I’m an Indian politician… on TV

May 7, 2013

(Any opinions expressed here are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Thomson Reuters Corp)

Are they parliamentarians, or do they just play ones on TV? After pushing through proposals on foreign investment in the retail and the aviation sector late last year, India’s elected representatives apparently have decided to get as little done as possible during the current session.

On television, it’s another matter. Newsroom studios appear to be the preferred forum for debating problems and legislation that normally would be the province of parliament. Those include recent demands by the coalition government’s prime opponent, the Bharatiya Janata Party, for the resignations of the prime minister, law minister and the railway minister over accusations that the government interfered with an investigation of improper allocation of coal mine licenses and certain other bribery allegations.

The Lok Sabha, or “people’s house,” has repeatedly adjourned in recent days, likely making it one of the least productive in its history. That’s bad if you want to pass bills, but it does help clear politicians’ schedules for the nightly news discussion programs. And that is not a bad thing, depending on whom you ask.

“The effort is to inform the public,” said BJP spokeswoman Nirmala Sitharaman. “We don’t think even for a minute we’ll accept this charge that we are disrupting parliament … This government wants to have a debating club run without any accountability”.

Here’s a sample of what substitutes exist for debate in the Lok Sabha (May 6, prime time shows):

Times Now
Show Header – Food Bill vs Railgate, Populism vs Controversy? Speaker of the House (i.e. the anchor) – Arnab Goswami; Participants – Bhalchandra Mungekar, Congress MP; Piyush Goyal, BJP MP; Subramanian Swamy, Janata Party Chief

Headlines Today
Show Header – Dr. Dolittle Should Go? Speaker of the House – Rahul Kanwal; Participants – Meenakshi Lekhi, national spokeswoman, BJP; Mani Shankar Iyer, Congress MP; Subramanian Swamy

Show Header – Ministers embarrass government; Speaker of the house – Rajdeep Sardesai; Participants – Satyavrat Chaturvedi, Congress MP; Nirmala Sitharaman, national spokeswoman, BJP

This kind of ersatz public debate taking place on the airwaves is not funny, but “tragic,” said political analyst Amulya Ganguli. “This is part of the cynical attitude which marks Indian politicians of all parties.”

Rajdeep Sardesai, anchor and editor of CNN-IBN’s prime-time show, disagreed, as you might expect. “I think a prime time news show is different from parliament … a prime time news show gives the MPs a platform to represent their viewpoint in a manner that parliament sadly no longer allows them.”

There are various reasons that the BJP or other opposition parties might have to disrupt parliament. Experts say that they lack the numbers to defeat the Congress party-led ruling coalition by sheer votes, leaving them to resort to technical tactics – or general chaos. That in theory allows for back-room negotiations that could produce more orderly votes that go in the direction that some parties want. The current budget session of parliament ends on May 10.

The trouble? It endangers the passage of bills that are important for the economy at a time when a high current account deficit, inflation fears and a poor debt ratings outlook threaten the country. Various bills such as the land acquisition bill, food security bill and the ones which propose to increase foreign investment in pension and insurance sectors are stuck in parliament.

In the end, TV debates amount to publicity stunts, said D H Pai Panandiker, head of the RPG Foundation, a New Delhi-based think tank. “Things are going to go on like this … I am not expecting much to come out even of the monsoon session.”

(You can follow Aditya on Twitter @adityayk)


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Disrupting parliament I believe is an old strategy in Indian politics. I am surprised that you say there is some backdoor arrangements or discussions.i am not sure about this.I believe our politicians to be extremely undemocratic. They have not reconciled with the idea of losing power after every 5 years. Once it happens they go on and disrupt the Parliament or state assemblies. I think they need to take failures or getting voted out as inevitable part of democracy and that after 5 years they too have a chance to come back. A good and effective opposition too can do make a lot of difference in the way the state is governed. They can give good suggestions in a bill, help govt to take wise decisions etc. Power at the end of the day is a means to serve, but sadly our politicians see it as an end :(

Posted by Woman21 | Report as abusive

Your article reminds me of a recent discussion on Times Now. Now Arnab Goswami is known for not allowing others to complete their viewpoint. This time the BJP guy insisted on being allowed to say what he thinks on food security bill. Surprisingly Arnab allowed him. After speaking for full 3 minutes (a record on Arnab’s show), the host asked him ” Why don’t you say all this in parliament?” :)

Posted by Woman21 | Report as abusive

I agree with you, #Woman21. If they can debate endlessly on TV channels, wonder what stops them from doing so in parliament. But the opposition knows they cannot defeat the ruling party on the floor of the house and that, I believe, is one of the main reasons that TV debates are preferred over Lok Sabha debates. When you can talk about the same things on TV, without the risk of winning or losing, why not do it? :)

Posted by AdityaK | Report as abusive

the duty of the opposition is to oppose, no matter what.
no matter which party is in the opposition seats, their point is, they want to make it public that what the ruling party does, is not towards the welfare of the people and of the nation as a whole.

simple politics. and EASY politics when half of the voters are illiterate or oblivious.

Posted by dipakkumardas | Report as abusive

Well, that’s a very interesting explanation that you have given, the fact that they cannot defeat the govt in the house makes them boycott the house. My idea that they have not reconciled with the idea of losing power is seen from certain examples. Certain! In the 1970’s when Akalis lost power to Congress, so angry were they, that they refused to attend the assembly. Instead they will sit inside the Golden Temple and order demonstrations against the govt, then recently when PDP lost power, poor Omar, everyday one scandal or the other was exposed. The poor guy wanted to resign :D. BJP’s behaviour is best understood in the context of their defeat in 2004. Congress I believe was a better opposition, I don’t remember disruptions during BJP’s term. But they have been in a habit of dismissing state govts at will.
Regardless of their affiliations I believe this is the worst tactic and sometimes can work against them. Their mindless opposition to nuclear deal acted against them in 2009. We, rich poor and middle class have been at the receiving end of power cuts. The nuclear deal was one way out. It was also a way of ending nuclear isolation. I can understand Left’s opposition ( although don’t approve), but BJP. It all sounded like they want to come to power at any cost. The country can go to hell.

Tavleen Singh’s article has given an excellent opinion on this http://www.indianexpress.com/news/a-karn ataka-warning/1114594/#sthash.q3n0zwIY.u xfs

However, its interesting to note that why now this issue has been raised by the Congress. Parliament has been disrupted several times in the past. Why it was not highlighted earlier. I suspect urgency of laws like Food security bill which may help them to secure (or buy?) votes.

Posted by Woman21 | Report as abusive

some Indian Politician are not doing their well, they have entrapped in the greed of power and so facing troubles.

Posted by jennatohm | Report as abusive