K.V. Prasad

The large number of first-time MPs in the 14th Lok Sabha had raised hopes.

THE PRESENCE of a large number of young men and women was seen as one of the bright spots when the 14th Lok Sabha was elected. Now, more than two years later, the question is: where have they all gone?

The first-time MPs numbered 231, some of them well-educated urbanites. Though many of them came in with little or no experience in public life, they were otherwise visible faces in their respective fields.

The Congress had Milind Deora, Jitin Prasada, Rahul Gandhi, Sandeep Dikshit, Sachin Pilot, Deependra Hooda, Madhu Yaskhi Goud, L. Rajagopal, Tejaswani Sreeramesh, D. Purandareswari, Kuldeep Bishnoi, Govinda, and Naveen Jindal among others. The Bharatiya Janata Party's share was leaner with Manvendra Singh, Dushyant Singh, and Navjot Singh Sidhu among the more prominent. The hope was that these bright young faces would help re-define the way Parliament functioned. At the half-way mark, the report card is less than exciting.

As the people's representative, each MP has the right to raise issues of public importance and articulate his or her views through interventions in debates and discussions. One of the most forceful platforms available is question hour, when the members extract information from the Government on policy issues. For those in the Opposition, it is an opportunity to try and corner the treasury benches. An MP can combine homework, policy literature, and democratic sensitivity to put the Minister on the mat. And then there is the art of asking supplementary questions, which can reveal an MP's grasp of a particular issue.

For the last eight sessions, there have been just a few from among the young brigade who have sought to raise supplementary questions. In the Congress, Ms. Purandareswari and Ms. Tejaswani Sreeramesh have been among the most noticeable. While Ms. Purandareswari's active participation led to her induction in the Union Council of Ministers, Ms. Tejaswani continues to show a healthy appetite for debates and interventions. Then there have been periodic interventions from Mr. Rajagopal or Mr. Goud, who gave up a law practice in the U.S. to be here.

Mr. Rahul Gandhi has been conspicuously lagging on this count. He has regularly attended question hour and can often be seen in conversation with MPs seated next to him. But he has preferred not to make many interventions. The Lok Sabha website shows Mr. Gandhi has spoken just twice in Parliament. One was a special mention drawing attention to the woes of sugarcane growers in Uttar Pradesh and the other a brief participation in the discussion on Demands for Grants for the Human Resource Development Ministry during March this year. Records show that of the questions he may have submitted, only two were admitted in 2005. One was on the state of the Indira Gandhi Rashtriya Uran Akademi in Fursatganj, Uttar Pradesh, and the other on the quality of education in technical institutes.

Mr. Gandhi served as a member on the Standing Committee on Home Affairs for two years before switching, this October, to the Human Resource Development Committee.

It has been a practice of parties to groom young leadership in Committees. But since their proceedings are closed-door affairs, there is little information available in the public domain on the contribution of any member.

Mr. Milind Deora took part in the discussions on the Prime Minister's visit to the United States last year and the supplementary demands for grants, and spoke on the Right to Information Bill and on the Petroleum and Natural Gas Board.

Mr. Deependra Hooda, who was elected from Rohtak after his father Bhupinder Singh Hooda became Haryana Chief Minister, participated in discussions on problems being faced by farmers and on the Union Budget. Mr. Sachin Pilot opened his account in December 2004 by taking part in a short duration discussion on farmers' issues. He too has participated in discussions on demands for grants on agriculture, the Railways, and also on the general budget.

On the BJP benches, Mr. Dushyant Singh, son of Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje, began his innings in a discussion on power shortages in August 2004; later, he took part in discussions on the Railways and on farmers problems, besides the debate on The Food Safety and Standards Bill, 2005. Mr. Manvendra Singh, son of the former External Affairs Minister, Jaswant Singh, another regular in the House, took part in the Finance Bill discussion in May 2005 and the Office of Profit Bill last July. Mr. Navjot Singh Sidhu in Parliament has yet to match his performance either on the cricket field or in matters relating to cricket off the field.

It is the prerogative of a party to decide which member will take part in a debate or speak on a Bill. But have these MPs been keen to demonstrate what they think about the problems facing the nation? It is not clear if they or their parties are mindful of the disappointing report card.