The obstinacy of the current government, and its refusal to permit a free, fair and dignified discussion on demonetization, led to an entire winter session of Parliament being a washout. Very little meaningful debate took place and, whenever this happens, the government must bear responsibility.
However, there are sidelights in every session that may be missed by the media but need to be brought to attention. Some of them have a strong political message, others provide delightful trivia. For a start, it is alarming that during important and politically charged sessions, some of the stalwart nominated members of the Rajya Sabha are forever absent. Sachin Tendulkar continues to be missing from the crease—he hardly shows up—and Rekha makes her usual guest appearances.
Let’s not single out only Rekha and Tendulkar. The Rajya Sabha has a long list of nominated members who were missing in action during their tenure. Lata Mangeshkar, M.F. Husain and Prithviraj Kapoor were all guilty of this. On the other hand, the Rajya Sabha has also had some crown jewels from the world of science, who are often forgotten. Satyen Bose and M.S. Swaminathan might have been low on the glam quotient, but they brought gravitas to the House of Elders.
Of the twelve nominated members chosen by the president on the recommendation of the BJP government, quite a few have joined the party formally and are found sitting on the BJP benches. At least one of them is active in electoral politics. While the BJP is not alone to blame, and the Congress had a similar record when in power, I wonder if the original purpose of the twelve nominated seats was to send party politicians and loyalists to Parliament through the backdoor!
A short walk from the lobby of the Rajya Sabha is Central Hall, which doubles as a cafeteria for 364 days of the year. Prices have been revised in Parliament. Lunch is still reasonable, though. A glass of fresh mausambi or orange juice costs ₹24 and you only need a ₹50 note to get a plate of chicken biryani and some change back. But every price rise always has some old-timers and journalists complaining.
The death of Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J. Jayalalithaa left many in Parliament in grief. She died in her mid-sixties, relatively young. Friends and adversaries alike remember her as a skilled politician and a charming person, and a member of the Rajya Sabha many years ago. I attended her funeral on behalf of the Trinamool Congress and witnessed the emotions of not just AIADMK workers but also of ordinary people.
The annual cricket match between MPs and journalists is usually held in December. I am the designated wicketkeeper of the team. The former chief of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) and an accomplished cricketer in his own right, Anurag Thakur, is the skipper. Unfortunately, our star No. 3 batsman, Mohammed Azharuddin, is not in the team anymore since he lost the Lok Sabha election in 2014.
Incidentally, the selection of Kirti Azad, MP from Darbhanga and member of the Indian team that won the Prudential Cup in 1983, is always a controversial subject. Apparently, his ongoing battle with his party, the BJP, had made his inclusion in the Parliamentarians XI difficult. But then cricket and politics always go together!
Friends often ask me how MPs with conflicting ideologies interact with each other when the House is adjourned. It’s simple. We are political rivals; we are not political enemies. There is a basic sense of decency and etiquette, camaraderie even, when the cameras are switched off. I was particularly touched when I returned to Parliament weeks after my father had passed away. MPs from across parties were generous with their words of comfort. Many conversations and interactions behind the scenes in Central Hall will forever remain off the record.
Excerpted from Inside Parliament: Views from The Front Row by Derek O’Brien. The book is now available in bookstores. More about Inside Parliament in this interview with NDTV: