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Goodbye and good luck

WHAT Mrs SINGH MISSED ALL THESE DAYS

Or what the 15th Lok Sabha will be remembered for

Seen for the first time: A lady in the Speaker’s chair. Meira Kumar was always a picture of grace and elegance, although she could not always persuade the MPs to emulate her

Also seen for the first time: Pepper spray and an audacious defence by Lagadapati Rajagopal

The worst moments: Disruption, disruption, disruption. No work in several sessions. “Such disruptions hit our parliamentary system like a thunderbolt,” Meira Kumar said on Friday. Big surprise that the House still managed to pass 181 bills. But a view also exists that in a big country with countless problems, sometimes you have to scream to be heard

Most endangered species: The question hour, usually a casualty of bedlam but was held on Friday. Gursharan Kaur, who came to the House before lunch, may have just
about caught some of the questions.

A telling piece of statistic: Out of the 64,781 starred questions listed, only 637 were
answered orally. The others were answered through written statements laid on the table of the House. Starred questions are expected to be answered by the minister personally
The best moment: Bonhomie without bitterness. Alas, the good manners waited
till the last hour!

Most poignant moment: An ailing Sonia being taken to hospital from the House in
the dark just before the vote on the food bill

Most significant moment: MPs joining hands to defend parliamentary democracy against attacks by Kejriwal and others

Melancholic moment: Lalu Prasad being expelled after conviction in corruption case

Best speaker: Saugata Roy of the Trinamul Congress

Unlikeliest event 1: A Rajya Sabha member spending an unbroken 10 years as Prime Minister

Unlikeliest event 2: The House lobby actually became a no-smoking zone

Unkindest comment: “Manmohan Singh chor hai,” BJP members shouted in the
well over the coal allocation controversy

Most unlikely comment: “Aap ki aawaaz mein itni mithas hai ki mithai khane se
bhi utna meetha nahin lagta (Your voice is sweeter than sweets),” home minister Sushil Kumar Shinde to Opposition leader Sushma Swaraj on the last day of the 15th Lok Sabha

Unlikely to be seen or heard again in the Lok Sabha: Manmohan Singh as Prime Minister, speaking with his trademark dignity and poise

FAREWELL SPEECH

In 2009, the Prime Minister’s last speech to the 14th Lok Sabha was read out by the then external affairs minister as Singh was recuperating from a bypass surgery. On Friday, Gursharan Kaur had left by the time Singh rose to speak. Excerpts with three loud messages follow:

The manner in which the state of Telangana is being born is yet another indication that this country is capable of taking some of the most difficult decisions, without any rancour, without worrying too much about the pros and cons of things that do not matter….

...It is in that process (the general election) that once again a new sense of consensus will emerge which will carry our country to new pathways

I wish all members of this august House the best. Let us hope that out of this strife, out of this tension-filled atmosphere which prevailed some times, there will be birth of a new atmosphere of hope

Called the quietest Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh delivered 1,396 speeches in the past 10 years


New Delhi, Feb. 21: No man has occupied the lead treasury seat in the Lok Sabha without ever having been a member as Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. A record 10 unbroken years, and this afternoon that era in our directly elected lower House of Parliament came to a close.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is unlikely to be seen in the Lok Sabha again.

Wife Gursharan Kaur decided to mark Singh’s last day with a first appearance in the galleries as witness to her husband stepping out of history and into the sunset.

Thirty minutes were all she could stay for, and she left saying the House “could have been more orderly”. Spare a thought, Mrs Singh, for what your husband faced a whole decade.

Even so, Gursharan Kaur may have returned with the consolation that this may not be the very last occasion she observes first hand the tryst between her husband and Parliament. Manmohan Singh will reappear in the Rajya Sabha post the battle for 2014 this summer; he may not have a seat on the treasury benches, though.

The 15th Lok Sabha, which spent most of its five years either in turmoil or suffered shutdowns, witnessed on its last day every shade of parliamentary life; disruptions and normality, opportunism and tactical positioning, shadow-boxing and pleasantries, true concerns and crocodile tears. It was a befitting finale to a turbulent edition marked by unprecedented strife and historic pieces of legislation.

Minutes before the curtains came down amid overflowing courtesies, compliments and friendly banter among the top leaders, the astonishing ironies that defined the 15th Lok Sabha came into full display.

