Goodbye to the 17th Lok Sabha. This was a Lok Sabha of many dubious firsts.
(i) In terms of the number of workdays, this was the least productive Lok Sabha (lowest days worked) since 1952
(ii) No Deputy Speaker was appointed for its entirety
(iii) The Prime Minister did not answer a single question on the floor of the House.
(iv) In the last seven years, not even a single notice by a member of the Opposition has been accepted for discussion (under Rule 267) in the Rajya Sabha
(v) An MP from the Treasury was permitted to use communal slurs on the floor of the House
(vi) First-ever security breach inside Lok Sabha
(vii) 146 MPs from the Opposition were suspended for demanding a discussion about the breach
(viii) About 300 questions by Opposition MPs were deleted
But, leave all this seriousness aside. Here are ten pieces of useless information on Parliament:
1. MPs Smile More…
…Courtesy the new facial recognition systems installed at the entrances. Members of Parliament are required to stop and scan their faces in order to enter the new building. This has meant that many more MPs smile before they enter the Parliament precincts. A welcome change from the usual scowls.
2. Separate Cafeterias
Sadly, there is no Central Hall in the new Parliament building – as a result of which there is no large common meeting area. There are separate cafes for both Houses. One is in close proximity to the Lok Sabha, and the other in close proximity to the Rajya Sabha. When a Rajya Sabha MP goes to the Lok Sabha canteen and vice versa, there is a good chance they might feel like a guest of honour (and wouldn’t even be asked to pay the bill!).
3. Fish Fry
Parliament canteens continue to serve fish fry and mutton/chicken biryani. Reasonably priced. The non-vegetarians are still holding out. Pescetarians have a different grouse. Currently, the fish fry is made with unhealthy Basa. After several rounds of lobbying, the caterers have been convinced to use Bhetki fish from the next session.
4. Names of Gates
There are six gates to the new Parliament building. Each one is named after real or mythological creatures. Gaja Dwar, Ashwa Dwar , Garuda Dwar, Makar Dwar, Shardula Dwar and Hamsa Dwar. While this certainly is inspired thinking, a little consideration could have been made for MPs from the South and the East who struggle with pronunciations each morning. Who knew linguistic gatekeeping would take on such a literal meaning in people’s lives.
5. No Place for the Media
While the new building has been built as snazzily as possible, members of the media are left with no option but to catch an MP for a sound byte or even a casual chat at the main entrance to Parliament. Ridiculous! The designated room lies in a far corner of the complex, conveniently distanced from the action. The building might be new, but the attitude towards democratic principles remains outdated.
6. Chamber Looks Empty
Great camaraderie was built in the previous complex because of the way the seating was structured. Tight seating has its built-in advantages. The lack of physical distance, literally and figuratively, brought colleagues with shared ideologies closer to each other and generated the energy essential for fostering team spirit. In the new complex, the chambers where MPs sit are so vast, they almost look empty.
7. No Lobby
There is no ‘narrow private lobby’ between the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha chamber and the area just outside it. The expanse of open space robs the area of ‘privacy’. Some colleagues have used derisive descriptors for the lobbies – are we at a Marriott or a Holiday Inn!
The wifi in the corridor is far better in the new complex. MPs on their phones exploiting the network is a common sight – some to harangue their assistants for sources and data points, others to start the right WhatsApp whisper at the right time. Ten on ten for the wifi.
9. Exotic snacks
What’s a new building without an avant-garde food menu? Items like caesar salad, quinoa, khus-khus and sprouts are now served up. Old faves like toast and butter remain. No one is complaining about the exotic additions.
10. No PAs allowed
Private assistants (PAs) to MPs have been banned from entering the new complex. This puts technologically-challenged MPs under pressure. Bad enough that you have virtually banished the media, why stop a PA and/or a personal secretary from entering Parliament?
Research Credit: Varnika Mishra
(Derek O’Brien, MP, leads the Trinamool Congress in the Rajya Sabha.)
Disclaimer: These are the personal opinions of the author.