By Ramcharanreddy Gudi, with inputs from Anvitha Reddy
It is a custom now! Indicating that it was not a one-time initiative, the second chapter of the annual SLC organised Parliament Visit happened last December.
The SLC Speaker was the coordinator of the trip with the members of Secretariat being the organizing skeleton. The application process started in the first week of November with candidates being selected on the basis of their Statement Of Purpose (S.O.P) and a small interview.
Note: This article wishes to provide the perspectives and experiences of the author as a delegate on the trip.
On 10th December, the part of the delegation which had boarded the Garib Rath Express had the good fortune of spotting Irom Chanu Sharmila, the noted civil rights and political activist from Manipur who was by a satisfying coincidence travelling on the same train. The delegates got a chance to have a friendly interaction with her and her husband during the travel, a great note for everyone on which to start the trip.
Meeting with Mr. Parth J Shah
The first half of the delegation attended a session on “Liberalism In Economy” at the office of Centre For Civil Society by Mr. Parth J Shah, the founder-president of the Centre for Civil Society (CCS) which works to advance social change through public policy and whose work in education, livelihood, and policy training promotes choice and accountability across the private and public sectors.
From the audience, Mr. Shah picked out terms-Liberalism,Socialism and Fascism. He then classified the entire system into four parts-the individuals or the people, the social constraints, economic arrangements and the State-and attempted to show the principle followed by each of these “isms” shows us the difference between them.
When discussing assigning infrastructural maintenance to private sector, there arose a question on how unfair practices like the soaring of prices can be tackled to which the speaker replied “That’s where Legalization comes into picture”. He also added how few rules and loopholes will be taken advantage of by stating the example of “The Punjab Rodent problem” and how the saying “Bootleggers and Baptists go together” works perfectly for big multinational companies which patent for things they don’t produce at present, but with a hope of producing them in the future. The session ended with an invitation to apply for any internships with CCS if interested on their website.
A meeting with Mr. Gaurav Gogoi
We were eager to meet Gaurav Gogoi, one of the most active and respected politicians of present times. In an hour long session at ISI, the MP from Assam answered questions ranging from education to government’s prioritization of schemes.
Every college, Gogoi says, should be a hub of experimentation, with the city it is in as a subject. The placement of colleges in the middle of prominent cities should serve the purpose of giving them the benefit of the campus intellectual cultures and also give the institutions the opportunity to make and implement innovations.
Regarding the questions on government policies and efficiency, Gogoi said the following. Every government figures out its priorities. The government needs to on various levels outsource and seek to bring in work from outside. To improve efficiency, some systems need to be liberated. But outsourcing and privatisation of government work is not always as effective as popularly believed as very often, the work undertaken by government can be devoid of incentives and include huge expenditures. Reforms, he adds, not makeovers. Systems need to be improved and not substituted. To a question on net neutrality, the MP said he recognizes its significance and they would certainly do the needful to preserve net neutrality.
Overall, it was a meeting that gave us insights into the functioning of the government and also an admiration for the well spoken MP.
A meeting with Mr. Shyam Saran
We afterwards met with the career diplomat and Ex-Foreign secretary, Mr. Shyam Saran in one of the halls at the Lodhi Gardens. The speaker stressed on the importance of International relations, geopolitics and globalization: with shifting centre of power from the Trans-Atlantic region towards East Asia because of the increasing trade centers, technology had a major role to play with.
To questions on whether the usage of imported goods helps the economy of other nations more, he answered
1.Several crossed domain challenges may arise if we stay behind in developing technology
2.Every country strives for its development and we also wish to be on par with them by either improving each other or with everyone staying back. The former is better even though we have a slighter disadvantage.
3.Staying behind in technology for such reasons, may result in wastage of time as we need to wait till we achieve that technology on our own.
There was also a question on the foreign office being understaffed for which Mr.Shyam Saran also replied in the affirmative. Few delegates made a proposition of taking in lateral entries from other departments for which Mr.Shyam Saran also thoughtfully agreed. There were a few questions on India’s relations with the African and other West Asian nations to which he replied with insights on the resources specific to nations.
At JNU with Professor Anand Ranganathan
A prominent scientist, author and columnist, Anand Ranganathan has interesting insights on politics among many other things and a characteristic willingness to listen and discuss opinions. All in all, at the JNU’s Special Centre for Molecular Medicine, he facilitated a long discussion that branched off into media, opinion and sycophancy among other topics.
