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Tough job, keeping MPs in line
- In and outside Parliament, its members thrive in not following rules

New Delhi, March 13: If they’re not hurling sheafs of paper at each other, they’re speaking on the cellphone. If they’re not rushing to the well, they’re taking someone else’s seat hoping to speak their piece first.

It’s tough keeping order in this oversized kindergarten. Ask Somnath Chatterjee.

And it’s not that this bunch behaves any better out of it.

They refuse to tie the seat belt, mandatory for the rest of Delhi’s citizens, while travelling in the Parliament vehicle that ferries them from home and back.

The list of misdemeanours is impressive enough to make Dennis the Menace jealous. Speaker Chatterjee, unlike Mr Wilson, can’t shut the door of the House on the MPs’ face, though he has reasons to get as wild.

Hardly a day goes by without his subjects not dodging some rule or other and the headmaster not cracking the whip. This morning it was a new offence. A mobile phone rang inside the Lok Sabha during the proceedings.

Chatterjee bellowed: “Whose phone is ringing'”

Silence.

“Marshal ko pakda do (Let the marshals get the phone),” ordered the Speaker.

The marshals posted at the gates of the House to tackle naughty MPs walked in and strode up and down the aisle looking for the offending instrument and its owner. No luck.

Members are allowed to take their mobile phones inside the House but are expected to keep it in silent mode.

The Lok Sabha bulletin that comes out every day raps the people’s representatives with amazing regularity for not abiding to rules. Take for instance the bulletin issued on the 10th.

It first reminds the MPs that they should stick to their “usual seats and speak from there”.

Almost everyday a restive MP would leave his seat and start speaking, inviting the Speaker to cut in. “Is this your seat'” As the MP shakes his head sheepishly, the Speaker belts out another order: “Go back to your seat.”

Switching seats is an irritant persisting since last year. At a meeting of the business advisory committee on March 9, 2005, the Speaker had urged members not to rush to somebody else’s seat in order to be able to speak first. Nobody is listening. A year down the line the Lok Sabha bulletin is making the same request.

There is more in the March 10 bulletin ' this time the reprimand is for violating rules outside. The bulletin cites the Motor Vehicles Act and asks the MPs to “wear seat belts while sitting in the Parliament vehicle”.

Apparently traffic police have complained that MPs are not complying with this basic safety rule. “Please cooperate with the transport desk staff,” says the bulletin.

This is not all. Members are also asked to share the vehicle with their colleagues who are going to the “same destination”, suggesting that some are ditching their colleagues and going off on their own. Seeking the “kind cooperation” of the MPs, the bulletin also asks them not to keep others waiting.

Chatterjee, who acts the tough headmaster, frequently expresses anguish at his pupils’ scant regard for the rulebook. Members who wish to speak on a particular subject have to give their notice to the table office before 10 in the morning. Some are too lazy to take the trouble but speak they have to, nevertheless.

“Have you given notice'” Chatterjee is frequently heard asking. “If you are so agitated by the issue, you should have taken the trouble to put in a notice before 10 am.”

Respected Speaker, Sir, just as boys will be boys, MPs will be MPs.

Maybe, like Mr Wilson, he should just pretend to be asleep.

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