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Journalist turned politician Harivansh Narayan Singh, who is now on the ‘hot seat’ of the Deputy Chairperson of the Rajya Sabha, told Manish Anand in a freewheeling interview that political leaders must sit together to discuss why solutions to burning social issues are coming from judiciary and not Parliament. He stated that progress of the country is incumbent upon ensuring 50 per cent participation of women in Parliament on immediate priority, while noting that lack of dialogue among political parties is being reflected in disruptions becoming norms in the parliamentary procedures.
How do you look back at your journey from being a journalist to the Rajya Sabha Deputy Chairperson?
I became a journalist in 1977, and witnessed joys of the rich and poor alike when they spent whole night in front of Mantralaya in Mumbai to rejoice at the electoral defeat of the mighty politicians of those times. The air breathed with joys of second freedom.
I was able to get a sense of what the people could have felt when India gained freedom in 1947. In journalism, we talk of idealism that certain things should happen in certain manners. In 1991, I got an opportunity to see how system works when I joined the Prime Minister’s Office as an additional information officer to Chandra Shekhar. Later, I got an opportunity in 2014 to become a member of the Rajya Sabha.
In two years, the apparent norm of disruptions in the House made me ponder if the highest and pious institution of democracy is living up to its mandate. Are the basic issues before the country being addressed by the House? I think there are serious questions before us to discuss.
On disruptions becoming the norm in the Rajya Sabha, Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley had once remarked that there was a case of tyranny of unelected? Do you agree with this?
The idea behind the constitution of the Rajya Sabha was to ensure refinement of legislations passed by the Lok Sabha, whose members are directly elected and who may work under tremendous pressure of the people. Also, the second chamber of Parliament was set up to give space to intellectuals, statesmen and stalwarts who may not win elections. But the idea was not to put obstructions to the legislations being passed by the House of the directly elected members. Thus, our conduct in the Rajya Sabha has
to demonstrate the utility of the Upper House.
What should be done so that the Rajya Sabha is not seen as obstructionist?
Discipline is the bare minimum requirement to run the proceedings of the House. Mahtama Gandhi also said that there will have to be rigid and iron discipline before we achieve anything great and enduring. Jawahar Lal Nehru had said on the occasion of the retirement of the first batch of the members of the Rajya Sabha, “Parliament does set some kind of examples to the rest of the country. As we behave here and work, so does the general public and to some extent others will behave elsewhere… right to the down level of our democracy at Panchayats. A million eyes are upon us, and we should not set wrong examples.” I think the members of the House must go through self-evaluation.
So, what’s the remedy in the current time when disruptions are the new normal in the proceedings of the Rajya Sabha?
It’s very apt to quote former President K R Narayanan who had described indiscipline and disorder in the legislative Houses as “infantile disorders or the measles of the middle ages which are bound to pass, but pass they must, otherwise the system will be in mortal danger”.
Thus, the daunting task for us is to ensure that the democratic institutions function in such manners that people follow them. We need to get together and live up to the high expectations. We have to demonstrate the relevance of the Rajya Sabha with our work and conduct. This could be achieved with self-discipline.
This is also what Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Rajya Sabha chairman M Venkaiah Naidu stated that discipline is the need of the hour.
But it’s evident that the dialogue between political parties, particularly the ruling dispensation and the Opposition within the Parliament and outside, required for a healthy democracy, has become a rarity. Do you also feel it?
You’ve rightly said that Parliamentary system cannot be imagined without dialogue. We may have different ideologies, but must sit together and find ways out. I would like to quote former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee when he said after losing the 2004 Lok Sabha elections: “My party has lost, but democracy triumphed”.
This is the spirit of democracy. But the political circumstances seen in the last two decades increased the distance among the political parties. This is not proper. The distance must be bridged. India has diversities, and unity could only be the strength. Until we restore dialogue and healthy parliamentary norms, we would not be able to find solutions to larger issues confronting the country.
The concept of whip in parliamentary democracy is also seen as a hindrance to healthy democracy and dialogue, while making the MPs largely toe the party lines. Do you think the time has come to revisit the idea of whip?
The whip is a tool of management for the political parties in the parliamentary proceedings. It’s for effective implementation of the party decisions by coordinating with the members. It’s an essential concept, while ensuring that the Houses are also run effectively. However, the issue before the top leadership of political parties is to evolve a working consensus on certain big issues before the country. After 1960s, even the Opposition parties are coming to power.
So, there shouldn’t be rigid positions. But there are burning issues, including population and employment generation. If we don’t plan about the challenges before the country, including migration from rural to urban areas, then we will be failing in our duties. The budget for education has gone four times from `93,000 crore to about `4 lakh crore, yet the quality of education is worrisome.
What would you expect from the members of the Rajya Sabha that the people’s faith is restored?
The people in the country should be sensitised about economic issues in simple languages. We have tried every economic model. We’ve been through crisis. Yet, I think Parliament should brainstorm on the Gandhian economic model since we would be commemorating the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi. What should be done to create employments at the village level? What should be done that the economic mode is not exploitative of natural resources. Parliament should debate and discuss the big issues, including ecological challenges. Can we have any indigenous economic model which the MPs can debate and discuss?
The MPs often lament that the judiciary is encroaching into the domain of Parliament. But the fact is that solutions to larger social concerns most often come from the judiciary. Do you think that Parliament is yielding space to judiciary on account of inaction?
I agree with the view that the on account of the parliamentarians not discharging their duties proactively, other institutions are stepping in with their interventions. This makes incumbent upon all the members to set aside their differences and protect the supremacy of Parliament. We may differ on ideologies but must protect the supremacy of the rule of the people through Parliament. This must never go into the hands of other institutions. The day-to-day business of the country must be conducted by the legislature and the executive.
Despite seven decades of India’s Independence, women’s participation in Parliament is just about 12 per cent. Do you think it’s a cause of concern?
Women’s participation in Parliament should be 50 per cent, and it should be ensured immediately. In fact, the developed countries could achieve progress in their respective countries only after ensuring due representation to women. Aadhi abaadi (half the country’s population) must get at least half the representation in Parliament.