Absentee MPs shame Nation
The Lok Sabha set a new record when for perhaps the first time in its history, the House had to be adjourned during question hour because of lack of quorum on Monday. The question hour in both houses is regarded as sacrosanct since it gives an opportunity to members to make the government accountable for its actions.
A lot of information, which under normal circumstances may remain only in government files, comes out in the open when the minister who is accountable to Parliament is duty bound to share it.Therefore when MPs stayed away from the House causing acute embarrassment both to the Speaker and to leaders of various parties, it was an act of showing disrespect to our democratic traditions. No amount of excuses whether they pertain to flights being late or because of festivities can hold if the member whose question is listed for the day does not show up.
In fact, the absence also needlessly leads to suspicion that the concerned MP may have stayed away for reasons, which are not very honourable. After all it has not been too long ago that our Parliament did witness the cash for query scam leading to the disqualification of some members from the House. I am not suggesting that MPs who were expected to be in the House but were not present stayed away because of some consideration which was not professional. But I would like every political party and its leadership to take their MPs to task if they are absent without seeking prior leave of absence.
It is good to know that Congress president Sonia Gandhi has taken the issue seriously and has asked for the list of absentee MPs. But it should not end there. She must fully satisfy herself whether the reasons offered were valid enough and put the erring MPs on notice. The same goes for other parties and deputy leader of opposition Sushma Swaraj’s comments that Mondays are bad days for attendance is not convincing enough. Mr L.K.Advani must individually speak to his party and opposition MPs to impress upon them the need to be present especially when they ask questions. After all so much money is spent on running Parliament and the absence may have led to a huge financial loss also in terms of efforts put by government agencies to gather information which was to be made available to the House.
It has been suggested by a number of parliamentarians and scholars that legislatures all over the country should meet more often so that people’s issues get highlighted. Here is a classic case when members who got an opportunity stayed away due to some frivolous reason or the other. If the reason was valid than they should come forward and state it.
Monday’s problems overflowed even on Tuesday and it came as a great embarrassment when Speaker Meira Kumar found that only eight out of 14 members whose questions were listed were present. This is inexcusable and things cannot be allowed to continue like this. The MPs cannot enjoy privileges if they fail to fulfill their duties. It is paramount that they attend to their work before anything else.
Similarly, it is not a good precedent for the Prime Minister to be away from the country when Parliament is in session. One can understand that the convenience of the host country also needs to be taken into account when foreign trips are finalized but the Prime Minister purely because of the paramount position he enjoys in our country must be available in Parliament when it is in session. Otherwise the impression goes that Parliament is irrelevant. Dr Manmohan Singh was away to the US and CHOGM for a week and would again be missing when he is slated to visit Russia shortly. He had earlier too embarked on a foreign trip while Parliament was in session.
Atal Behari Vajpayee apparently started the practise. But regardless of all this, the PM and his aides must keep the importance of Parliament in mind at all times. It is true that Pranab Mukherjee is the leader of the House in Lok Sabha but for all his immense qualities and virtues, he cannot always fill the PM’s role. The pressure on him keeps mounting and it showed on Tuesday when he lost his cool.
It may not be such a bad idea to convene an all-party meet to discuss the presence of members in Parliament while it is in session. Otherwise, there must be punitive action and such MPs who repeatedly default must either be expelled from Parliament by the respective houses or their parties must take strong action against them. No one however strong and important he or she maybe can be allowed to play with our democracy.