New Booklet-  No Gag Order

Atul Cowshish

As the new multi-crore rupee Parliament building awaits opening in time for the next winter session, the Lok Sabha secretariat has issued a booklet that may not require the king of the jungle to display its menacing fangs in disapproval because henceforth the proceedings will follow a strict code of decorum. The booklet virtually bans all words and phrases frequently used during debates to criticise the government. It has since been clarified though that the book is no gag order but advisory on matters decorum.

We have known it all along that words like ‘lie’, ‘shameless’, ‘hypocrite’, ‘nautanki (drama)’ , ‘crocodile tears’—to name just a few—are ‘un-parliamentary’. Many new parliamentarians learn that instead of ‘lying’, the preferred expression should be ‘economical with truth’. They discover soon that it can be as biting as a straight accusation of ‘lying’.    

The Opposition has denounced the unusual diktat on choice of words without appreciating the strenuous exercise by the secretariat in compiling a long list of words and phrases. The presiding officers of the two houses, however, may have to be more attentive in noticing violation of the new language code.

The Lok Sabha booklet fits in well in the ‘sanskari’ atmosphere that has been built across the country.  It may be meant for Members of Parliament but it is destined to play a historic role in shaping the nature of public discourse in the country. The Indian public is inspired by the vocabulary of those of their elected representatives who are also lexicographers, the greatest being the prime minister no less. The whole of India has learnt new words like ‘Andolanjeevis’ and ‘Tukede Tukde Gang’.

The booklet must be unique in the world, detailing all the Hindi and English words that decent parliamentarians ought to avoid. As the undeclared ‘Vishvaguru’, India can send the booklet to the more mature and older democracies, where, of course, only one section of the listed words will be useful as Hindi is not the language spoken in their parliament. But a Vishvaguru has to do his duty by showing the way to the world about decent expressions in the ‘temples of democracy’.

If some parliamentarians have become addicted to using ‘strong’ words to convey their true feelings now they will have to display a Shahsi Tharoor type talent and familiarity with their language—uttering words and expressions that are o.k. but almost none of the exalted members of the House will understand even though they do exist in the dictionary.

But come to think of it. The authors of the booklet seem to have missed a point. The ‘bad’ words are spoken not just in Hindi and English but also in many other languages. Parliament does provide translation of speeches made in regional languages but to the best of one’s knowledge ‘bad words’ are not translated by the interpreters. Hopefully, this lapse will not encourage a sudden surge in the use of ‘un-parliamentary’ words in languages other than Hindi and English.     

Experience suggests that the linguistic talents of agitated Members of Parliament revolve round words that, alas, have now been included in the booklet on ban words. The simile may be far-fetched but it will be like a situation where the average Indian driver is asked to drive without using the horn. It is impossible!

Silence of members is no option if democracy, or at least its façade, is to be kept alive. No need to despair. There is a clear alternative: Sharpen the ability to use sarcasm to deadly effect. For instance, instead of accusing an honourable member of telling a ‘lie’, the point can be made by complimenting him or her for unearthing a hitherto unknown ‘truth’.

The reason behind the ban on uttering the word ‘Jumlajeevi’ will be guessed by most Indians who have repeatedly reposed their faith in a government that has made things easy for itself by silencing dissent and habitual use of ‘Jumlas’. It has enabled the ruling party to win one poll after another, sometimes astounding the Pundits. The catch phrase ‘Jumla’ attracts attention but does not denote a serious intent.  However, ‘Jumlas’ are unlikely to disappear from public discourse.

Think of it; things may not be that hopeless. ‘Jumla’ literally means an expression. It will evade reprimand from the chair if a member compliments the prime minister—or any other member of the ruling party—for his ‘extraordinary’ knack to inspire the ordinary men and women to dream big rather than blame it on ‘jumlas’. Even the dullest ‘jeev’ (human being) would be in seventh heaven if promised Rs 15 lakh in his or her bank account!