On the 135th birth anniversary of the first President of India, Dr. Rajendra Prasad, on December 3, 2019, I had the privilege to visit the Parliament, for the first time, to see how it looks and functions, first-hand.
Based on a recommendation, I was able to get a pass to enter the building of the highest law-making body of our country. The time allotted was from 2 p.m. to 2:40 p.m and accordingly, accompanied by my litterateur classmate, Ajay Anurag, I reached the destination much in advance, full of curiosity and alacrity.
I took a metro train from Vaishali to reach the Central Secretariat metro station from where the parliament is just a furlong. Soon, after I checked out from gate number five of the station, I was stopped and asked to show the entry pass. The security staff I bumped into was Laxmi, whom I appreciated for her righteous duty, and who, in turn, gave me a wide smile.
My entry at the first security check was allowed upon the presentation of the pass and my Aadhar (ID) card. At the second security check-point, I saw the visitors lined up in two different queues: one to deposit mobile phones and another for those without one. The second queue was rather smooth, and I chose that one to proceed further after handing over my phone set to yet another journalist friend, Manish Kumar Sinha, who had joined us only to return to the Press Club nearby.
Everyone was supposed to deposit their mobile phone sets before entering the next gate. Following the norms, I reached the next security check that included frisking. I was also told not to carry even my wallet from a certain point, by the security management staff.
The security staff, performing their official duty said, “Only three things are allowed: entry pass, identity proof, and cash.” It was written on a piece of paper that was pasted on the adjacent wall. The rest of our belongings had to be deposited at the security check. I asked for a token of objects I had deposited with a mention of details, but I was denied the same, saying that they did not have a system for the same. I feared to lose my belongings and multiple cards that I was carrying, from my driving license, voter ID, PAN and debit/credit cards.
What began to run through my mind was that if I lost any of them, I would not be able to claim the same in a court of law, because of a lack of evidence. I can’t prove to anyone if I deposited the same at the Parliament. Hence, it was all a matter of faith and trust while depositing these articles.
At the next entry, I was told not to carry even a pen, my visiting cards, and even a single piece of paper. All I had was deposited there, conforming to the security rules. Passing through the multiple security checks in adherence to norms in this place, I was able to secure a seat on the bench, on the upper floor, from where I could see the MPs speaking, with my eyes. So nice, so good! I was ushered to the seat by the staffer, mostly using sign language.
The moment I entered, I found and heard Muthuvel Karunanidhi Kanimozhi, the Hon’ble MP representing Thoothukudi constituency, speaking in the House. One by one, I could hear half a dozen of the members reading their papers within the specified time limit. The good part was that these MPs were raising developmental issues pertaining to their respective constituencies. BJP MP Ravi Kishan drew the attention towards the extension of UPSC in his constituency.
In-between, instructions for the MPs were often repeated by the Hon’ble speaker, to request them to stick to the text submitted to the Chair in advance for the August purpose. The medium of communication was either English or Hindi. I could notice the leaders from the cow-belt speaking in Hindi, whereas those from the south preferred English.
However, MP Nishikant Dubey, from Jharkhand representing Deoghar (Godda), had submitted his paper in English, but spoke in Hindi with the permission granted under the current system. He wanted a DRDO extension in his constituency.
Seeing all this, I got reminded of my college time, of an incident that happened 30 years ago. One of the professors, perhaps to win hearts and minds of the students, announced in the class that he would be dictating a set of eleven questions; out of them the five were sure to tally with.
Interestingly, in a battery of examinations, there used to be a set of 10 questions, and only 5 needed to be answered. The teacher’s claim was often correct considering past records, which I had heard from the seniors. Most of the students were content and happy. On the flip-side, the classroom was almost empty with thin attendance. They only waited for the day to get the ‘guess questions.’
It stands to reason why I got reminded of my college time. I saw the lower house of parliament almost half of the seats remained unoccupied, reasons best known to the absent MPs. I can say, I saw the ‘House of Representatives‘ without the ‘representatives.’
Parliament sessions are generally conducted for a limited number of days in a given year. Even for such a small period, the House often goes without full attendance, given that their absence does not affect their salaries, allowances and other benefits, including pension.
The MPs are entitled to pensions out of the amount of tax collected from citizens’ hard-earned money. On the contrary, the scheme of pensions for government officials has been almost abolished. The case in the private sector is more alarming, where the amount of wage is deducted pro-rata for their absence and late arrival.
This is what I observed on my maiden visit to the Parliament. Hats off to the security personnel who work very diligently, keeping us safe, including members of the parliament.
In hindsight, I have one more thought: Can’t we have a one card-system in place of multiple cards as mentioned above? Carrying all of them at times is cumbersome and they can be synced into one.