Saturday, March 14, 2009


November 4, 2006 Khushwant Singh
March 13, 2009
First Published: 21:45 IST(13/3/2009)
Last Updated: 00:18 IST(14/3/2009)
Minding the Ms and Ps in the HouseOur next general election for the 15th Lok Sabha will determine the shape of democracy most suited to the temperament of our countrymen. The recently dissolved 14th Lok Sabha, has taught us many valuable lessons — the most important being that the parliamentary form does not suit us. We elected a large number of semi-literate MPs with tainted backgrounds who had not been properly brought up by their parents and had no manners: the word decorum did not exist in their dictionaries.

Their party leaders either did not bother to restrain them or actually encouraged them to prevent the House from functioning. Much as the speaker Somnath Chatterjee tried to discipline them, and tore the few grey hair left on his head, he failed in his task: they were like a bunch of unruly school children, yelling and shouting mostly.

While one lot opened their mouths too wide, another lot did not open theirs at all. Among these were filmstars who found their way into the Parliament but didn’t bother to find out what it was all about. As a result, 423 hours of time was wasted and Rs 63 crore went down the drain. We simply cannot afford to have our next Lok Sabha patterned the same way as the one that has ended. That’s why I have described the coming election as fateful. There can be no doubt that democracy has taken deep roots in our country. What has failed is its parliamentary form of expression.

There are alternative forms available to us, notably the presidential form as in the US, France and some other democracies. If it works for them, it may work for us. It will give the president (or prime minister, elected for a term of five or six years) power to choose his cabinet of advisers who may or may not be elected members of the Lok or Rajya Sabhas, but who specialise in their own fields: economists, educationists, industrialists, experts in agricultural matters, foreign affairs, healthcare, military matters, etc. They will decide on the policies the government will pursue; their decisions will be debated in both houses of Parliament and be ratified or rubbished.

I have discussed the matter with a few ex-members of Parliament. Most of them agreed that the presidential form of democracy will work better than the parliamentary, which we have borrowed from the British. Ponder over the matter before you cast your vote, because the person you voted for last time let you down very badly.

Regard for history
It’s strange that in Delhi, where we do our best to preserve the memory of the dynasties that ruled India, from the Mauryas to the Mughals by naming roads after them, roads once named after British royalty, viceroys and governors are being re-named after Indian leaders. No great matter, but even statues of English viceroys and commanders have been removed from their pedestals and put away in what is known as the Coronation Park.

I was under the impression that they were well-looked after and attracted many visitors, notably Britishers. I am wrong.

Chandra Vijay Singh, an ex-MP, sent me an anguished letter with photographs of the park showing many statues missing — either stolen or sold — and lawns in a state of desolation. This is painful.

While glorifying our freedom movement, we harped on the racist-colonial aspect of British rule. We erased from our memory the good they did. Ruling over the entire country, they made us conscious of being one people, Indians. We forgot our racial, religious and linguistic divisions and came closer to each other. The British introduced democratic institutions in the country: elected municipalities, legislatures including the Parliament. They gave us our judicial system, civil and criminal laws. They gave us the telegraph, railways, canals and roads. They gave us New Delhi, one of the most beautiful and greenest capitals of the world. There was more respect for law and order in the British days than there is today. And they left the country in good grace. You may not agree with me (or Chandra Vijay Singh) but you cannot subscribe to the wanton erasure of history and pretend that the British never ruled India.

Small-town millionaire?
Why is it that Slumdog Millionaire
Stumps me with shame, ennui and fear?
What will they find next worth
a million
In India shining with shades
a zillion?
Why is it always Kolkata, Mumbai or Delhi
That yield hidden treasures
so many?
Hey! There you slumped
Small towns too have their bleaters
And if you kindly excuse my
saying folks
Small holes are birthplaces of lucky slum blokes.
Any one for a small-town
slumdog millionaire
Sorry if this slum doggerel is too much to bear.
Courtesy: Sami Rafiq, Aligarh


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