Shabana Azmi
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Shabana Azmi: 'Glad absences are being talked about'

Shabana Azmi

By HT

Mumbai, Aug. 14 -- Cricketing legend Sachin Tendulkar might not have faced a lot of criticism on the field. But, over the last few days, he's got a fair bit of flak for remaining absent at the sessions of the Rajya Sabha. With his leave now approved, he will effectively have not attended the present session at all.

Another celebrity, actor Rekha, has also faced similar criticism. Are they being singled out because they are famous, or have celebrity MPs always been under scrutiny? Actor and former MP Shabana Azmi feels that the issues raised are indeed important, and she's glad it's happening.

The Rajya Sabha has always had celebrity MPs. Why, according to you, are they are under scrutiny now?

I think they've always been under scrutiny. In this particular case, they are high-profile people and their attendance has been so low, it came under the scanner.

Should there be leeway, given that politics isn't their primary profession?

I think they should not accept the position unless they are going to be able to contribute. When a position is offered, you should be able to gauge whether you're actually going to be able to make an effort. It's not a medal that's being put on you; it's a responsibility. I'd hold the ones who nominated them responsible as well. Why did you nominate them? What were your expectations? It's very important that - whether or not you're a celebrity - if you are a member of the Parliament, you have a responsibility... The least you can do is attend the sessions.

But could it be hard for those juggling two professions?

Then they shouldn't accept it. They should say, 'Thank you very much, I'm deeply honoured, but at this particular moment, I'm engaged.' I am, in fact, glad that such absences are being talked about; but what's more important is to actually see how much work nominated members of Parliament have done. For those who have won elections, it's a different ball game. Nominated members are chosen because it's believed that they will bring to the House topics of discussion that are not political, but which need a voice. So you have people from sports, arts and culture, literature, science and other disciplines.

When celebrity MPs raise questions in Parliament, are they taken more, or less, seriously? Jaya Bachchan - crying through her speech on the Delhi gangrape case - was constantly reminded of a time constraint.

I don't think a generalisation can be made. The fact is, when that question was discussed, there was a huge sense of outrage. I think it really depends on how much you participate, and how active you are. A lot of people from the film industry are active participants, and have held positions of responsibility, have been ministers, and have conducted themselves well. Asking questions in Parliament is an important exercise, but not the main thing. How much you participate in the debate, and how much you actually bring to the table - regarding issues which otherwise would not get discussed - that's what your mandate is, and that's why you've been nominated.