There is free seating in Central Hall but each major party seems to have its preferred area. For example, the Samajwadi Party, especially Ramgopal Yadav and Jaya Bachchan, sit in the first two rows. The BJD and the Trinamool Congress take to the back benches, with the Trinamool corner being located, coincidentally, right next to a portrait of Rabindranath Tagore.
The right-wing BJP prefers an enclave to the left of Central Hall, at the back. The Congress believes in free seating and sits wherever space is available, a throwback to the days perhaps when it dominated both Houses. The one senior politician I have never seen in Central Hall is Mayawati of the BSP.
What do MPs do in Central Hall? They sip tea or coffee, strategise and confabulate. When Chief Ministers such as Mamata Banerjee and Nitish Kumar drop in, they often sit with MPs and have a cup of tea and a slice of crisp toast. Central Hall becomes a convenient meeting place.
Senior journalists use Central Hall to interact with MPs and ministers. While M Venkaiah Naidu is the Information and Broadcasting Minister of the BJP government, easily the most attractive magnet for the media is Finance Minister Arun Jaitley. When he visits Central Hall, he immediately draws a crowd of journalists, where he proceeds to convey news, explain policy or merely indulge in light-hearted banter.
This session was important for my immediate neighbour in the Rajya Sabha as he completed 50 years in public life. On February 10, 1967, when I was in class I, he was first elected MLA, and since then, he has had an uninterrupted run in the state assembly or one of the two Houses of Parliament. My neighbour, as you must have guessed, is Sharad Pawar, and his golden jubilee was much celebrated by the NCP. It also explains why he was awarded the Padma Vibhushan this year.
MPs from Uttarakhand, Punjab, Manipur, Goa and of course Uttar Pradesh were missing in action in this session because they were busy with election campaigns in their states. Also absent were several BJD MPs, busy with preparations for panchayat elections in Odisha.
Given the succession battle in the AIADMK, several Tamil Nadu MPs from the ruling party in Chennai were not in Parliament either. They did come for a day or two, but the body language was not good. With all this happening, it was tough on them. AIADMK MPs did not take part in the budget discussion and looked awkward throughout the short session. Their former Rajya Sabha leader Dr V Maitreyan, who had been banished to the last benches after a fall out with Amma, was one of the first MPs to bat for OPS.(Is it a coincidence that the Rajya Sabha MP was a member of the BJP before he joined the AIADMK!) I must say though that these MPs still carry a portrait of the late Jayalalitha in their shirt pockets. Chinnamma has not replaced Amma yet!
Trinamool had a good session, with some 40 of our 46 MPs being regulars in the two Houses. We demonstrated outside Parliament four times, on issues as far apart but as significant as the demonetisation mess, the vendetta of the union government against Bengal and Trinamool politicians, and the H-1B visa anxiety. We made 50 interventions in Parliament - in the form of Zero Hour interventions, speeches, questions, supplementary questions and so on.
Overall, this was a busy and productive session. The Rajya Sabha worked for 95 per cent of its allotted time and the Lok Sabha outperformed us by sitting and doing business for 113 per cent of its due time - that is, going beyond the call of duty.
Will things be as smooth after March 11 and the state elections' results, and after rhetorical jibes about raincoats and bathrooms? I leave it to you to guess.
Derek O'Brien is leader, parliamentary party Trinamool Congress (RS), and Chief National spokesperson of the party.
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