Sleeping Ministers, the Deve Gowda legacy

by Sumana Roy

The night before a class test or annual examination, one ambition overtook all others: I would be the Minister for Sleep. I was aware that there was no such portfolio, but therein would be my life-changing contribution. I would ensure that no one was forced to keep awake when she was in dire need of sleep. I am no longer sure whether that single agenda would win me an election, and so I have refrained from fighting any. In early 2012, the Supreme Court passed a landmark judgment: the Right to Sleep was a fundamental right.

“Sleep is essential for a human being to maintain the delicate balance of health necessary for its very existence and survival. Sleep is, therefore, a fundamental and basic requirement without which the existence of life itself would be in peril,” the court said.

There is still no Ministry for Sleep, but there are of course many sleeping ministers. A few months ago, the Chief Minister of Karnataka said that he was suffering from OSA (Obstructive Sleep Apnea), and this resulted in his dozing off on the floor of the House. But this was not before he denied sleeping in the Legislative Assembly:

“I was not sleeping. Who told you? It is not correct,” Siddaramaiah said to reporters’ questions.”I was very much attentive. I was listening to that (debate),” the Chief Minister said. Of course, he is not alone. State Minister for Forests and Environment and District minister-in-charge Ramanath Rai is a veteran at dozing off during public functions. The minister is known to have once asked his PA to help him wear his shoes after a short nap. And then of course denying it: ‘I never sleep in the Assembly; sometimes after lunch I close my eyes for some moments, but that should not be mistaken for sleep. I neither sleep in the assembly, nor do I watch blue films during the assembly session unlike some BJP minister and MLAs’.

A few months ago, IBN ran a photo story on eighteen politicians caught sleeping on the job — it included Pranab Mukherjee, Rahul Gandhi, Smriti Irani, among others.

What is it about sleeping Parliamentarians that tickles — and annoys — us? This in spite of Winston Churchill’s famous advocacy of afternoon siestas: ‘“Nature has not intended mankind to work from eight in the morning until midnight without that refreshment of blessed oblivion which, even if it only lasts twenty minutes, is sufficient to renew all the vital forces.”

If anyone deserved the Ministry of Sleep portfolio it was H. D. Deve Gowda, the Sleeping Prime Minister, as R. K. Laxman famously immortalized him in his cartoons:

by R.K. Laxman
by R.K. Laxman
by R.K. Laxman

Which begs the question — Should the Right to Not Be Photographed While Sleeping be made a Fundamental Right?

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