Legislating, first time

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Some 30 first-timers made it to the legislative assembly in 2008. Hamidullah Dar talks to some of them about their maiden experiences in the August House.

Lawmakers in JK Assembly

Lawmakers in JK Assembly

Last Assembly elections (2008) threw up a record number of first-time legislators in the state. At least 30 people won elections for the first time to make it to the August House. Among them, 14 are from Kashmir Valley, 15 from Jammu province and one from Ladakh.

To be in the House for the first time discussing issues with veterans has been an experience many of these novices say will remain with them for rest of their life.

Minister of State (R&B) Javed Ahmad Dar says he was nervous while stepping into the assembly complex for the first time. “There was a vortex of weird thoughts of ifs and buts churning in my head almost blocking the normal thought process. And for many days while sitting in the house, I observed how our seniors were doing their business, putting up issues and seeking their redressal or approval,” says Dar with a smile.

However, for some new entrants, it was not a big deal. For Ashok Kumar, 50, the Congress legislator representing Ramban, there was no reason to worry. “I have been a teacher for 15 years so it was not difficult to rise to the occasion in the House. Voicing the problems and hardships of the people of my area in the assembly was a lifetime experience. I feel elated that I am able to bring the plight of the people to the notice of those who can redress their grievances. It was also good to see the session running for the full time that provided us the opportunity to speak to the hilt,” says Kumar, a postgraduate in Geography from Bombay University.

Nizam ud din Bhat

Globetrotter doctor Mohammad Shafi Wani, 53, National Conference legislator from Beerwah was not so happy about the conduct of assembly. “It hurt me a lot to see the democratic setup, still immature in the state. I am a voracious reader and I keep a constant eye on the world affairs. Outside India, freshers are encouraged to voice their opinions while as here seniors dominate the floor and entire show revolves around six or seven people,” says Wani, who has served with World Health Organisation for two years in 1997 and 1998.

For Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) legislator from Suchetgarh, Sham Lal Chowdhary, 48, stepping into the assembly complex for the first time as an elected member was a dream come true. “I was already rendering social service in my area by heading a cooperative society. But the happiness I felt while being on the floor and discussing issues and matters that directly concern the people of my area is inexplicable,” said Chowdhary.

For Zanaskar legislator Feroz Ahmad Khan, 42, of National Conference whose father Ghulam Hassan Khan has been a legislator, Assembly parlance has not been an alien thing, but still for him his first hand experience with the House meant a lot. “I had been used to the words like floor, walkout, and budget session but to be there in the hall and transact business is altogether a great experience. It is a learning process for me and with every passing day I feel getting more mature for my profession (politics),” says Khan.

For Mohammad Irfan Shah, 42, the legislator from Batamaloo, who also comes from a political family, the last eight months have been “hectic”. “These few months in the house have almost turned me bald. I am worried as to how I can fulfil the promises made to the people.”

Almost all the new members say that they give preference to public issues over their own interests. Their utterances during the recently concluded budget session somewhat authenticate their claims.

“The ruling party itself closes into a circle and shuts eyes from the realities which is contrary to the democratic spirit. Also the members in the assembly say things what they will never think of saying outside the house. They play the card of serving the people but in reality they do something else in the house that renders the concept of democratic honesty to a mere myth”, blurts Dr Wani.

The double speak and double standards allegedly exhibited mostly by the senior members of the house have also baffled Sham Lal Chowdary. “The double standard of the members is most visible in the house where they try to raise issues that divide people on different grounds to save their chairs. The environment in the house seems more volatile and chaotic than the situation in the town,” says Lal adding that it looked as if people would not get what they need by pulling different chords.

A bureaucrat turned politician, Independent legislator from Kathua, Charanjit Singh, 58, says that it is the responsibility of the legislators to uphold the decorum of the House. “Behaving irresponsibly in the House defeats the purpose it is meant for. We have been elected by the people and they have lot of expectations from us. If we wilfully or otherwise waste time in clamouring over petty issues and ignoring the real ones in the house, then what remains is a breeding ground for corruption and nepotism. Accountability becomes the casualty,” affirms Singh who took voluntary retirement from the post of Additional Deputy Commissioner Jammu to plunge into politics. “The way some people resort to mud-slinging (referring to Muzzafar Hussain Beig’s statement over CM’s involvement in sex scandal) in the House without any proof is deplorable. It has to be stopped so that the House regains its prestige.”

File Photo

Shiekh Rashid (Engineer), 54, the independent legislator from Langate, is also put off by the chaos in the assembly. “Assembly has the representative character which needs to be reflected on the floor. People expect us to speak even on Kashmir issue in the assembly. We have to give voice to the aspirations of people regarding their problems, day to day issues including their security concerns”, adds Rashid who is quite fond of using the word “unfortunately” often inviting laughter.

Dr Wani also shares his views. “Medical profession is a noble profession and if politics were the same, it would change our state from being backward to modern in every respect. There are people who advocate for revocation of AFSPA outside the house but prove its staunch supporters once they enter the complex. It simply is cheap politics,” says Dr Wani.

Entering the assembly as elected member for the first time at 60, a journalist turned politician Nizamudin Bhat, PDP legislator from Bandipora, says that values have vanished in-house. “The traditions here are wrong and the rule of one upmanship is in vogue. The viewpoint of the adversary in the House is not appreciated however strong and applicable it might be,” complains Bhat. While drawing parallels between journalism and politics Bhat says, “politics is a bit difficult than Journalism. In media, you are answerable to your conscience and in politics, you are answerable to people.”

Bhat’s views are almost shared by all the newcomers to the legislative assembly. “Gone are the days when people would swarm around leaders and compel them to represent them. Now politician has to reach out to every voter to ensure his/her success. People are not that ignorant now and it is very difficult to convince them on mere promises,” says Dr Wani.

It is said that politicians generally have no personal life but the fresh lot has a divergence of opinion in this regard. While routine personal life remained largely unaffected for Charanjit Singh, Ashok Kumar and Irfan Shah, the reasons differ. “If I do not meet around 300 people a day, I do not feel at ease. So, politics has added comfort to my personal life than taking away anything from it,” says Shah who is quite impressed by BJP legislator Harsh Dev Singh for his precision and eloquence in the house.

“I do not let politics creep into my personal life to the point that my family suffers. I give them time that they deserve so that they do not feel as if I am lost to them for the peoples’ cause. After the conclusion of the day’s business, I spend rest of the time among my family members,” says Ashok Kumar.

For Javed Dar, a politician is a public man who has no personal life. “It is a 24-hour job and I have received people at 2 o’clock in the morning. There is hardly any place where you are left alone to enjoy at your will,” Dar opines.
However, things are different for Dr Wani. “As a doctor people used to knock at my door even at odd hours. Now that security personnel are guarding the gate, it has stopped people popping up at odd hours,” says Dr Wani adding that he enjoys non-disturbing life now.

The first-timers acknowledge that they have no ambitions or hope to become chief minister of the state. “To become the chief minister is not easy. And then there is young Omar Abdullah around who can be chief minister for next 30 or so years. He has the capability and political acumen that it takes to become CM,” says Dar.

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