The Complete transcript of BBC Hindi special programme Aapki Baat BBC Ke Saath with Parliamentary Affairs and Urban Development Minister, Ghulam Nabi Azad
Nagendar Sharma : Mr Ghulam Nabi Azad, would the Monsoon session also of be an action replay of previous sessions marred by disruptions and walkouts or should the country expect something different from the highest forum of parliamentary democracy?
Ghulam Nabi Azad : I am happy to say that the series of meetings which have been going on since past few days with all political parties – the left, right and centre, the UPA constituents, NDA partners all have assured the government and the speaker that nobody is interested in boycotts and disruptions -- this gives us hope that the Monsoon session would see a lot of parliamentary business.
BBC listener from America: Sir, in 2004, there were 85 sittings of Lok Sabha and 49 of Rajya Sabha, and during these days the average working hours each day were only three and a half. Is this not a cause of worry for Indian parliamentary system? Also, in the 14th Lok Sabha the number of young MPs is quite high -- what are you doing as parliamentary affairs minister to encourage them to speak in the house?
Ghulam Nabi Azad : I agree with you as we parliamentarians have an immense responsibility. Crores of people participate in the massive exercise to elect the representatives for Parliament, and enough debates have taken place already on the costs involved. Now if after such an elaborate exercise, those elected do not participate in parliamentary proceedings or Parliament does not function, it is really sad and disappointing for the whole country. Therefore, for this session we have done prior homework to see that such disappointments are not repeated. The government has assured the opposition that it is ready for debate on any issue that the opposition wants to raise.
On your second part about young MPs, if you recollect during the budget session around 35-40 young MPs sat on a dharna in the parliament complex near Mahatma Gandhi’s statue in protest against the frequent disruptions, which was not allowing them to utilise the session time for constructive use. This had an impact on senior members, and I think it is only the first year in Parliament for these young MPs. It takes you a year to understand the parliamentary procedures, and from now on we hope that we would be seeing the best of the younger lot in Parliament.
Nagendar Sharma : Mr Azad, another worrying factor is the increasing number of backbenchers in Parliament -- the number of vocal MPs is on a consistent decline, why ?
Ghulam Nabi Azad : No, I think the number of MPs who want to speak on issues concerning their constituencies and public issues is rising. The problem is that if any member sits the whole night to prepare his speech, and then delivers it in the House for say even an hour, it would not find even a single line mention in the next day’s newspapers. On the other hand, if any MP stands up to shout and disrupt the proceedings, his images would be splashed by television channels from morning to evening. Good parliamentarians find that speaking in the house does not serve any purpose, as attention is being paid to disruptors.
It is not only the responsibility of the legislature to ensure smooth conduct of Parliament, the fourth estate of democracy would also have to fulfil its responsibility. Despite many efforts in the past, we have not succeeded in convincing the media – both print and electronic that if you start ignoring those who come to Parliament only to disrupt it, they would be automatically discouraged, as they would understand that attention cannot be attracted by negative tactics.
BBC listener from Abohar (Punjab): Sir, if salaries of MPs are to be hiked, such a bill would be unanimously passed, but there would be disruptions if issues of public importance are to be raised. Why is Indian Parliament becoming a laughing stock, and majority of people remain silent as they do not want to invite trouble by criticising politicians. Is it not a sad state ?
Ghulam Nabi Azad : I could not agree with you more. There was a time in our country, about five-six decades back that politicians were seen as role models, and today they are looked upon with disdain. We have to go deep into this debate, if politicians are being looked at with a feeling of hate, then let us not forget it is reflection on our society. During the past decade or so, criminal elements are being elected to Parliament and state legislatures--in some cases these criminals contest elections from the jail and win by huge margins.
Our party and some others have been consistently raising their voice against criminalisation of politics, and we cannot forget that if criminals are entering politics, where do they come from? We have to accept they have been living in the same society, which now wants to shun them. Who has been electing them? It is the voters of the country. Therefore it is an overall decline in the values of our society, which all of us would have to rebuild, without passing on the blame.
Nagendar Sharma : Mr Azad, the UPA government has been maintaining that an all-party consensus is required to check criminalisation of politics. Prime Minister had also hinted at this, and the centre’s stand in Supreme Court was also for consensus, why is the initiative lacking?
Ghulam Nabi Azad : Well, the government alone cannot do anything on this. An initiative was taken in this regard by the Election Commission, and central governments in the past and now are also trying, but, yes, attempts have been insufficient, because at the moment, the constitution of the country allows such people to contest elections. An amendment in the constitution is required to check this evil practice. Many political parties in the country depend on such elements. In many cases, criminal elements get elected even while being in jail, therefore a big effort is required in which a change in the electoral laws, along with public pressure is required to stop this.
BBC listener from Jaipur: Sir but what is the government doing to check criminalisation, and, when Parliament is in session, to check repeated disruptions?
