Benches and trenches

Parliament must rise more often — every day in fact — to preserve its sanctity

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Outside there was passion and intensity; inside reason and erudition. Outside, cries of Vande Mataram and invocations to Anna Hazare. Inside, references to history and invocations to the Constitution. Outside, angry people feeding soundbites to insatiable TV cameras. Inside, ideologically opposed men on Right and Left arguing calmly for the dignity of office.

The contrast couldn’t have been starker, or more ironical. On a day when public anger against corruption was spreading from town to town, a different sort of battle, but also one against corruption, went largely unnoticed and unsung.

As police officials and Team Anna negotiated the nuances of fasting, the Rajya Sabha debate on the impeachment of Justice Soumitra Sen of the Calcutta High Court took place away from public glare. There was no heckling, no rushing to the well, no personal malice, no cheap political jibes that we see so often on our television screen. This was Parliament at its finest, Parliament as our founding fathers must have imagined it, resonant with rapt attention and masterful debate.

Passed in the Rajya Sabha, the impeachment motion is historic, and not just for the quality of its speakers including Sitaram Yechury and Arun Jaitley. It coincides with the anti-corruption movement, much of it directed against the political class. Aware that the motion was being introduced at a time when Parliament itself was under attack, Yechury said he was introducing the motion as a “call of duty to my conscience and Constitution”.

The impeachment motion is the first in the Upper House and the second in our Parliament’s history (the first motion in 1993 against Justice V Ramaswami failed when the Congress abstained from voting). If it is passed in the Lok Sabha next week, Justice Sen will become the first sitting judge to be impeached. In his two-hour self-defence, Justice Sen dropped not-so-broad hints about corruption elsewhere in the judiciary, including a jab at former Chief Justice KG Balakrishnan. The subtext is bogus (when others are crooks why am I being singled out?) and serves as a cautionary tale. Our Constitution provides for action against corrupt judges, even though it is used only in the rarest cases; Justice Dinakaran, transferred from Karnataka to Sikkim, for instance, resigned before impeachment proceedings could be brought against him.

There is a second message — to those who have lost faith in the system. Our institutions might not be perfect but they do work. In Azad Maidan and India Gate and Freedom Park there is derision for both government and Parliament. “If the Constit-ution says Parliament is supreme, then change the Constitution,” reads one placard. Perhaps mindful of the ratings game, the TV cameras remained trained on the crowds. What a pity because what unfolded over two days was in fact exemplary Parliament, with the knockout punch being delivered by Arun Jaitley who not only rebutted Justice Sen’s defence but raised larger questions about the need for a National Judicial Commission; about who judges should be accountable to and about preserving judicial independence.

But there is a third message and it goes to our politicians. Each time you rip a microphone or tear up papers or march out of the House (last year an entire five-week session was lost as Opposition MPs pressed for a JPC on the telecom scam) you harm the larger institution of Parliament. Excellence in debate, thoroughness of research, temperance of language and a united pursuit of national interest can’t be aberrations. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh says the powers and sanctity of Parliament cannot be outsourced to the rabble on the street. In that case, Parliament must rise more often — every day in fact — to preserve its own sanctity.

Ten, 20 years from now, how will we view the events of this past week — the one on the streets and the one in Parliament? Chances are that what we will remember is the rage of people frustrated by corruption and an unresponsive government. But spare a thought too for the day when the target of their anger, politicians themselves, rose to redeem parliamentary dignity on the day it was under attack.

Namita Bhandare is a Delhi-based writer

The views expressed by the author are personal

Rites of passage

While we raise children to be independent, why is it so difficult to let them go? Namita Bhandare writes.

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It didn’t hit me until I saw my dog. Now if you’ve never seen my dog Nigel, there is no way you could possibly know that he is the fattest, laziest Labrador ever. But that day, just one week before departure, he heard the bell ring and ran to the door to greet my elder daughter, Teesta.

Ran? I was startled. Nigel never runs. Had he guessed that a week from now she would be leaving home for college? Had he seen the half-packed suitcases, the endless must-do list being slowly ticked off, the winter clothes coming back from the dry cleaners, folded neatly in plastic, the little gifts for ‘you never know when you’ll need them’, the emergency medicine supply, the extra pair of reading glasses? Had he realised, slothful but smart fellow, she was going?

Why is it that no one, not one person, ever prepares you for that inevitable day when you look up from your newspaper or from posting your newest tweet to realise that your little girl is in fact a bona fide young woman? Gone is that child who wanted to crawl into your bed because she had had a ‘very bad’ dream. Gone is the three-year-old clutching her shiny red lunchbox on her first day at playschool. Gone is the girl who you read to at night and who laughed on cue, every day, when you responded: ‘I love you three’, to her ‘I love you too’. That girl is gone and, good lord, is this young woman who’s taken her place actually leaving home?

No one ever prepares you either for the questions that flood your head. Surely she can’t cope. Surely she’ll need your superior wisdom and experience. I warn her, again, of parties and drugs, of choosing friends wisely, of using time well, of dealing with academic pressure, of having fun too (as if she needs my advice on that), of being her own person. Of course, she nods politely, but I can sense a rising impatience. She’s saying in her head exactly what I said to my mother so many years ago: for God’s sake, I can manage. I’ll be fine. But I can’t help myself; it’s as if some DNA motherhood code is kicking in. And so, I add: you’ll call, won’t you?

Older parents tell me knowingly: “They’ll be back. They never leave.” Others say, embrace this time; you’re free, travel, sleep-in. But I’m in denial, with my younger daughter still home, my nest is half empty, or half full. In any case, I tell them, I’m not one of those moms whose lives revolve around their homes and kids. I have things to do, like write the book I am not writing. And so I console myself.

The irony doesn’t escape me. The whole deal about parenting is to raise children to be responsible and independent. Now that my girl is, I’m thinking: she can’t hack it without me. But of course she can and that’s why I’m proud of her. Somewhere in my head I know my job is done – kind of -and I’m fighting to

remain relevant to this child I have nurtured. Now, I must recognise my time is done. Her’s begins. This is a rite of passage equal to every other, birth and death and marriage. My daughter is leaving home, when she returns, she will be her own person.

Will she make mistakes? Absolutely. Will she get hurt? Very probably. Will she pick herself up when she falls? I cross my fingers and hope.

With one week to go, I watch quietly as friends and phone calls steal the time I believe belongs to me. She feels it too. She knows she’s on the edge of something unchartered. This clinging to old friends is a sign that she knows that when she returns the familiar will be strange.

My mother doubly wise to me at this moment says this: every house that was once too crowded will one day have too much space. In a week, I will pass my daughter’s empty room waiting for that space to fill again.

Namita Bhandare is a Delhi-based writer. The views expressed by the author are personal.