New Delhi

In simple terms all that the people of this country are asking for is honest individuals with sincerity of purpose to be their voices in Parliament. Is it wrong of us or is it too much to ask, wonders Vivek Gumaste.

Call it cynicism at its worst, lambast it as egregiously unfair or dismiss it as a conspiracy of vested interests: it is not going to go away and neither are these defensive high decibel articulations the abracadabras that will make it vanish into thin air. The lament is universal, the consternation deep and the exasperation real; a ubiquitous angst that binds all Indians together, young and old, rich and poor, illiterate and literate, villager and urban dweller in a common expression of discontent; a discontent that seems to cry out in a heart wrenching voice from the rooftop to our legislators and parliamentarians: We are not happy with you. You have let us down.

Dr Subhash C Kashyap, a former secretary general of the Lok Sabha aptly captures the mood of the nation vis-à-vis our elected representatives (Rediff. May 11):

The people feel that the new breed of politicians in all parties are selfish, power hungry, greedy, dishonest hypocrites and power merchants for whom the nation comes last and the welfare of the people is at the bottom of priorities. Their only concern is to amass wealth and somehow get to and stay in power.

Being an elected representative is not a run of the mill vocation like law, medicine or engineering. Parliamentarians cannot see themselves as an entrenched profession with a turf to protect. They cannot band together for personal interest; they can only bond with each other for the national good.

In other words being a public representative is a calling that demands innate traits like honesty, selflessness and an inexhaustible zeal to serve the nation. Each of these traits is not an effective modality by itself. Only when these characteristics are inextricably intertwined with one another can success be a possibility. How exactly do are elected worthies measure up when analysed by these criteria? Are they honest? Do they make a conscious effort to function effectively?

According to National Election Watch, a watchdog body working for electoral reforms, 162 members of the current Lok Sabha boast of a criminal record. This figure is up from 128 in 2004. Similarly, the number of MP's with serious criminal charges pending against them has shot up from 58 to 76; fifteen MP's stand accused of murder. In short, 1 in 3 Lok Sabha members have some form of a criminal record and 1 in 7 is facing serious charges.

In the Rajya Sabha, 37 members have criminal records with at least 12 being of serious nature including two charges of murder.

Therefore there is an element of truth in the accusations leveled against our representatives by some activists.

Two parliamentarians of yesteryears, Rishang Keishing and Resham Lal Jangade, the only living members of the first Lok Sabha when interviewed in conjunction with the 60th anniversary of the first sitting of Parliament expressed grave concern on the functioning of parliament and the etiquettes prevailing therein.

Resham Lal Jangade remarked: "In my times, the worst anybody could say is aap badmash ho, but now............I feel very sad, and sometimes my heart cries about what is happening today. We used to work so hard, and with so much honesty and integrity."

Rishang Keishing concurs: "The Parliament was a temple and the Speaker was treated with respect and honour………People listened carefully to Parliament debates and speeches. There were no interruptions. Nobody shouted. There was no occasion when people would shout and rush to the well of the House…… Every minute of Parliament should be spent in the service of the people, and the country. "

A purview of last year's Monsoon session of Parliament is clear testimony to its shoddy working. Only 8 of the 37 bills that were slated to be passed ended up being passed. Time lost because of interruptions added up to 48 hours and 32 minutes (36 per cent of time available) for the Lok Sabha and 41 hours and 45 minutes (38 per cent) for the Rajya Sabha: a colossal waste of time at the taxpayers' expense.

All this suggests that there is a serious problem with our Parliament which needs to be set right in the interest of our democratic nation. This warrants a joint effort by the people and our parliamentarians.

First our parliamentarians must stop acting like a distinct entrenched cabal, more concerned about what they sees as an affront to their dignity. They must introspect and address the issues raised.

To our parliamentarians I would like to say: This is not a battle of 'us against you.' We are one. If you fail we fail. We want you to succeed that is why we are admonishing you. Do not mistake our chiding as a lack of faith in all of you or an attempt to undermine Parliament. We still have faith in you and that is why we turn out in increasing numbers to vote for you. But we wish to see a change. We need men and women who will make us proud as a nation and a people to represent us. We do not want excuses or explanations. This is what we want to hear from you:

1.    Yes, several of us have criminal records but we will ensure that this changes in the future.

2.    We will maintain the decorum of the house and engage in civilized intellectual debate.

3.    We will avoid unnecessary interruptions and desist from unruly behaviour that shames all of us.

In simple terms all that we are asking for is honest individuals with sincerity of purpose to be our voices in Parliament. Is it wrong of us or is it too much to ask?


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