The discussion started off with a few remarks on the government’s growing emphasis on innovation and the consequent alienation of research in pure sciences and its virtues. A brief dialogue on politics, inclusivity and tolerance of opinions with relevance to IITM proceeded. Many agreed that for an institute as diverse as IITM, the lack of avenues and public spaces for discussion is remarkable.
Most of the debate was on the ethicality and sensation proneness of media bodies and their consequences. A general consensus that media needs to held up to much higher standards was reached. Also in relation was the toxic intensity and strong emotions with which news, especially of doubtable credibility, is spread and reacted upon on social media. The problem, Ranganathan opines, is that we have grown too sceptical to welcome the possibility of a solution to the ongoing internet chaos of hate and polarisation. So much of the hate speech and intolerance is all too real and unaddressed. The session ended with a few lines about the great vision and work of Dr. BR Ambedkar and his far-reaching literature.
Bad weather following Mr. Anand’s session led the delegation to cancel an interaction that was planned with JNU students.
A meeting with Mr. Arvind Kejriwal
A big day that probably everyone was waiting for, it saw us in an interactive session with Shri Mr.Arvind Kejriwal, who needs no introduction, at his residence. It started with Mr.Kejriwal describing his journey from a student to an activist and then to the Chief Minister and all the developments that have been made in Delhi during his tenure like introducing subsidies and the odd-even rule for vehicles. He then answered questions asked by the delegates,which included those regarding the possible developments that could have been done to overcome the alarming problems of pollution, EVM machines and women security to most of which he answered that they are trying their best and have introduced a lot of policies. Mr. Kejriwal repeatedly stressed on the fact that Delhi was only a “half state”, because of which they don’t have complete control and are thus lagging behind. Regarding EVM machine malfunctions, he voiced his opinion that there was definitely a fault in the machines. When asked his advice to budding politicians and social workers, he said “If you believe in yourself, and work towards your goal all the force will be with you”.
After Mr. Kejriwal left, there was a meeting with Secretary Parvesh who had also worked with Sheela Dixit, the previous Chief Minister of Delhi. When questioned about differences between the two politicians, he gently refused to answer. However he mentioned that Mr.Kejriwal is very punctual and has extremely strict work ethics. Mr.Parvesh also shared how being a bureaucrat is not easy, one has to accept everything that comes in one’s way and have the guts to take decisions and sometimes face the consequences too.
Following that was the eponymous Parliament visit.
To the Parliament
After a series of strict checks, we entered the magnificent building without our electronic devices. We were first addressed by the members of BPST- Bureau of Parliamentary Studies and Training who explained the sequence of events. It was a very informative session and a mythbuster regarding some beliefs a few delegates had regarding anti-defection law.
It took me quite by a surprise when I observed that almost everything had the symbol of Parliament in there either be it the ties of the officials or the cups we drank coffee from.
We then got a chance to see the gigantic, marvelous structure of the Parliament from outside,took a group picture. We went inside through one of the entries and were shown the proceeding places of Lok Sabha, Rajya Sabha sessions from the VIP gallery and we could go inside proceeding place of the joint session, which was a hall with portraits of great leaders hanging on the walls.The guide told us that this is where all historic decisions have been taken, be it the British declaring to leave India or the launch of GST. A walk through the inside corridor of the circular building will give you a sight of the beautiful garden which is in the center of the building.
We then visited the special library where the first handwritten Constitution is preserved in Nitrogen and also has a wide collection of books. Then, to the museum where the historic events are depicted in the form of sculptures.
A meeting with Justice Chelameswar:
After this we were headed to Justice Jasti Chelameswar’s residence. The session started at around 7pm with the speaker sharing his experiences. He shared his views on several social malpractices like the hypocrisy towards pollution during Diwali, corrupted representatives in a sorted general man’s perspective. He expressed his views on Judicial wing being more powerful in decision making than the legislative wing and stressed on its necessity. In answer to one of the delegate’s question, he criticised the collegium system of appointing judges and mentioned speaking up about it in the near future and asked us to wait for it. (This eventually happened in the month of January 2018 when he along with 3 other judges famously went against the rulings of the Supreme Court.)
A meeting with Mr. N K Premachandran
The day started with an early session with the MP from Kollam, Mr.N K Premachandran, an active parliamentarian and the Best Parliamentarian award winner. The lone representative of his party RSP(Revolutionary Socialist Party) in the Parliament. Because of which he seldom gets to ask questions in the usual way as the Question Hour time is split according to the strength of the parties.But he shared with us a clever strategy through which he could get a chance by keeping a follow-up question on a previous bill. He also shared his experiences as a Minister in the state of Kerala. He praised Kerala government because they provide a few assistants for each Minister from the state budget.The session went for about 2 hours with questions mostly on the decisions made by Modi Government and his views on them.
