the UPA II from outside but opposed government’s important bills on the floor of the house.


Mayawati (BSP): Gave valuable outside support  to UPA on crucial issues and remained a fighter for Dalit causes.


Sudip Bandopadhay: The TMC leader found a weapon in Telangana to corner UPA in House.


Thambidurai (AIADMK): Amma’s emissary with hawk’s eye on scams that involved DMK in any way.


Women in Parliament

Sule denies role in IPL bid
The 15th Lok Sabha saw the highest number of women MPs—11 per cent. Four of the 65 women MPs never opening their mouth.

The most active woman parliamentarian was NCP leader and agriculture minister Sharad Pawar’s daughter Supriya Sule who put 733 questions to the government, of which her party is a constituent.

Pratibha Singh, Congress MP from Mandi, never missed a sitting.

Important Bills Passed

  • The Andhra Pradesh Reorganisation Bill 2014
  • The Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Bill, 2013
  • The Street Vendors (Protection of Livelihood and Regulation of Street Vending) Bill, 2013
  • The Protection of Women Against Sexual Harassment at Work Place Bill, 2010
  • The Whistle Blowers Protection Bill, 2011
  • The Lok Pal Bill, 2011
  • The National Food Security Bill, 2011

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