15/01/2016 8:02 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST

Supriya Sule's Sari Secrets And The Disarray Of Indian Democracy

Hindustan Times via Getty Images
NEW DELHI, INDIA - DECEMBER 4: (Editor's Note: This is an exclusive shoot of Hindustan Times) NCP MP Supriya Sule during a session on the day 1 of Hindustan Times Leadership Summit on December 4, 2015 in New Delhi, India. (Photo by Gurinder Osan/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

Baramati MP Supriya Sule's recent confession about her sari discussions in Parliament has created quite a rustle. Much of the disapproval directed towards her is less for the fact that she uses her time in the House to gossip, and more so for her breaking an Omertà-like code of secrecy among parliamentarians. For us observers, though, her revelations are not all that surprising.

Only recently, two BJP MLAs in the Karnataka Vidhan Sabha were caught perusing porn even as the House debated the hoisting of a Pakistan flag in Sindagi town in Bijapur district.

She eloquently described what many MPs seem to do: go through the motions of parliamentary debate.

But let's go back to Supriya Sule. In the furore over her sari remark, another point she made was largely ignored:

"When I go to Parliament, I hear the first speech, the second speech and third speech. Till the fourth speech, the one who is speaking is saying the same things the earlier speakers have said."

Here she eloquently described what many MPs seem to do: go through the motions of parliamentary debate. A while ago, an economist friend of mine who was then Rajya Sabha MP told me with great bravado that he is the only articulate spokesman to speak on any serious policy issue. So much so that, he claimed, that if he was ever found absent in the House at critical moments, the party whip would go berserk and at time even dragged him out of the toilet to come and speak. What was even more amusing was his claim that if he found himself running out of steam on a particular subject under consideration, he'd skilfully shift to his standard track and complete his performance amidst thunderous applause.

So much for our MPs who have recently given themselves a threefold hike in salary, now earning 68 times the country's average salary plus pension and perks. And all this when the average assets of 304 MPs who contested in 2004 and then re-contested in 2009 grew by 300%!

All this indicates the vegetative state of today's democracy in India. While the form and the rituals associated with it are alive, the content seems to have withered away.

The efficient electoral machinery routinely does its job with diligence and discipline. People at large flag the polling day in their calendars and discharge their duty on D-day. And that's it. So much for the world's largest democracy where the performance metric is the regular conduct of elections and share of total votes polled. This governance style without engagement of civil society or with the public at large is swiftly evaporating the essence of a healthy democratic institution. The social and economic management of society is being conducted behind closed doors among the ruling class consisting of political bigwigs, the bureaucracy and the elite. There is no vibrant dialogue with the citizens, leave alone any active involvement in decision-making.

Why not locate the new Parliament complex in a huge shopping mall? MPs can escape boring sessions and spend time more productively by shopping...

Most Prime Ministers since Narasimha Rao were mouni babas. The current PM has largely deflected this tag by conducting the weekly ritual of Mann ki Baat, a weekly routine involving all sorts of trivial issues. While the Swachh Bharat Mission is aggressively promoted, the Rs 98,000 crore bullet train project (worth far more than the annual budget for schools and health together) is set chugging without any public consultation.

The silver lining to this dark cloud is what Aam Aadmi Party is doing in Delhi. By involving the public decisions like the odd-even traffic rule, it has made Delhiites feel like a part of the decision to try this experiment to tackle pollution. This has indeed mobilised the public and given them feeling of empowerment. Whatever may be the eventual result of this experiment, the first fifteen days of 2016 in Delhi have presented the picture of a vibrant community, willing to experiment to resolve its problems. An exhilarating sign of a peoples' democracy in action. No wonder, when it comes to AAP and Arvind Kejriwal, the entire polity and bureaucracy are up in arms. After all who wants to deal with the nagging public and be accountable for every decision?

Now that the Lok Sabha speaker has proposed the construction of a new house of Parliament, there is an opportunity. Why not locate the new Parliament complex in a huge shopping mall? MPs can escape boring sessions and spend time more productively by shopping or even going to the multiplex to watch the "Pinga" dance.

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