another unpublished one... for the fear of arrests...
``It is for you to tell me.''
Thus he replied thus to a question about how he viewed the functioning of the 14th Assembly in an interview marking his 50 years as legislator. Taking this as a cue, Team TOI, a year later, takes the courage to tell the people that the present Assembly has a long way go to fulfill its duties and responsibilities to the people through meaningful dialogue.
Definitely, the Government has been highly democratic as time and again the Opposition gets more time to talk on issues than the ruling party but the dialogue, meaningful and purposeful, has been highly lacking in the proceedings. The members take time to thank their leaders, reel out a set of demands for the people of their constituencies and mostly finish it in style by taking on the opposite side. Suggestions are hard to come by.
Somewhere, the need to resolve issues on urban and rural infrastructure, demand for housing in cities, lack of minimum support price for the farmers, rain water harvesting and a great irrigation network, failure to improve the quality of higher education, social equity and cultural revival, and many more critical issues, go amiss. It is true that the populist, welfare government is doing its bit in everything but collectively we are falling short.
Here are the characters that add colour to the house.
Fifty years and still young, at heart and at the assembly. After keeping away from the assembly for five years during the previous rule, Karunanidhi, reclining in the comfort of his seat, enjoys the proceedings with pride and joy. Like a judicious king, he intervenes only when necessary and at other times keeps to himself, especially when there is a discussion on the Tigers. Likes to retreat into the confines of the Spring Hall (Vasantha Mandapam) to rest, do a bit of personal work. Of course, he will be listening the house all the time and sends notes now and then clarifiying and keeping the facts correct. A veteran in the house, the chief minister probably is the only legislator to have known and read from Plato's Philosopher Kings to Karl Marx's dialectical materialism. We presume, he also has read Jeremy Bentham. For, his government strives to bring ``the greatest happiness to the greatest number''.
As floor leader and as the finance minister of the welfare state, the oldest member of the house sits dignity personified. More than the rules of the house, he knows the conventions like the back of his hand. Both he follows and expects, with eagerness, other members to adhere to the customs of the house. Another veteran, the man fondly called professor by his partymen is humble enough to admit in the house that he was only an assistant professor. Only under extreme provocation will he utter a word wrong, that too, in his, characteristic, measured voice.
From Day One, the Honourable Speaker has been a bundle of surprise. In fact, not many thought that this no-nonsense lawyer from down south will occupy the Chair and conduct the proceedings of the prestigious assembly. True to the democratic spirit of the house, the Speaker has been tolerant to a great extent. At times, he finds it difficult to handle the Opposition and orders the security to evict them en masse.
Again, true to the expectations, the Chosen One has carried on like a strict school teacher. At times adamant but largely good-hearted.
The house has very few wordsmiths. One is the deputy speaker. In the absence of the Chair, this friendly and jovial personality takes over the house and conducts the proceedings in a lighter vein encouraging everyone to speak up. He knows his language as well as the rules of the house. The members also get a minute or more to reel out their demands with this affable man acting as Speaker. May be, sometime in future he will sit in the Chair full-time.
One day Wonder
She visits the house for one day a year. She steals the show. All said and done, the Opposition leader is the most articulate and powerful speaker in the house full of orators. On that particular day, the Opposition MLAs, usually a riotous lot, go deaf and dumb. In a clear, ringing voice, she puts forth her arguments for an hour (credit should go to the ruling party for allowing her to speak herself out). She could do a great public service if she comes to the house regularly, participates in the proceedings, and lends her valuable constructive criticism. Forget it. She has this habit of leaving the house as soon as she finishes her speech.
The Yes Man and No Man.
Both can be brilliant but have been on the sidelines in their respective parties for long. Alliance whip is a voracious reader. With a good understanding in many subjects, Alphonse's pointed speeches, punctuated with arguments and reasonable evidence, in the house have delighted the ruling combine, specially the chief minister and at the same time the ire of the Opposition. More than the Ministers, the Opposition has repeatedly revealed that Congress whip should not talk on certain issues knowing that it could be under fire.
The Opposition whip, on the other hand, can be very adamant to prove a point or keep the assembly records straight when it comes to critical issues concerning the image of the party. One can find an unrelenting him, egging on deputy opposition leader, to stand up and raise the issue till the Speaker settles it amicably and favourably. If not, expect him to lead the party on one of those frequent walk-outs.
