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Inside the world's biggest democracy

Avinesh Gopal
Tuesday, August 12, 2014

THERE are many democratic countries in the world that have their own Parliament.

Like other democratic countries, the parliament of India is the supreme legislative body in the country.

It comprises the President of India and the two houses — the Lok Sabha (House of the People) and the Rajya Sabha (Council of States).

The Lok Sabha is known as the Lower House and the Rajya Sabha is known as the Upper House of India's legislative body.

But entering the Parliament of India is not as easy as it may sound, even if one is a guest of the Indian Government.

With a group of foreign journalists on a familiarisation visit to India recently, I was given the opportunity to enter the Parliament of India, after viewing the Parliamentary Museum.

And like my colleagues from other Indian diaspora countries and Cyprus, I also had the opportunity to witness a sitting of the Lower House, although it was for a short while.

IT was December 2001 when five terrorists staged an attack on the Parliament of India.

The attack on December 13 resulted in the death of about 12 people but the parliamentarians who were in the complex escaped unhurt.

Since then, the Indian Government has not taken any chances in protecting the country's supreme legislative body.

Having experienced it personally with other foreign journalists, getting into the Parliament complex is not easy if one is going through the security gates.

Someone who may want to scale the walls and fenced corners of the complex to get inside should think again because of the high level of security.

As we arrived at the first check- point leading to the Parliamentary Museum, all cameras, even cigarettes and lighter, had to be left with the police officers before a body scan was done.

Then there was another body scanning a few metres away before we were cleared to proceed towards the Parliamentary Museum.

But to our surprise, the group of foreign journalists had to go through the same scan before we were cleared for the briefing room.

After a briefing, we were led to the Parliamentary Museum, which struck everyone in the group with awe — things that depict the country's history.

The things on display in the museum relate to each and every part of India's history, from the time of the Hindu gods and goddesses to the present.

Because of time constraints, the tour of the Parliamentary Museum was shorter than as planned and we proceeded towards the Parliament of India.

As we stepped into the building after seeing armed police and military officers or "snipers" at different places in the premises, there was yet another body scanning.

There were at least seven other similar scans and body checks before I and the other journalists were able to enter the Lower House of the Indian Parliament.

But it was not before us leaving our wallets with the security personnel and even having our handkerchiefs checked by them at one of the very last checkpoints.

Once inside, we were ushered in to the public gallery of the Lower House and the session was in progress with a member raising issues affecting its constituency.

Since we were allowed to be in the Lower House from 3pm to 4pm on July 22 and we had arrived late, the group of foreign journalists could witness the proceedings for about 10 minutes only.

Apart from tight security at the Parliamentary complex, government ministries and other institutions in India are heavily guarded by the security forces.

There were also stringent checks at the Indira Gandhi International Airport in Delhi and at the Bangalore International Airport, not forgetting armed security personnel on the streets of Delhi.

India's Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses director general Arvind Gupta said India's security was dependent on global, regional and national developments.

Mr Gupta said India has had several challenges, with the wars against Pakistan in 1947, 1965, 1971 and 1999, and the war against China.

"It clearly shows there is a problem in the region and security has not been kind to India, so we have to be on alert," he said during a briefing in New Delhi, India .

"Our relations between China and Pakistan are also a deterrent on security. There is also the threat of terrorism which is supported from outside. Terrorism remains a very big challenge.

"The present challenges of climate change and piracy also have an impact on our security."

Mr Gupta also said considering the high profile attacks on hotels, especially the one in Mumbai a few years ago, hotels were also taking action as far as security was concerned.

"They are in touch. If police get certain threat reports, then they pass them on to the hotels. Even weapon licences have been given to some hotels by the Government," he said.

Although it was for one week only, the familiarisation visit to India made me meet the heads and members of some think tanks in India.

The visit started with an interaction at the Confederation of Indian Industries on July 21, followed by another at the Observer Research Foundation.

I also had the opportunity of meeting India's State Minister (Independent Charge) for Information and Broadcasting, Prakash Javadekar. He is also the Minister of State (Independent Charge) for Environment, Forest and Climate Change, and Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs.

An interaction was also held with the Minister of State for External Affairs, General (Ret) V K Singh followed by the visit to the Parliamentary Museum and the Indian Parliament.

The familiarisation visit by two journalists from Fiji was made possible after a meeting between Fijian Foreign Affairs Minister, Ratu Inoke Kubuabola and his former Indian counterpart in February.

My nomination for the trip was made to the Indian External Affairs Ministry by the Fijian Foreign Affairs Ministry, and it was only possible through them.

It also took me to the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, The Energy and Research Institute which deals with climate change, the Press Trust of India and a dinner interaction with the Indian media and think tanks.

There was also an interaction at the Indian Institute of Management and a visit to the specialist Manipal Hospital in Bangalore.

While it was a lifetime opportunity to visit the land of my ancestors, visiting the Mysore Palace was also another one.

The one week familiarisation visit ended with a trip to Infosys in Mysore, before the four hour trip back to Bangalore.

Considering that it was quite late, there was only time for a quick shower and dinner and goodbyes before the ride to the airport for me and fellow journalist Rosi Doviverata.

Although I would have loved to stay in India a bit longer and explore the place a bit more, the one week trip was hectic but worth it as I witnessed life in the world's largest democracy.

Like marketed by tour operators and the Indian authorities, it is indeed "Incredible India".

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