POLITICAL REPORTING: OUT OF FOCUS
A regular reading of the newspaper(s) is filled with gruesome stories about murders and thefts, cricket, and Bollywood, not to forget- the unruly politicians who are portrayed as “murderers of democracy”. The Parliament usually convenes thrice a year with this year’s Budget session commencing on February 25 to March 20 with a recess till April 14, before resuming on April 15 and finally adjourning sine die on May 5, 2008. Yet, there is little other than disruptions that get reported. But for a few stray incidents, the Budget Session 2008 saw surprisingly fewer disruptions but the major national dailies have chosen to focus on the "action"! One newspaper which reported more than about disruptions, covered the participation by young MPs but chose to focus on the dynastic and celebrity types.
Many of the more recent articles stressed on the worn-out line of how the Parliament did not function for the stipulated number of days and highlighted the fact that this session saw the least number of working days when compared to the Budget sessions of the past three years. However, there have been several interesting and insightful discussions that have taken place this session. One such has been that on Rural Development which saw 40 MPs participating enthusiastically and 10 more submitted written versions of their speeches. The debate covered specifics on allocations to various states, the progress of various rural development projects and monitoring the implementation of these schemes. Some went further as to stress the involvement of NGOs to ensure that financial and social audit of the schemes is performed satisfactorily. A majority of the MPs stressed the pitfalls of the definition of BPL which has resulted in excluding many deserving people from the benefits of rural development schemes. More importantly, many MPs mentioned that there needs to be better coordination between all schemes of rural development. This is but one of the several interesting debates that took place in the Budget session 2008 and it is an indicator that parliamentarians are not necessarily ignorant or unwilling to participate in parliamentary discussions.
So much has been written about how politicians are disruptive and unruly and how they are “working overtime to kill democracy” but have we, as citizens, tried to understand how the system works and under what compulsions our elected representatives work? The environment within which parliamentarians operate is politically and emotionally charged, causing them to tread in murky waters. It is difficult to make objective assessments and MPs end up taking rhetorical or standard party positions, and relying on anecdotal narrations or random experiences. They are invariably caught up in the immediate implications of an event and are sometimes unable to look at larger issues in development. There is lack of a forum or facility which brings knowledge from diverse development actors and customizes it to make it useful, relevant, and contextual to support MPs. The internal policy and research bodies of the major political parties remain largely dysfunctional and there is no space for debate and discussion on party policies or the stands adopted. Voters pass verdicts once in five years and there is no mechanism at the hands of the electorate to provide systematic feedback/guidance to legislators and influence policy-making in the interim. Clearly, if such a dynamic feedback loop can be created between the electorate and the legislators, it would enable the latter to be a more powerful representative of the vox populi in Parliament and would positively impact parliamentary proceedings.
Given the current environment, it does not help that the media continues to harp on the obvious. The continuous cynicism reflects a sense of defeat, of accepting the status quo, of relegating democracy to the likes of anarchy. What has prevented us citizens from wanting and pursuing a functional democracy? There are organisations that work with citizens to improve participation in democracy by urging them to be more informed and to vote. Equally, there are individuals and organisations (albeit a minority) that engage with parliamentarians to improve their participation in the parliaments and improve the quality of legislative debate. One can engage with and empower parliamentarians by providing knowledge and information in a manner that is simple to understand and yet usable, objective and situated within his requirements and comprehension. I am not claiming that our parliamentarians are not at fault and that misgiving about their performance is invalid but they are, after all, our elected representatives and it is our duty, just as it is theirs, to ensure they perform in accordance with their constitutional roles.