'Parliament fractious, state issues pervasive' (May 13 is 60th anniversary of Indian parliament)
New Delhi, May 12 (IANS) Has the quality of debates in parliament declined over the decades and is politics no longer a mission to serve the people? Are MPs adequately fulfilling their role in the highest forum of democracy? Analysts and lawmakers say the atmosphere in parliament has become more fractious over the years, with issues concerning states and sectional interests rather than broad legislative issues often driving its agenda.
Parliament will Sunday observe the 60th anniversary of the first sitting of the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha. Senior politicians fondly recall the days when disruptions were infrequent and ruckus, sloganeering and rancour were almost unheard of.
Minister of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises Virbhadra Singh said disruptions in parliament are much more frequent now.
"Disruptions on small issues never happened earlier. They (members) strongly expressed their differences of opinion but there was hardly an occasion when parliament was disrupted. Now this is the rule rather than the exception," Virbhadra Singh told IANS.
A five-time chief minister of Himachal Pradesh and a five-time MP, Virbhadra Singh said parliament had many stalwarts when he became an MP for the first time in 1962.
He termed the 60th anniversary of parliament's first sitting "a very proud moment".
"There have been ups and downs but by and large the parliamentary system has come to stay and has consolidated in the last 60 years," he said.
Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MP Sumitra Mahajan said members in earlier decades reflected a national view in their thinking.
"They had a pan-India approach to issues. Now state perspective has become more pronounced," she said.
Mahajan, into her seventh term as a Lok Sabha member, said there was respect for senior leaders in the past. If any of them stood up to speak, members would listen without creating a disturbance.
These included Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Chandra Shekhar. "In later days, even Atalji had to face disturbances."
Mahajan said a positive aspect of present-day politics was that more youths were being elected to parliament.
Political analyst S. Nihal Singh said the standard of debates in the earlier decades of parliament was very high.
"There is much less real debate now, much more of noise and disturbance."
Nihal Singh said there was less respect for parliamentary democracy though everybody swears by it, adding that the frequent disruptions were a waste of public money.
"Earlier, there was much more tolerance of other viewpoints."
Former Lok Sabha secretary general Subash C. Kashyap said the composition of parliament was also a reflection of the moorings of society.
"They (MPs) are representatives of people that we are... Of our weaknesses, our culture, sense of values, our indiscipline... If there is indiscipline in society, it is bound to be reflected."
He said in earlier years, lawyers formed the largest group of Lok Sabha members. For some time now, iy idthe largest group is of agriculturists. In that sense, there is a fundamental shift," he said.
Kashyap said there was more discussion on international affairs when Jawaharlal Nehru was the prime minister.
"Now local and regional issues which should be taken up in state legislatures are taken up in parliament."
According to PRS legislative Research, a think tank that tracks work of parliament, there has been a significant change in profile of MPs over the years.
The percentage of MPs without secondary education has fallen from 23 percent in 1952 to 3 percent in 2009. There has been a noticeable shift in the age profile of MPs too.
In 1952, only 20 percent of MPs were 56 years or older. In 2009, this has zoomed to 43 percent, said Devika Malik of PRS Legislative Research.
The first Lok Sabha passed an average of 72 bills each year, and this has decreased to 40 bills in the 15th Lok Sabha.
Congress Rajya Sabha member Mohsina Kidwai said there was more dignity, decorum and discipline in parliament than in earlier decades.
She said members then spoke as representatives of the country.
Former Rajya Sabha chairperson Najma Heptulla said there were fewer disruptions in the earlier years.
Heptulla, into her sixth term, said many of the parliamentarians in the first few years after independence were freedom fighters. Values and issues have changed over the years, she lamented.
(Prashant Sood can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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