Despite cash for votes scam, parliament’s first interns remain optimistic

July 29th, 2008 - 11:53 am ICT by IANS  

A file-photo of Somnath Chatterjee
By Devirupa Mitra
New Delhi, July 29 (IANS) Unobtrusively and quietly, five young men and women have been making history in the Indian parliament for the last six months - working as its first interns and given unprecedented access to parliamentary operations. While their yearlong internship had so far been uneventful, the cash-for-votes political drama last week did not leave the three women and two men unscathed. After all, months of close proximity to the ground zero of Indian democracy had further highlighted their awareness.

“Certainly, my interest levels in the debate had trebled due to my time here,” Sahar Mahmood, 24, a St. Stephen’s College alumnus, told IANS.

“I was getting calls from my friends and relatives, asking me about the ‘feel’ of the parliament during the debate,” said Arundhati Das from Assam.

They got to witness the drama first-hand only for an hour in the morning of the second day of the trust motion debate Tuesday from the crowded public gallery. And, the events later in the afternoon - when three BJP parliamentarians waved currency notes in the well of the house - gave further food for thought for the five interns.

“We also discussed among us on the implications of the event. I personally thought that it was shameful,” said Nitinraj Singh, who was earlier working as a journalist with a national Hindi daily.

Similarly, Rahat Hassan, 27, a doctoral student in political science from Aligarh Muslim University, had strong views.

“This was degradation of Indian parliament, which is the temple of our democracy,” Hassan lamented to IANS.

But, despite all the drama, they still believe in the relevancy of parliament, unfazed by media prophecies of Indian democracy going down the drain.

“It was the politicians (who were involved). It has nothing to do with the institution,” said Sahar, adding, “This (parliament) is the one way that you can talk about the union of India.”

Their optimism, they said, was a consequence of their internship that has given them a better understanding of how the law-making body continues to play a nodal role.

According to Nitinraj, his perception has certainly changed for the better, after observing that “serious work” does get done in Parliament House.

“There are still lots of MPs who take their job seriously, prepare for the speeches with great care,” he said.

The five had been chosen from over 160 applicants to an advertisement of the Lok Sabha secretariat to start the first yearlong internship programme in January.

“I am most likely the first person of my village who has ever been inside the parliament. So, being selected and then working here for one year has created a lot of excitement in my village,” said Nitinraj, who hails from Mohanpur village in Bijnor district of Uttar Pradesh.

For the last six months, they had a series of meetings with Vice President Hamid Ansari, Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee and the heads of various parliamentary committees.

They were also allowed to sit and listen in at the meeting of a parliamentary committee, which they cannot name as the proceedings were not open to the public.

“It was really interested how the parliamentarians sought accountability from the top bureaucrats of a ministry, without resorting to any political point-scoring. It is very unlike what we see through the media,” said Deepali Mathur, 26, a social worker from Indore.

The interns have been allotted a room in the Bureau of Parliamentary Studies and Training, where they are busy getting their projects ready by the time they leave at the end of the tenure.

For example, Sahar has been looking at the parliamentary legislation in environmental protection; Nitinraj chose to monitor the media coverage of parliament; and Rahat Hassan is studying rural employment laws.

Their routine is to browse through 60 years of legislation and parliamentary debates, shifting through the hours of substance and political rhetoric. This has given them a better appreciation about the quality of the debates within the house.

“You could see that the MPs had put a lot of effort and research into their debates, especially during the early decades. Even now, there are several parliamentarians who make serious speeches,” said Sahar.

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