Chronicling parliamentary proceedings over time

There have been many obvious and some imperceptible changes in Parliament

Updated - July 05, 2024 01:28 am IST

Published - July 05, 2024 01:27 am IST

“For many journalists covering parliamentary proceedings, the old building meant easy access to MPs and Ministers alike; in the new building, (they) are still trying to figure out the layout, including the path that leads to the press gallery”. File

“For many journalists covering parliamentary proceedings, the old building meant easy access to MPs and Ministers alike; in the new building, (they) are still trying to figure out the layout, including the path that leads to the press gallery”. File | Photo Credit: ANI

The first session of the 18th Lok Sabha was also the first session when the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) took over security of the Parliament complex. The agency, which is more used to guarding airports and key installations such as refineries, has replaced the Parliamentary Security Staff after a security breach last December. Dressed in dark trousers and contrasting light shirts, the CISF personnel were courteous and thorough with their airport-style frisking.

The security ring is not the only visible difference. The benches in the new Lok Sabha chamber are now more evenly occupied by members of the ruling National Democratic Alliance and the INDIA bloc. More than half the members (52%) are first-timers. There is an officially designated Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha after a decade. A combative Rahul Gandhi, occupying that chair, has marshalled the Opposition members in directing protests against the government, be it over the Manipur situation or the NEET exam paper leaks. Predictably, the decibel levels have been higher than in the previous two Lok Sabhas.

Watch: Rahul Gandhi as Leader of Opposition | What are the implications?

Many MPs of the ruling alliance have said that the scenes of Opposition MPs sloganeering while Prime Minister Narendra Modi was giving his reply to the Motion of Thanks on the President’s address to Parliament were unprecedented.

Not quite. Even with less fire power, this Opposition has done this earlier. So has the Bharatiya Janata Party when it was in the Opposition. I remember Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was barely audible in the Lok Sabha while introducing his Council of Ministers in 2004. There were constant protests from the BJP-led Opposition over the issue of inducting “tainted ministers.” They focused especially on Rashtriya Janata Dal chief Lalu Prasad Yadav for his role in the Bihar fodder scam.

The biggest change, of course, has been the building itself as parliamentary proceedings have shifted from the old circular edifice with round pillars to the newly designed triangle-shaped building last September. The old building is now called the Samvidhan Sadan — the place where the Constituent Assembly drafted, debated, and gave us our Constitution. For many journalists covering parliamentary proceedings, the old building meant easy access to MPs and ministers alike; in the new building, we are still trying to figure out the layout, including the path that leads to the press gallery.

The statue of Mahatma Gandhi that used to be opposite the main entrance to the old Parliament building has now been moved to the newly landscaped Prerna Sthal along with the statues of other icons such as B.R. Ambedkar. The original location of the Gandhi statue used to be the place where the Opposition would assemble for any kind of protest.

Another long-standing tradition that is fading is the practice of Parliamentary Affairs Ministers holding informal briefings with reporters to discuss government business and back-channel negotiations with the Opposition. These off-record briefings were often used to convey the government’s position on issues that may have led to a stalemate.

Finally, reporting has not been the same post-COVID-19. Many of the curbs seen during the pandemic, such as restricting the number of journalists who could enter Parliament during sessions, continues even now. The annual passes of accredited journalists, allowing them a free entry to Parliament round the year, have become inoperative during sessions. Now, even those who hold annual passes are required to have special passes for the session. Every political party should realise that reporters who report landmark legislation are the nation’s first chroniclers of history.

sandeep.phukan@thehindu.co.in

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