War o(f)ver words


Parliament saw brouhaha last week over a certain expression used by a Congress member in the Lok Sabha to describe the newly elected President Droupadi Murmu.


The derogatory word, which the Congress MP said was "a slip of tongue" by a non-Hindi speaking person that he is, set Parliament on fire, prompting the member to seek apology from the President.


Perhaps the word used by Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury will be the next to be added to the list of banned words in Parliament lexicon. The list was revised recently, much to the chagrin of opposition members, who saw in it a ploy to silence their voice on the floor of the House.


A new booklet by the Lok Sabha Secretariat says the use of terms like 'jumlajeevi', 'baal buddhi', 'Covid spreader', 'Snoopgate' and even commonly used words like 'ashamed', 'abused, 'betrayed', 'corrupt', 'drama', 'hypocrisy' and 'incompetent' will henceforth be considered unparliamentary in both the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha.


Don't be 'ashamed'. Just say you are 'mortified' by the government's conduct. Don't call the government 'corrupt'. Just say they are not moral. Don't accuse the government of enacting 'drama'. Just say the government is staging a play. 


The immediate outcome? It prompted the opposition to dub it as the government's "gag order". Congress leader Rahul Gandhi saw in it an attempt to ban words used in discussion and debates "which correctly describe the PM's handling of the government". He termed the compilation as the "New Dictionary for New India". 


An angry Congress general secretary Jairam Ramesh said, "All words used by the Opposition to describe the reality of Modi Sarkar now to be considered 'unparliamentary'. What next Vishguru". 


Trinamool Congress leader Derek O'Brien showed even greater belligerence, declaring he will use those words and dared the government to act against him. "Session begins in a few days. GAG ORDER ISSUED ON MPs." "Now, we will not be allowed to use these basic words while delivering a speech in #Parliament : Ashamed. Abused. Betrayed. Corrupt. Hypocrisy. Incompetent. I will use all these words. Suspend me. Fighting for democracy," the TMC leader said. 


Facing salvos from the opposition, which rued that every expression used by them to describe how the BJP was destroying India has now been declared unparliamentary, Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla hastened to clarify by making it clear that no word has been banned from use in Parliament but will be expunged on contextual basis. Members are free to express their views while maintaining decorum of the House, he said. 


The Speaker rejected the criticism that the BJP-led government at the Centre was behind the selection of 'unparliamentary' words and asserted that legislatures are independent of any government and the executive cannot give instructions to Parliament. 


"It is a routine practice continuing since 1954," Birla said, noting that words chosen for expunging have been used by members of the ruling party as well as the opposition.


Several words and expressions, even those used commonly, get routinely expunged during legislative proceedings if a member protests and the presiding officer finds them inapt in a particular context. 


The Lok Sabha Secretariat's list of unparliamentary words also says some terms may not be deemed unparliamentary unless read in conjunction with the other expressions spoken during the parliamentary proceedings. 


The booklet says any aspersions made against the Chair in both the houses, in any language, shall be considered unparliamentary and expunged from the records of Parliament. 


The word 'abused' was considered unparliamentary in the House of Representatives of Australia, while 'childishness' was frowned upon in Qubec's National Assembly. 


The phrases 'lollipops in the budget' and 'you have reached here telling a lie' were expunged from the proceedings of the Punjab Assembly. 


Even a word as harmless as 'asatya' (untruth) was expunged from the records of the Rajasthan assembly in 2021. Can there be anything more “unparliamentary” than censoring parliamentarians?



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