While the Congress MPs were in the well with placards showing a list of pending bills and shouting for extension of the session by a week, the BJP members mocked at them for waking up on the last day. The mercurial ally of the government, the Samajwadi Party, launched a fierce counter-attack, asking the Congress to stop the deception.

It was difficult to measure the hypocrisy of these players; the Congress deployed all its energies for anti-graft and communal violence bills on the last day, the BJP accused the government of doing little over the five-year tenure despite playing the key role in paralysing Parliament, and the Samajwadi Party turned the prop it offered to the Congress for five years into a stick on the last day! The SP members slogans were: “Ghotalebazon nautanki chhoro (Scamsters, stop drama).”

In the course of the five-year tenure, while the BJP forced entire sessions to be washed out, the Telangana movement contributed in the later part to make it the worst Lok Sabha in terms of working hours.

The Trinamul Congress, which withdrew from the UPA government on the question of FDI in retail, metamorphosed into a violent opponent, leading the pack that left the government hamstrung on both corruption issues and policy matters.

The government’s floor management got badly exposed in almost every session though it managed to push crucial bills with the magic of roping in the bitter rivals, the SP and the BSP, for support.

The reports by the comptroller and auditor general of India on 2G spectrum and coal block allocation made the government’s life miserable as the auditor cited astronomical figures to describe the losses, though experts dismissed them as speculative.

Scandals erupted during most tenures but no Lok Sabha witnessed such ceaseless uproar as this one, with the government forced to be in fire-fighting mode every day of its life span.

Little wonder, the ruling party members used even the last day to try and wash away the taint by making a song and dance about pending anti-graft bills.

Congress communications chief Ajay Maken later issued a statement, asking the BJP whether it blocked these bills on the instructions of Narendra Modi whose track record, particularly on lokayukta in Gujarat, has been bad.

While the Congress is planning to bring ordinances on these bills in the coming days, the addition of the Communal Violence Bill to this list, a promise made in 2004, exposes the ruling party’s hypocrisy.

But the anti-corruption watchdog Lokpal, an idea rusting in files for over four decades, became a reality only in this troubled Lok Sabha which also passed bills on food security, land acquisition, street vendors and manual scavenging. It succeeded in creating Telangana, not an ordinary task given the passionate divide in Andhra Pradesh.

The last day was also used to allow the majority of members to speak. While Congress members focused on passage of the pending bills which Rahul Gandhi has been pushing for to complete the legal framework to fight corruption, other members either raised their constituency issues or stuck to their pet themes.

The Prime Minister made a sedate speech, stressing the importance of “minimum amount of consistency and reconciliation so that the ship of the Indian State can move forward” despite differences among parties.

What generated curiosity and gossip was his omission of Sonia Gandhi’s name when he hailed leader of Opposition Sushma Swaraj, leader of the House Sushil Shinde and even agriculture minister Sharad Pawar. In 2009, the Prime Minister’s last speech, read out to the earlier Lok Sabha in absentia, had said: “I express my gratitude to the leader of the United Progressive Alliance, Smt. Sonia Gandhi who has been inspiration for many of the progressive legislation we moved in this august House.”

Today, Swaraj took a dig at parliamentary affairs minister Kamal Nath, arguing that Shinde’s sincerity often helped in resolving the mischief created by him. She also pointed to Sonia’s sense of balance, Manmohan’s poise and L.K. Advani’s judiciousness which often helped break parliamentary deadlocks.

Although she did not wish election success to all the members as the BJP was expecting a change of regime, Shinde hoped that most of the members would be back for the 16th Lok Sabha.

But the end came about in perfect harmony, though with a note of caution by the eternal rebel Gurudas Dasgupta who asked the members to introspect and work for the restoration of Parliament’s falling credibility.

Other members hailed Speaker Meira Kumar’s dignified conduct, showered praises on Manmohan, Sonia and Advani and wished electoral success to all.

Mulayam Singh Yadav, who said Sonia never rebuffed their requests, touched Advani’s raw nerve, saying “you built the party and you deserve the top post”. Advani was in tears as most members described him as the eldest MP and praised his leadership.

We do not know if Manmohan Singh cried. The doughty Gursharan Kaur offered no hint she did.