What do MPs do?

What these objectively tabulated criteria miss is practically every MP's constant activity in "campaigning to get re-elected", in individual and party terms. The terms of this activity are more difficult to determine or, indeed, to appraise, but this is the KRA that matters to most: "What MPs have in common is that they are members of a professional political class, paid for out of public funds to sustain the national and local political battle."

Within the legislature, moreover, MPs can be divided into the "when" people and the "why" people. The "when" people, says Wright, are focused on moving up, into office, nearer the front benches in allotment of seats in the House, into key parliamentary committees. This ambition is essential to a healthy House, because in a parliamentary system MPs are indispensable for "providing the rather shallow pool of people from who governments have to be chosen".

The "why" people, on the other hand, see their parliamentary task as demanding answers of the executive on the reasons behind their actions and policies. Together, the two types denote the essential balance that nourishes a healthy democracy between "those who think that politics is about the exercise of power and those who think that politics is about the control of the exercise of power".

For those of us watching from the outside, this is a useful reminder to understand the inherently, and beneficially, political nature of all engagement in Parliament and to therefore resist the inclination to seek Parliament as an isolation chamber sanitised of MPs' political agendas.

The parliamentary question is a key instrument in nurturing the "why" people. And the increasingly casual abandonment of Question Hour by adjournments or to business and discussion deemed to be more urgent on the day is an indicator of its low priority for far too many MPs. Certainly, Parliament as an institution has been criticised these past years for different ways in which Question Hour is undermined: by the absence of MPs who had posted questions to be answered by the concerned minister, on occasion by the absence of the minister himself without any notice, by disruptions. To get the process moving, various reforms have been attempted in the Rajya Sabha, presence of the MP who posted the question is no longer requisite for the minister to carry on with giving the answer; for a while Question Hour was rescheduled from the opening hour (11 am to noon) to later in the afternoon on the presumption that MPs are prone to vent concerns on the mind the moment they show up in Parliament, but the change did little to revive Question Hour, and it was reverted to its old time slot; there is a limit to the number of supplementaries that can be asked on each question, so that more of the 20 starred questions can be taken up in the allotted hour.

... contd.

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