Zen and the art of parliamentary debates

These words include, jumlajeevi, taanashah, khoon ki kheti, baal buddhi, vinash purush, corrupt, dictatorial, hypocrisy, betrayed, incompetent, among others.
Parliament of India
Parliament of India

CHENNAI: Our temple of democracy seems to have come under a cloud over the past few days after the Centre unveiled a new list of unparliamentary words and expressions that cannot be used during the proceedings of the two Houses.

The booklet called Unparliamentary Expressions 2021, issued by the Lok Sabha secretariat, includes a set of 151 words which have been expunged in 2021 and 2020 in parliaments across Commonwealth nations and State assemblies in the country.

These words include, jumlajeevi, taanashah, khoon ki kheti, baal buddhi, vinash purush, corrupt, dictatorial, hypocrisy, betrayed, incompetent, among others.

The Opposition had a field day following the announcement which its leaders termed as a gag order implemented by the BJP to gloss over a glossary of words that describe the ‘deceit’ of the Modi government.

An Opposition leader had even written to Speaker Om Birla, emphasising the words that have been banned are frequently used in parliamentary debates and that banning them would lead to a dilution of essence and impact in the expression of a viewpoint. Birla shot back at those who had raised objections, saying no words have been banned.

The Parliament has been bringing out compilations of such expressions since 1954, a practice followed in 1986, 1992, 1999, 2004 and 2009. So far, this catalogue of exclusions has touched 1,100 pages. Interestingly, no word is deleted or forbidden for use, and it will be left to the discretion of the presiding officer to expunge a problematic word. Even after that, a member has the right to appeal the decision. So, the big question is, do we really need guidelines as to what can be spoken in the two Houses of the Parliament, and what cannot?

Let’s set aside the fact that such a booklet has been prepared by the Parliament and the State legislatures in an autonomous fashion, and that it has been digitised since 2018 and uploaded on the Lok Sabha intranet, to save up on precious paper. But let’s focus on the notion that this exercise has been going on for close to 70 years now. We are a month away from celebrating our 75th year as an independent India, and just 30 years short of observing our centenary as a republic. However, the fact that elected representatives of a 1.4 bn strong electorate need to be spoon fed when it comes to the manner in which they must address their colleagues, and their political opponents speaks volumes about the quality of discourse that transpires in the two Houses of our Parliament. On some occasions, it reflects the mentality of the politicians involved.

Last year, a Karnataka Congress leader had trivialised the notion of sexual assault, while speaking in the context of an unrelated topic involving farmers. Following backlash from the public and polity, the leader tendered an apology for the ‘joke’, that invoked laughter in the House and a chuckle from the Karnataka Assembly Speaker. Of course, one does not need to look too far to collate instances when politicians found themselves staring at a foot in the mouth situation, thanks to their verbal outbursts.

India is witness to this dance of democracy day in, day out, and has made its peace with the choices that it has made when it comes to casting its ballot. Having said that, our politicians might not need a handbook to prevent them from using unparliamentary words.

One would presume it’s imperative that they communicate in a civilised manner, as the whole nation is watching.

What is necessary is for the Parliament to put together a simplified dossier detailing a Code of Conduct – a Statecraft for Dummies, if you will, that should be made mandatory reading for politicians across the spectrum, and translated in all Indian official languages.

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