A meeting with India Foundation
Following this was a meeting with the India foundation members at the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library. India Foundation’s vision is to be a premier think tank that can help understand the Indian civilizational influence on our contemporary society. With a team of dedicated professionals based at its office in New Delhi, the Foundation works with partners and associates both in India and overseas to further its stated objectives.
The first half-an-hour was addressed by Mr.Alok Bansal who spoke about the relations between several foreign nations such as between West-Asian and African nations, USA and Russia & USA and China painting a picture of the geopolitics stating one or two noteworthy events, like the Saudi Arabia and Qatar controversy, Brexit and so on.
Following this up, we got to meet a few other members of India Foundation, who were graduates in commerce and engineering but yet choose the public service stream. They noted that India Foundation essentially seeks to articulate Indian nationalistic perspective on issues and stressed on the importance of technology in the development of the nation. These people also do a lot of groundwork on feasibility of schemes by travelling all over the nation and work closely with a few Parliamentarians sometimes.
A meeting with Mr. Vivek Debroy
Next up was the most awaited session with Vivek Debroy, a member of NITI Aayog at the NITI Aayog Bhawan, which is right beside the Reserve Bank of India. NITI Aayog (National Institution for Transforming India) is a policy think tank of Government of India, established with the aim to achieve Sustainable Development Goals and to enhance cooperative federalism by fostering involvement of State Governments of India in the economic policy-making process using a bottom-up approach.
It was a purely Q&A session with the very first question from the delegation being – ”What is the difference between NITI Aayog and Planning Commission?”. He explained that the major difference is the time of operation. NITI Aayog is a recent venture by the Modi government; it focuses majorly on perspective planning and schemes on a broader view for ,say, the next 15-20 year. Whereas Planning Commission does the plans and non-plans in coordination with all the ministries. He also added that there used be two channels for the flow of fiscal funds to the state governments but now state gets greater devolution of funds after the advent of NITI Aayog. Responding to questions asked, he said, “In a country like India there will definitely be a time lag as the developments happen rather slowly”. He also stated a few facts regarding the allocated budgets under the Seventh Schedule for the state governments to take care of health and education, which is not properly being utilized.
The day witnessed the cancellation of few planned lectures so that the first session of the day was at 3pm. It being the last day,people who have planned their return journeys during the early night couldn’t attend these sessions.
A meeting with Mr. K J Alphons
The first session was with Mr.K J Alphons, the Union Minister of State for Electronics and Information Technology, Culture and Tourism. He was very warm in the way he interacted and answered all the questions stating facts and figures and giving a quantifiable explanation constantly asking us, being IITians,help the nation in the best way possible rather than working for foreign firms. He shared with the members the story of his journey from an IAS officer to a minister and added that it was not an easy one with him and his family always vulnerable to attacks, but that he always believed in his one goal of serving the country which lead him in this path. When asked about improper implementation of schemes, he replied that everyone is doing their best but there are so many layers it has to pass through because of the which actions get water downed.There was a question posed on introducing a new time zone for the North-Eastern states to which he replied that while it is being looked into, it would create significant difficulties for trains and other transport medium and such historic decisions would require proper thought. He also added on a lighter note that perhaps, it is upto IIT graduates to devise solutions to such problems.
A meeting with Mr. JP Nadda
In the Niram Bhavan, the Minister of Health and Family Welfare, JP Nadda gave a brief description about the new initiatives taken up by the department like compulsory screening of citizens and mass camps for providing better health at a lower cost. He also stated that the progress during his tenure was great, the infant mortality rate has gone down and new health centers have been established, but that he still feels a lot of work needs to be done compared to China which follows a regional hospital policy wherein each hospital is endowed with high quality equipment for better treatment whereas in India the quality varies on levels of development of the city the hospital is located in.
The topics tossed around ranged from drug addiction in young adults to sex education among adolescents, rural health and what the Ministry is doing to improve those to which he answered saying that several schemes have been brought but lack of awareness is the major backdrop. At the end of the session we were given booklets on Mental health and Nutrition. The session ended with a final word by the speaker which seemed to also appropriately mark the end of the trip: Mr. Nadda appealed to the delegation to always remember that while everyone thinks of education as a right, the truth is that college education is a great privilege which should be valued as such.
Thus, the five day trip concluded. The list of speakers was suited for getting to know various aspects of the social and political spheres and learning from their diverse experiences and perspectives. Few students stayed back to see the proceedings in the Parliament live on the next day, the 15th of December but unfortunately the session was postponed.