Sleeping It Off In Or Outside The Parliament
Recently, the Media went to town with reports of Mr.Rahul Gandhi, Vice President of the Indian National Congress, which is the largest group of opposition parties in the Lower House of Indian Parliament, having a catnap in the House during an important debate. The spectacle was shown on the television and it went viral. The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party and the Media derided the young Member of Parliament for showing scant respect for the proceedings of the House. The debate during which Rahul reportedly indulged himself was on the escalating prices of vegetables, fruits and other essential commodities and had been allowed by the House at the insistence of the opposition parties. The debate provided an excellent opportunity for the opposition parties to render and tear the government for its alleged inaction to contain the soaring prices. It was, as such, amusing to see the young Congress leader preferring to close his eyes and shutting himself out to the onslaught of his own party colleagues and members of other opposition parties on the government and the ruling party.
Why the Catnap?
The Media was strife with speculations as to what prompted Rahul to catch his forty winks amidst anti-government rhetoric flying thick and past in the House. Some of the suggested stories were of the tongue-in-cheek variety while the others specious, if not downright malicious. Sample the following:
● Watched a late night World Cup Football match on the TV the previous day.
● Had a heavy breakfast.
● The topic of discussion and the arguments of his partymen against the Modi government reminded him of any number of House proceedings which had taken place during the previous ten years of the Manmohan Singh government, making him dream of the 'glorious' period of his party's rule.
● Was thinking, with eyes closed, of ways and means to bring down the prices.
● Was wondering how much more costly the essential commodities could be than the follies committed by his party which made it lose power.
● Was wondering if food had become too costly for the common man, why the common man could not live on pizza.
● Was practising an ingenious yoga posture.
● Was practising to be a sleeping partner of the next anti-BJP government (whenever that happens)..
Explaining It Away
Politicians, from Congress as well as other parties, who were asked to comment on Rahul's latest faux pas, sprang to his defence, with the exception of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party. One senior leader of NCP, a political ally of the Congress, who was Minister of Civil Aviation in the Manmohan Singh government, said that many Members of Parliament (MP) kept their eyes closed in the House which did not mean that they were sleeping. He, however, studiously avoided saying what was meant by the closing of eyes by the MPs. A senior Congress leader recalled that Mr.Atal Behari Vajpayee, former Prime Minister and veteran BJP leader, used to keep his eyes closed during long discussions. The question which was not put to him was whether Rahul's act of emulating Mr.Vajpayee was a case of imitation being the best form of flattery. Was Rahul dreaming of doing a Vajpayee to the Congress? The most stinging comment came from a BJP spokesman who said that the Congress party had been sleeping on the issue of rising food prices during the previous ten years of its rule and continued to do so after switching over to the opposition.
Happens All the Time
It is true that several political leaders and their trusted lieutenants in the Parliament have been caught napping in the House in the past on different occasions. We have a senior politician and former Prime Minister, Mr.Deve Gowda, who used to be seen, dozing off on the stage at several functions and meetings so much so that it caused no more flutterings beyond a stage. Isn't politics a convenient refuge for those who believe in doing what they want to do and get away with it?
Right to Sleep
Supreme Court of India had ruled some time ago that sleep is a fundamental right of every citizen of the country. Politicians need their own fair share of sleep - deep slumber, siesta, beauty sleep, catnap, forty winks et al. The nature of their occupation being typically unconventional and unorthodox, their working hours are not clearly demarcated, as a result of which delineation of their sleeping hours is blurred. In any case, when and how they complete their sleeping cycle is not so much a matter of concern as their delivering on their promises to the people.
Catching Up on Sleep
The world has known several international leaders like Jawaharlal Nehru and Margaret Thatcher, who used to sleep for not more than three to four hours a day and spend the rest of the day on work. If you can't stop a man from working when he should be in bed, how fair is it to deride a guy sleeping on work? Napoleon Bonaparte was known to catch his forty winks astride a horse in battlefields during times of war. Our sleep-starved political leaders must have had their inspiration from no less an illustrious figure than Napoleon Bonaparte!
If a sleepy politician were to be put on the dock, the first question which his counsel would, in all probability, ask is how easy do you think it is to sleep sitting on the benches of the Parliament, amid the noisy debates and unruly proceedings. The chage is, therefore, vexatious and motivated and a politician may not be expected to field politically loaded charges and questions. So, there! Besides, the proceedings of the House, activities like catnap included, are beyond the pale of discussion outside the House, as such a discussion would likely constitute the privileges of the concerned MP. Let us not act like the fools who rush in where angels fear to tread.
People to Accept Responsibility
How about holding clueless sleepy-headed electorate, lulled into a state of drowsy complacency by demagoguery, voting for incompetent and self-serving politicians time and again for their own detriment and that of the country? When the electorate don't exercise alertness and vigilance while electing their representatives at the legislature, what could be expected of the latter? When a sitting member of a legislature comes around at the next round of elections seeking people's votes, do the people care to probe into the activities of the vote seeker in the legislature, like his attendance record, how many questions were asked by him on the floor of the House, how many debates and committee meetings he participated in etc? When the answer is in the negative, how much of self-introspection and soul-searching could the politician expected tp exercise? Instead of addressing the root cause of the problems of indifference and irresponsibility on the part of the erring politicians, which lies in the failure of the electorate in exercising alertness and vigilance at the time of the elections, you can't have politicians blamed for carrying on an ineffective run of his legislative obligations. Eternal vigilance is, after all, the price of liberty, liberty from sleepy politicians included.
© 2014 Kalyanaraman Raman