New Delhi, June 14 It's a wing of the Indian parliament that has been quietly giving invaluable lessons on the working of India's democratic institutions to young foreign MPs, particularly from Asia and Africa, for 25 years now.
You may not have heard of the Bureau of Parliamentary Studies and Training (BPST), but it conducts capacity-building programmes for foreign MPs and officials who may apply the knowledge to their own nations as leaders.
With top Indian MPs and bureaucrats holding the classes, it also helps India build healthy relations with other countries.
"Most of our senior-most parliamentarians and bureaucrats, who have grassroots experience and thorough understanding of parliamentary procedure, give lessons," a senior parliament official said.
The BPST was set up on January 1, 1976, as an integral part of the Lok Sabha Secretariat to provide Indian legislators and officials with institutionalised opportunities for problem-oriented studies and systematic training in various disciplines of parliamentary institutions, processes and procedures.
In 1985, it formally started training foreign delegations every year. Before that it used to conduct study visits for parliamentarians and officials of other countries.
One-month-long international training programmes help foreign delegates understand and appreciate India's strong democratic system from all its angles — legislature, executive or judiciary, the official said.
The Parliamentary Internship Programme is conducted in November and December. Last year, the programme was attended by MPs and officials from around 40 countries.
"The programme is completely funded by the government of India," said the official, who handles the training programmes in BPST.
He said the bureau does not charge any fee for organising and conducting the programmes. However, all related expenditure, including airfare, lodging, boarding and local transport is borne either by the participants or by the sponsoring authority.
MPs and officials from the Afghanistan National Assembly were trained in the BPST this year.
"Eight MPs from Afghanistan attended a capacity-building programme held in February," the BPST official said.
He said the BPST's strength is that "our own MPs are willing to interact with the foreign delegations. They (Indian MPs) also get to know about foreign parliaments' working system," he said.
BPST's activities also include holding of orientation programmes, lectures and seminars for MPs and MLAs; training and refresher courses for officers of the secretariats of parliament and of state legislatures in India; appreciation courses for senior and middle level officials of the government of India and public sector undertakings and probationers of various all-India and central services.
"During these interactions, the foreign MPs develop good relations with our parliamentarians and parliament officials," he added.
As most of the study visits are attended by young MPs who can be great leaders in their countries in future, it augurs well for India's relations with other countries, he said.
"They return after developing a deep respect for our democratic institutions," the official said.
"In the years to come, all of them will have good memories about India and speak positively about the country. During the interaction with our parliamentarians, they develop good relations with them as well as our nation," he added.