Budget season is when everyone in the country is looking at the Indian Parliament, anxious about its impact. The plans may have to change, some things may get added to the shopping list while others may get dropped. While looking at visuals of the parliament house in the media, I got reminded of my visit to Rajya Sabha last year.
Visiting the Indian Parliament
I realized I have not written about it. This is not a tourist destination. Let me tell you it is in no way less fascinating than any other tourist destination in the city.
As a citizen of India, you can visit the parliament and see the proceedings of the house from the public gallery. Children below the age of ten are not allowed inside, but anyone above that age can visit.
The process to visit is documented here on the Rajya Sabha website. Google Devta did not help in locating a similar document for Lok Sabha. But I think the process may not be different.
You need to know a member of parliament or an official of the Rajya Sabha to be able to visit the house. They will apply for a visitor’s pass for you on your behalf, using which you will be given access to the house.
Galleries at Sansad Bhavan
There are many galleries on the first floor of the house, above the hall where the parliament members sit. Apart from the public gallery meant for the general public, there are five other galleries.
Press Gallery is obviously meant for media personnel. Distinguished visitor’s gallery meant for legislative members, spouses of parliament members, and other distinguished public figures. The Lok Sabha members’ gallery is for the members of the lower house to witness the proceedings of the upper house.
A special box is meant for governors of the states, guests of the president and visiting heads of state. The official gallery is for government officials who need to participate in house discussions.
As an ordinary citizen, you get to sit in the public gallery. It has a seating capacity of 160, and usually, a pass is issued only for one hour which is specified on the pass.
Visiting the Indian Parliament House
Though you can see all the proceedings live on TV through almost static cameras to keep yourself apprised of what our elected members are doing. However, being there in the same space as they are is an experience in itself. A fascinating part for me was the formal protocol followed by the members.
They all address the chair of the house, which in the case of Rajya Sabha is the vice-president of India. They speak to each other through him or her. It is almost a school classroom kind of environment where students seated on their uniform red benches are not allowed to speak to each other. They must communicate through the teacher.
Another fascinating feature is the headphones where you can switch the language in which you want to hear the proceedings. There are live interpreters sitting somewhere, I could not make out where. They interpret the spoken word almost instantaneously for you to hear.
This is important, as most members tend to speak in their chosen language that may not be understood by others. Just by choosing the right number, you can hear the content in your chosen language.
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I also liked walking around the pillared corridor of the majestic building that we all recognize so well. The place is grand with its broad corridor running around the building with verses written in few places. A large image of Mahatma Gandhi on the lawn is sure to catch your attention. It makes you wonder if things would have been different if he was present in blood and flesh instead of stone.
Expected Conduct of Visitors
I must tell you about the security gates that you have to cross to reach the public gallery. You are not allowed to carry anything with you. No mobiles, no cameras, no pen, and paper. Nothing except maybe a wallet with only cash in it.
There are counters available where you can leave your stuff. But it is better to leave it in your car or at home. Just take yourself. You will be screened at various places, on every floor by a security officer.
You will be instructed that you must sit straight, you cannot cross your legs or put them one upon the other, or put them on the chair and restrict your movements to the minimum.
In case you happen to do any of these unconsciously, be sure someone will come and tell you to behave yourself. You are obviously expected to maintain silence and listen to the noise your selected members are making downstairs.
During my visit, it was the Question hour that was going on. After a few questions, the opposition staged a walkout. We got to see many political leaders and a couple of business leaders and film stars.
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As a token of our visit, we were given a Rajya Sabha greeting card. Now, you can buy souvenirs, and visit the parliament museum and parliament library on the premises.
As I walked out of the building, it was like first-hand learning of something that we have known since the days of our first social science lesson in school.
Visiting for Sansad TV Interview
In 2021, I visited the Indian Parliament again, this time to appear in the episode of Itihasas. I spoke on Temples of India, and you can watch it here