Having fun in Parliament

You may not know this — but there are some obvious differences between the Indian and the UK Parliament. To begin with, Indian Parliament lacks the equivalent for a Mrs Sally Bercow, the wife of the present Speaker in the British Parliament, which can only be described as a tragedy. In fact, if it were not completely impossible, perhaps the attractive Mrs Bercow should be cloned and exported so that other Parliaments could have as much fun as the British Parliament seems to be having.
Nothing can phase her and no amount of malicious publicity seems to stall the redoubtable and unique Mrs Bercow, who towers over her husband in reality and now threatens to overshadow him completely. So far, she has been irrepressible, rather like a free-spirited high-school student determined to show up the lapses in the institution to which she belongs. In the past she has regaled us with tales of her youthful exploits when she drank and enjoyed the company of men perhaps more than she should have. If she shocked the more conservative members of Parliament or of the general public, Mrs Bercow (good for her!) has shown little remorse.
But this time, on the occasion of Valentine’s Day, Mrs Bercow decided to give her husband, the Speaker, a genuine surprise. She has appeared, clad in nothing more than a bedsheet, photographed rather pointedly in front of Big Ben, and has spoken about the wonderful boost their joint libido has received ever since her husband was elevated to his present post. I always suspected that the dour proceedings of Indian Parliament needed something to inject it with a little more vigour — and now it is obvious that it desperately needs a Mrs Bercow of its own. To begin with, one cannot imagine the spouses of the deputy speakers or the speakers of either the Lower or Upper House of Indian Parliament appearing in bedsheets to express their liberated spirit, alas. After seeing Mrs Bercow’s photographs, this seems a great shame because it may provide some reason or incentive, at least, for the disgruntled parliamentarians to occasionally attend that August House, and perhaps remain there to do their work.
But more seriously, another discrepancy has now appeared between the working of the British and Indian Parliaments. Whilst Indian Parliament was stalled through noisy demonstrations and walkouts, here in the UK the Upper House was also “stalled” but rather more cleverly. Whilst discussing a bill on changing the electoral system and redrawing the boundaries of some constituencies, the Opposition in the House of Lords began one of the longest debates in their parliamentary history… forcing the members to remain in the chambers day and night. The continuing impasse has raised temperatures in the government while the Opposition spread out beds within the premises and geared up to remain there as long as they were required… Interesting, what?

MEANWHILE, AMONG the many controversial cuts proposed by the coalition government in the UK is the downscaling of the BBC budget. This reduction threatens the existence of some of the language services, including Persian, Tamil and even (ouch!) Hindi. Sadly, this means some very talented reporters will be forced to find other avenues. But there are others who feel that in places like India broadcasting is now a mature industry, hiring thousands of people, and perhaps with BBC vacating a valuable space, an opportunity has arisen for an indigenous broadcaster to take over the enterprise along with the staffers, if indeed the closure ultimately does take place.
That is a healthy and robust argument. What has been slightly disconcerting is the insidious insistence by those who would wish to retain the status quo — without considering that it is the British taxpayer who is actually paying for the broadcasts being beamed to a foreign audience. Once upon a time these broadcast services were crucial for spreading the news as media in the erstwhile colonies was underdeveloped: but now with the spread of mobile telephony, Internet and other services, people have alternative resources for news updates.
Reportedly, there has also been an effort to arm twist DfID, the Department for International Development, to part with some 25 million pounds to carry on with these language services. Even if this is “aid” being given to countries like India which do not really need it, surely it could be better utilised than being given to radio broadcasts…

ON A personal note, one of the highlights this week was to attend a glamorous fund raiser at the Connaught Hotel organised by the lovely and philanthropic Baroness Frances D’Souza and her daughter Crista for the Marefat High School in Afghanistan. The school, which was established by her in 2002, started with just a roofless hut and 30 students between the ages of seven and 60. It has been a tough assignment to keep the school going in dangerous circumstances, but Frances rarely gives up on anything! Probably never. A few years ago, the headmaster, Aziz Royesh survived threats of being executed as he was supposedly teaching “non-Islamic” subjects. But today the school has over 3,000 students with high aspirations — and more than half of them are girls. Educating girls like them will probably change the future of Afghanistan.
The night was fabulously entertaining and with a svelte and worthy guest list which included Cherie Blair, Jemima Khan, Fatima Bhutto amongst many others, quick auctions speedily notched up cash for helping the students, many of whom cannot afford to pay for the education they receive. It was a moment to celebrate: while the world continues to be in turmoil it is possible to create an oasis where a combined effort is made for balanced and peaceful development.

The writer can be contacted at kishwardesai@yahoo.com

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