Ghulam Nabi Azad : Well, more than the government it is the responsibility of the people. Please tell me who elects these criminals? I think Indian voter is one of the most intelligent voter in the world -- look at the surprising election results we get in our country, but somehow on the issue of criminals in politics, we have been disappointed. So far as your question of disruptions is concerned, I do not want to name anyone, those who have been either boycotting the proceedings or disrupting them have realised that it is only in their benefit to let Parliament function, so that they can say whatever they want on issues important to them.
BBC listener from Pakistan : Sir we in Pakistan watch the Indian parliamentary proceedings with great interest. For the Monsoon session the opposition NDA has already made its intentions clear of bringing motions against Prime Minister’s statements on British Raj in Oxford University and Iran-India gas pipeline in Washington. Similarly the Left parties are flexing their muscles. Is this session going to be overloaded and politically surcharged ?
Ghulam Nabi Azad : My friend, all parliament sessions in India are overloaded and politically surcharged, given our population, the way debates in Parliament take place and the way members want to raise issues concerning their regions and of general public interest. We have been assured by the opposition as well as parties supporting the government that they would like to participate in the parliamentary proceedings during this session, and we on our part have told them that the government is ready for discussion on any issue which the opposition and parties supporting the government want to raise. So far as your question on Prime Minister’s remarks in Britain and America are concerned, these issues would be discussed in this session and the government is ready with a reply or for a debate.
Nagendar Sharma : What bills are on government’s priority list for the Monsoon session?
Ghulam Nabi Azad : Three important bills are on government’s priority list. The biggest promise of UPA government was to ensure a minimum of one hundred days of employment for the rural poor who are unable to find jobs to feed themselves and their families. We are going to fulfil our promise in the Monsoon session of Parliament by bringing the National Rural Employment Guarantee Bill.
Another landmark bill to come up in this session is the Dual Citizenship for NRIs living in foreign countries except Pakistan and Bangladesh. This would also be the fulfilment of UPA government's commitment towards the countrymen living outside India, so that they are better placed in countries where they are living and also in their home country. We are also going to bring the bills for service conditions of Supreme Court and High Court judges. The President's rule in Bihar is going to end in September, and since the elections are not going to take place till that time, it would have to be extended, along with passing the budget for the state. All these bills are going to be passed during the Monsoon session of Parliament.
Nagendar Sharma : But Mr Azad, when we talk of Parliament and its procedures, India has adopted its parliamentary system from Britain, but the similarity ends there. Disruptions are unheard of in the House of Commons, and debates continue through the night, without members demanding anything extra. Why can’t we follow good things from other parliamentary democracies ?
Ghulam Nabi Azad : Well, if you talking in terms of sittings of the House, then Indian parliamentarians are second to none. If there's a month long session, and you are talking about proceedings being disrupted on four-five days, then we should also bear in mind that there are days when MPs sit beyond midnight, and even skip the lunch-break to carry on discussions inside the house. But as I have said, all this is not taken note off by the media, disruptions are.
Coming to the comparison with the British parliament, I'd say this is not a fair comparison. In Britain, you have totally literate MPs who share a common working language. Ours is a country with MPs coming from diverse educational, regional and linguistic backgrounds. However, in our country the unfortunate part is that if there are five disruptions in a session all of them would make a headline. But if the parliament sits beyond midnight or even the lunch break is cancelled, there is no mention of this. We should also not forget that slippers have been hurled at each other even in the British Parliament, therefore what I am saying is that all parliaments have unique features of their own, but we are willing to learn from all good parliamentary procedures.
BBC listener from Srinagar: Mr Azad, I want to draw your attention towards your home state Kashmir. There was an understanding between Congress and the PDP on chief ministership, that first three years PDP would have the CM and next three years it would be the turn of the Congress. Are you going to take over as the Chief Minister in November ?
Ghulam Nabi Azad : Well, so far as the understanding between the Congress and the PDP is concerned, it stands as it was at the time of government formation in October 2002. At that time, as you have rightly pointed out, it was decided that it would be PDP’s turn for chief ministership first, for a period of three years, and then it would be the Congress turn for next three years. There is no change in this position, Congress would be getting the chief minister's chair by October-end. Who would be the chief minister, would be decided then by the Congress party. We would cross that bridge when we come to it. Beyond that I cannot tell you anything on the issue.
BBC listener from Bihar: Mr Azad would the Monsoon session of Parliament be different, or would we see the same slogan-shouting and disruptions again?
Ghulam Nabi Azad : We have been assured by the opposition as well as those supporting the government that they would cooperate in running Parliament. My confidence comes from the assurance of the opposition. I also want to say without naming anyone, that those who were regularly boycotting the proceedings of the parliament frequently during recent sessions have now understood that it is in their interest to participate in the house.
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