Timely question

Ansari asking for Question Hour to be called off is an expression of anguish that must make MPs think

In another time, Vice President Hamid Ansari's suggestion that the Rajya Sabha consider abandoning Question Hour altogether would have carried a whiff of extremism. After all, he has been personally invested in streamlining the processes of Question Hour for instance, in doing away with the quaint requirement that the poser of a question be present in the House for the minister concerned to give an oral reply. For the past couple of years, however, as opposition parties have adopted a scorched earth strategy, forcing repeated adjournments on different matters, such reform has come to little. Far too often, Question Hour is not allowed to proceed at all. On Tuesday, once again, that designated hour for interrogating ministers was rocked by demands for its abandonment, this time to discuss Walmart's lobbying bill in Washington DC. The irony of upsetting their legislative schedule based on information that's in the public domain because of legislative procedures in another land clearly escaped the agitated MPs. The opposition has been so resolute in resisting all persuasion to honour the Question Hour's demands that Ansari's proposal may be the only reality check left.

At the least, it should bring the focus to the statement MPs send out when they dishonour Question Hour. When a question is selected for a reply on the floor of the House, it gives an opportunity to the MP who posed the question as well as to others present to ask supplementary questions of the minister concerned. Given that these replies are made in Parliament, ministers and their staff prepare in advance for supplementary interrogation on the replies drafted. By allowing indeed, forcing adjournments during Question Hour, the opposition abandons an important instrument in holding the government to account. It also betrays its laziness in giving up this opportunity to be inventive and using Question Hour to smuggle in its concerns of the day in supplementary questions.

In the past couple of years, Parliament has been exceedingly conscious of its privileges. It has also exerted its institutional strength in the process of impeaching a judge. Ansari's expression of exasperation this week, however, must force legislators to look amidst their own and appraise the assault on Parliament's prestige from within.

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