India’s Oldest MP Hangs Up his Boots

While Keishing retires as the world’s oldest Member of Parliament, his criticism of the present parliamentary scene in India is might not be just the wistful talk of an elder statesman.

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t was in 1952 that Rishang Keishing cycled to the Parliament as a newly elected MP in India’s first parliament. As he was passing by Delhi’s busy Connaught Place, he was stopped over by the police. They told him it was one-way traffic and that he was “going the wrong direction.” He told them that he was from Manipur and knew no such rule, said sorry and was allowed to move on to the Parliament without any maamul. At 94, he is not retiring just as India’s, but also as the world’s oldest MP. He is as nostalgic about the past, as gloomily despondent about how the country’s parliament is being conducted these days.

As a BBC correspondent put it, “It’s so often suspended now because of rowdy and, sometimes violent, interruptions from disruptive law-makers that it’s hardly news any more. Things reached a nadir recently when an MP from the ruling Congress party used pepper-spray to try to stop a bill passing, putting several other members in hospital.”

Mr. Rishang said, “It used to be quiet like a temple or a church, and the debates were listened to intently. But now, there is “no house decorum and the Speaker is no longer respected” – turning the modern Indian parliament into “a waste of time.”

Mr. Keishing’s criticism is not just the wistful talk of an elder statesman.  Records show that the past five years of India’s parliament – its fifteenth since independence – have been the least productive ever, with only just over half the 327 bills tabled being passed. Days of debating time have been lost to suspensions, and the Congress-led government has resorted to using so-called ordinance powers to enact legislation outside parliamentary time – mirroring US President Obama’s controversial use of executive orders to bypass a gridlocked US Congress – further undermining faith in democratic procedure. Just as in the United States, voters are ever more disillusioned with those who purport to represent them. Some critics say many Indian politicians act up to exactly what they are: businessmen and accused criminals

Many MPs have become politicians to further their business interests. And at least a third of the current crop of MPs is charged with some kind of crime, some as serious as attempted murder and major fraud. But they use their positions of power to keep dodging the courts. And despite promises of reform from all the main parties, the number of criminal politicians has risen at each election.