Last week the Lok Sabha witnessed a rare event in our democracy. An intelligent, dignified debate. It gives heart to the country to see its leaders indulge in healthy argument instead of wasteful walkouts. May this be the start of a new trend?
WHEN WAS the last time we saw, or our ebullient members of Parliament allowed us to witness their arduous intelligent debates about any one problem plaguing the millions of this country? My memory is as good or as bad as any of our readers’.
Of course it was last week! Those were the best of the moments of Indian Parliament. The leader of opposition Lal Krishna Advani and P.M. Manmohan Singh were debating at their best and the country and world realized what a healthy democracy India is. It was in sharp contrast to the pointless opposition walkouts.
Disruptions and adjournments are no way to advance discussions on any serious issues. This debate should be a lesson for the neophyte politicians and green horn parliamentarians. It proved that Lok Sabha is still more than capable of serving its intended purpose – a venue for the discussion of pressing issues, where the executive are held accountable.
The Lok Sabha on Wednesday witnessed an interesting and intriguing dialogue when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh intervened repeatedly and rejected senior Bharatiya Janata Party leader L K Advani’s charge that United States’ pressure was behind India’s decision to talk to Pakistan. Advani suggested that the US was behind the recent Indo-Pak foreign secretary-level meet as President Obama had publicly said during his Presidential campaign that he would try to resolve the Kashmir issue.
This, the BJP leader contended, marked a change in the US position as the previous US administrations had maintained that they would not mediate in Indo-Pak relations unless both the countries wanted it.
In a sharp verbal duel during the debate Singh asserted that there has been no change in the US policy on Indo-Pak relations since US President Barack Obama came to power. He intervened on more than two occasions during the 75-minute speech by Advani, seeking to set the record straight on the Indo-Pak talks besides other issues like ‘one-rank-one-pension’ for armed forces.
“You are using this debate to sow seeds of rift between the government and the armed services,” Singh said.
”What you are attributing to President Obama is certainly not true. In my discussions with President Obama, he has unambiguously said that there is no change in the US policy towards India and Pakistan (relations),” the Prime Minister asserted.
Advani claimed that India and Pakistan had held “secret” talks over Kashmir and wanted the government to tell the Parliament what the parleys are about. P.M. countered him with the details of the series of parleys held between the former External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh and US Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott not being shared with the Parliament when BJP was in power.
“Let me ask you one question. How many times did Jaswant Singh hold talks with Strobe Talbott. Was Parliament kept informed about the over dozen meetings? Why then are you expecting me to answer hypothetical questions,” Dr. Singh said.
At this, Advani appeared to be defensive and said he had read about these “secret” meetings in the media. “If there is no substance, I will be happy,” he said. He, however, said the government should be cautious “even if there is an iota of truth”. Advani also questioned the utility of the recent talks with Pakistan, which he suggested marked a shift in India’s post 26/11 stand of not holding dialogue with Pakistan till it ended terrorism. He suggested that the government appeared to lack unanimity in approach over talks with Pakistan.
Noted economist and Noble laureate Dr Amartya Sen had raised some fundamental issues confronting democracy in his book ‘The Argumentative Indian’. Politics and current state of affairs have always been amongst the favorite topics for a vast majority of Indians. These debates do not play any significant role in national affairs but they illustrate that political awareness is the essential ingredient of democracy and has always been inherent in the Indian psyche.
The opposition must understand that ‘Dharnas’ & ‘walk-outs’ serve no purpose except that the precious Parliament time is lost. It leads to rallies and violence once it spills out on the roads. Our worthy leaders must realize that it is always better to stay and debate – even condemn and criticize – than to walk out and that too often en masse.