India

Do public representatives really understand meaning of “public servant?

Shubham Sharma
[ July 05, 2017 ] The Parliament and the legislative assemblies are considered as temples of democracy and every MLA or MP should maintain a level of decorum both inside and outside the house. But unfortunately our politicians sometimes breach the red line which brings shame to the entire nation. In a democracy, the people who are the voters and who elect their representatives are the ultimate masters, we are told. But are we really? Do public representatives who are actually public servants really understand the meaning of “public servant?” In normal circumstances, a master can reprimand a servant and point out his faults and failings in the conduct of his duties. In this case since the MLAs/MPs are paid out of public funds the public have every right to critique their performance inside and outside the House when those are in the public good. Critiquing assembly debates is surely not a personal, verbal attack on any single MLA. Since every minute spent inside the House is also paid for from the public exchequer, MLAs/MPs cannot waste the time of the House in banal discussions. Lawmakers in state assemblies have a penchant for picking up microphones, tables and chairs and throwing them at the speaker or their opposing colleagues. The special assembly session of Jammu and Kashmir which was called by Honable Governor to discuss the implementation of the Goods and Services Tax (GST), got disturbed, thanks to the heated argument between Jammu and Kashmir minister Imran Ansari and National Conference leader Devender Rana in which Mr. Ansari told Mr. Rana that, “he can lynch him in the assembly”. Maintaining discipline, decorum and dignity of the assembly is of paramount importance for the Indian democracy. These principles mattered a lot when an assembly is in session. It is clear that this kind of things has to be met effectively; otherwise the work of our assembly would be made difficult and brought into disrepute. We want to maintain the good name and dignity to both the houses of the assembly. These discussions suggest that we are not behaving like serious, responsible members but rather like irresponsible professional agitators. That impression even all members of this House to whatever side they may belong should avoid. We must be careful and preserve our good name and our dignity. In a parliamentary system of government, members of state assemblies play a vital role. The image of democracy as a form of Government depends upon the state assemblies and the image of state assemblies, in turn, depends upon the image of its members. In fact, the future of the democratic set-up itself depends upon the way the members discharge their duties and responsibilities. Once elected, they are representatives not only of their constituency but of the state. Hence, their behavior and actions inside the house as well as outside have a great bearing and impact on the national situation. It is said that any institution is as good as its members choose to make it. It is thus that the members have to live up to the people’s expectations in heralding a new era in our parliamentary polity. There is little doubt, therefore, that the time has come when all the political parties should find ways to improve the quality of member’s participation in assembly proceedings and to ensure that members conduct themselves in a dignified and decorous manner. As elsewhere, training is necessary for them to understand the subtleties and nuances of parliamentary democracy. There is an urgent need for imparting political education to new members, either by the political parties themselves or through some other mechanism as may be evolved on the basis of consensus. You must be thankful to people for electing you as their representatives. You have to think that by using this type of language during assembly sessions, what message you are giving to those who elected you as their representative? In a democracy where public representatives are elected every five years, the electors need to know the performance of their legislators. At present there is no robust system of public scrutiny except the annual reports of the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG), the details of which have to be disseminated by the media. But even the CAG has no punitive powers except to point out anomalies. So there is virtually no report card system by which a legislator can be held publicly accountable, except when he/she is caught with their hands in the till. But even then, most corrupt legislators, including those with criminal charges are re-elected because the reason why he/she is elected are subjective and based on personal likes and dislikes of the voters and the amount of money the candidate spends in an election. It is therefore the role of the media to provide reliable reports of government functioning so that members of the public who are not influenced by money power can make at least make informed choices. Also the reason why legislative proceedings are not held in camera but that there is a press gallery means inside the House means that the deeds and words of legislators (both from the Treasury and the Opposition) inside the Assembly or Parliament are telecast/reported (unless expunged because of use of unparliamentarily language, for public consumption, so that the public gets to know what actually transpires inside the House.