The House has its set of back-benchers and the wannabe ministers from the Opposition. They do follow the rules and regulations of the house but could not be contained in peace for long periods. Now and then, one of them will air a comic comment around pretending that the house did not notice. Knowing well their tantrums, the Speaker, magnanimously, keeps it going. There are times when these former ministers would continue to speak, at times, even without the mike to prove a point or two. Invariably, the comments will have to be expunged and the commentators pardoned.
It may sound harsh to call the second row of the treasury bench as II-nd Class Sleeper. Like in any train journey, the travellers of this class mostly talk to themselves and are happy travelling together and being part of a delightful journey. Only when there is an enquiry, they give a reply. Gold Southking is enterprising. The Beauty Doll can ridicule the Opposition. The Shoulder Man can be pricky and the Wrestler, funny. Others are by and large silent companions.
He is the minister with the power. Apart from holding the power portfolio, Brave God, the party strongman, keeps the alliance in good spirit and answers to most questions in the absence of the Chief Minister in the House. He sounds soft but is very firm. Patiently, he would listen to the arguments and charges of the Opposition but makes sure that his is the last word. By his polite talk, he, sort of, convinced the house that there was no big power failure last winter despite the truth being that the State, barring Chennai, sweated it out during an unprecedented power-cut.
He is not just the rising sun but also the smiling son. He sits there with a rare calm not in the tradition of his party. In the House, he speaks less. Basically, he is a listener. It is this trait that makes him superior to most and that allows him to stay calm under pressure (that is verbal attack from the Opposition). With a smile, he would take it. Meanwhile, the secretaries would be hurrying through piles of paper, calling up districts and in general running around to get the details so that the minister could give the reply the same day itself. Always, he gives his reply in the same session. Mostly fitting.
Son's trusted lieutenant, the Higher Education Minister is the firebrand of the ruling party. In the previous Assembly, only he had the guts to take on chief minister Jayayalalithaa. He was often evicted for his plain speaking then. In power now, this daring (former) teacher literally spews fire on the Opposition and can't take anything beyond the tolerable limits. In fact, he has a special liking for the former education minister and has subdued him into silence in the last year or so.
The trio, Uncle, Big God and Butter Wealth, have been there for quite sometime as the second line leadership of the ruling party and second time ministers now. Even if they are not the best orators in the Dravidian sense, the trio often help the house slide into a lighter vein while answering queries of the members individually. Whenever any one of them stand up to give a fitting reply, expect a round of laughter going around.
Me, Mr Perfect
The Food Minister, who has had a meteoric rise in the ruling party, likes the members to believe that his ministry is run perfect. Only there are not many believers as each member has a first hand experience of the functioning of the ration shops and the open secret that is rice smuggling. Neverthless, he never gives up and comes up with proof, often statistics, as soon as possible to counter charges.
The Left is largely left alone to speak on issues concerning labour, patta for the poor, manual scavenging, in essence social issues. On any day, expect the CPM leader to talk on Tirupur's plight and the CPI leader on delta farmers. The Left has a one point agenda. Let us be pro-poor to make sure they are not left out of the development process in the liberalised economy. That sentence probably sums it up.
With the legislative party leader CM's erstwhile Krishna unable to attend most of the sessions due to his health condition, the MDMK camp works rather silently. Often invoking the name of DMK founder Anna and his ideals, the MDMK MLAs stick to issue based support for policies. But whenever the AIADMK stage a walk-out, the MDMK, its only ally in the house also walks out for some reason or other. Strange.
``Speaker Sir.'' No one else in the Assembly takes to his feet and calls the Speaker more than this Congress MLA. Anything related to power sharing, government action (rather inaction) on LTTE, Hogenakkal water scheme, taking a dig at the previous government, more privileges for the members and many more. He is there. On his feet. To speak on any subject.
The Hillside MLA may not like him to be called a planter. For, he is against the planters. This dark and dimunitive man has been raising the issue of wages for lakhs of plantation workers paid lower than those working few miles across the border in Kerala. Often, he brings the tea packets to substantiate his speeches and at times brings the labourers as well to the chamber of the Law Minister. Till now, his demands have not been met. But he always takes delight and pride in another achievement of his. Giving the most number of questions in every session. No one has beat him on that score till now.
the list can grow….