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  Opinion   Oped  25 May 2018  ‘No work but full pay’ defies all logic

‘No work but full pay’ defies all logic

The writer, a renowned astrophysicist, is professor emeritus at Inter-University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics, Pune University. He was Cambridge University’s Senior Wrangler in Maths in 1959.
Published : May 25, 2018, 2:28 am IST
Updated : May 25, 2018, 2:28 am IST

The Prefect could no longer control the mob and a loud bell tolled to announce that the session was adjourned till the next day.

The chaos and noise we saw here are following the pattern set by our Lok Sabha. (Photo: PTI)
 The chaos and noise we saw here are following the pattern set by our Lok Sabha. (Photo: PTI)

This is a problem faced by the famous XYZ School. The background to the problem is as follows. The school was set up a few years ago with great expectations. It was created so that it was run by the students who would be good citizens in a truly democratic tradition. To this end, they were first made aware of their rights and privileges as well as their duties and the code of public behaviour they are to follow.

The setting up of such a school was done with some trepidation, because other similar schools in the neighbouring districts had not done well. Although started as bastions of democracy these schools had become attached to specific groups of people or ideologies and thus were operating in a dictatorial atmosphere. How to avoid a similar fate for the newly emerging XYZ School?

The wise men opined: “Get a set of rules compiled by an experienced expert, to control the working of the School. These rules should respect the original motivation for setting up the school but they should also ensure that the day-to-day running of the school is smooth. Above all, democracy must continue as an ideal”.

This advice was promptly followed and an experienced expert duly prepared the rule book of the XYZ School. This expert was well respected and what is more important, he was (rightly) perceived as an impartial character. He had no axe to grind.

Thus the control of the school was to be by a party elected by the residents. Any queries that arose in administration were handled in situ. But this arrangement could not stand the test of time. The divergent views expressed about the school showed how even rational persons might differ in details. The annual elections for positions in the school administration, allowed these differences to surface and survive. They would be seen in the election debates.

Although in the initial years these differences were appreciated in the spirit of tolerance, gradually these differing views began to dominate. Thus it was that when the school held the annual elections the speeches by contending candidates began to turn “ugly” and often in bad taste.

A senior mediaperson visited the school during elections. He wanted to witness a school debating session in working mode. The PRO of the school seemed reluctant to oblige but eventually at the intervention of the Principal he agreed. While agreeing to the request the Principal muttered: “I am sure, he has seen worse situations.” The visitor was puzzled by this remark but said nothing. Indeed he was to see the justification of that remark shortly.

The PRO led the mediaperson to an inner gallery of the school hall, which had seats for viewing the proceedings below. The handout that was distributed gave the topic of the next debate as: This House has no confidence in the existing government.

This rang a bell. The mediaperson recalled his visit to Cambridge a few months back. He had then visited the Cambridge Union Society whose first debate of the term was to take place that night. The topic? The topic of the debate was: This House has no confidence in the Her Majesty’s government.

As they approached the viewing spot, they could hear considerable noise. Evidently some exciting discussion was going on? To the media man’s conjecture, the PRO replied. “Sir, this is normal as you shall shortly see.” And as they took their seats the visitor looked below and saw the following scene. The Prefect was a senior student in charge, sitting in his seat on a raised platform. He was looking helpless as he was surrounded by students making arguments in shouting mode, with the different shouts together producing a noise that was bereft of any signal.

What were they arguing about? asked the mediaperson. The PRO had a wan smile as he said: “ Nothing, Sir! They are only calling each other names. They may not get to the main point of the argument because, I am certain, the Prefect in Charge will shortly close this session on the grounds of excessive noise but no signal.

It was a correct prediction. The Prefect could no longer control the mob and a loud bell tolled to announce that the session was adjourned till the next day.

As they made their way out of the crowd of students, the PRO asked: “Sir, what did you think of it?” The mediaperson described his visit to the Cambridge Union and said: “The Oxford and Cambridge Union follow the pattern of the British Parliament which has a certain protocol of behaviour in the Parliament. Here we saw a similar event. The chaos and noise we saw here are following the pattern set by our Lok Sabha. However, there are serious issues underlying all this which make me sad as well as alarmed.

“What is that, Sir?” asked the PRO.

“There are three things. First, we are wasting time and money that nation can ill afford. Number two, the interruption is being caused by parties that had lost the last election: so we see the losers deciding how the nation should or should not be run. This is not fair in a democracy. And, finally our students watch and note that our lawmakers act as if they are above the law. Naturally they too do the same!”

As he walked back to his car, the visitor felt that the school example that he had just witnessed gave the glimpse of what happens to the real lawmaking body. If a lawmaking body is not allowed to function, how does the nation carry on? Also, is there any precedent of a public body which ends the day with no work done and still expects its members to be paid their daily allowance? And finally, what does the senior school population think of the chaotic behaviour of their elders?

Tags: democracy, british parliament