The fault lines between the government and the opposition have further deepened with the suspension of 24 Members of Parliament over their demand for an immediate discussion on price rise and the levy of GST on essential items. The presiding officers of the two Houses termed as “misconduct” the waving of placards and storming of the Well, and cited the MPs' “utter disregard to the House and authority of the chair” to justify the strict action against them. The standoff is over the government insisting that the discussion on the two issues can take place only when Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman returns to Parliament after a bout of Covid-19.
The blame game between the government and the opposition has only intensified with the former accusing the latter of wilful obstruction of parliamentary proceedings. The opposition, on the other hand, alleges that the government is attempting to silence their voices. Since Parliament’s monsoon session began on July 18, the sittings have been largely disrupted and productivity is extremely low. Given the BJP’s massive majority in the Lok Sabha and its impressive numbers in the Rajya Sabha, it is incumbent on the treasury benches to ensure the smooth functioning of Parliament by adopting a more accommodative attitude, if necessary. The government has accused the opposition of squandering taxpayers’ money by disrupting the Houses, but according to PRS Legislative Research, the least productive session of Parliament was in 2010 during the UPA regime when an entire session was washed out over the BJP’s demand for the setting up a Joint Parliamentary Committee on the 2G scam. The late Arun Jaitley, who was then Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, had famously said Parliamentary obstruction is not undemocratic, and there are occasions when it brings greater benefits to the country. His counterpart in the Lok Sabha, the late Sushma Swaraj, had said not allowing Parliament to function is also a form of democracy and that it was the government’s job, not the opposition’s, to run Parliament. The government’s harsh action against opposition MPs goes against these precedents cited by its own leaders. Debate and discussion is the essence of parliamentary democracy, and not allowing members to raise their legitimate concerns goes against the grain. Indian Parliament of early years was known for erudite speeches, witty repartee and oratory of the highest standards. In recent years all this has taken a beating and democracy is at the receiving end.
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The moral police are at it again. Actor Ranveer Singh is in the eye of a storm after he posted on social media nude photos of himself that were taken for a magazine shoot. An FIR has been registered against the actor under Sections 292 (sale, etc., of obscene books, etc.), 293 and 509 of IPC and sections of the IT Act on the complaint of an NGO that the nude pictures offend the modesty of women. Is a woman’s modesty so fragile that a few photographs and videos of a well-toned man in the buff can shake her world? Or is the complaint just a publicity stunt? In these times of relentless social media onslaught, any small thing can trigger a controversy of monumental proportions. This is not the first time that frivolous complaints have been filed against Bollywood personalities and models under the obscenity law which, according to experts, needs a relook. Vidya Balan, Shilpa Shetty, Mallika Sherawat, Milind Soman and Madhu Sapre have all been at the receiving end of such cases which stretch on for years and are nothing short of harassment suits. That the police and lower courts entertain such complaints is itself a travesty of justice and must be firmly nipped in the bud. The obscenity law is another archaic legislation that is long past its sell-by date.
In a country where nudity is a cultural construct and sculptures of nude men and women have been part of the architectural landscape for hundreds of years, such moral objections are hypocritical to say the least. Khajuraho and Konark are only two among the many historical sites where sensuality and eroticism are celebrated. When nobody bats an eyelid at the presence of Naga Sadhus at Kumbh Melas which are thronged by thousands of devotees, taking umbrage at a performer being comfortable in his own skin reeks of double standards. For parents claiming that children will be harmed by such content on the internet, one can only advise them to monitor their wards more closely. For all others who are morally outraged by Ranveer Singh’s nude photoshoot, the obvious course of action is to avoid viewing the allegedly objectionable content. What the eye does not see cannot offend the mind.