Lok Sabha Speaker, Sumitra Mahajan, by not allowing the “no confidence motion” against a government which has a clear majority in Parliament, has not performed the role befitted to her office. In fact, on the contrary, she has denied the members their basic right to question the performance and policies of the ruling dispensation on the floor of the House by presenting an indefensible excuse of continuous disorder created by representatives of one particular party. Mahajan, who is a seasoned parliamentarian herself, has not only disappointed her innumerable admirers, but has, in a manner, contributed to stifling democracy in its most coveted forum.
In other words, the second phase of the budget session would go down in the history as one of its most forgettable ones. During this period, there was barely any business that was transacted, yet the presiding officer failed to use the immense powers vested in her for the restoration of order in the House. As a consequence, the prestige of Parliament as well as its members was viewed in dismal light.
The supreme irony is that BJP members, and their allies, have volunteered to take a pay cut for the 23 days on which work suffered. Those familiar with Parliamentary practices and functioning would testify that it is the duty of the government to conduct business; conflictingly, the members on treasury benches had the audacity to point fingers for the mayhem at the Opposition leaders.
Dineshbhai Trivedi, former Railway Minister, aptly expressed that the ruling party cannot absolve itself of its primary responsibility of running the House by making the declaration that its MPs would reject salaries for the stipulated period of disruption. He likened the situation to that of a soldier, who after being unable to defend his post, comes forward to announce that he was not going to receive his dues.
Indian Parliament’s constitution was inspired by the Westminster model of governance, and many of the conventions of British Parliament were sought to be introduced in our system as well. However, one of the most noteworthy features of British Parliament is that the Speaker, once he or she gets elected, is in office for the remainder of his/her active political career. Therefore, the incumbent ceases to be a member of any party, and is elected unopposed from his/her constituency, as a mark of regard and recognition for the independence of the office.
Unfortunately, this has not happened in India, since successive Speakers have acted in a partisan manner at the behest of their respective parties. In the last three or four decades, the Speakers who have defied these norms, include Shivraj Patil and Somnath Chatterjee, who, at the risk of being chided by their parties, played by the rules and regulations down to the last letter. Somnath Chatterjee, as a matter of fact, was the recipient of the wrath of his party, the CPM, and had to sever links with the organisation which had been paramount for his political innings.
Patil was an extremely meticulous presiding officer, who never hesitated in consulting his seniors and colleagues even if they were from other parties; he was constantly in touch with L.K. Advani and would discuss minute details of Parliamentary practices as listed in the revered book penned by two former Secretary Generals, M.N. Kaul and S.L. Shakdhar. The book is a ready reckoner for those who seriously wish to study and imbibe the rudiments of Indian Parliament.
On Friday, frustrated by the Speaker’s rebuttal to them for going ahead with their “no confidence motion”, which was initiated multiple times, five YSR Congress Lok Sabha MPs tendered their resignations to protest against the denial of special status to their state—Andhra Pradesh. Their leader, Jagan Mohan Reddy has challenged his rival outfit, the Telugu Desam Party to follow suit if they had the intrepidity to do so. The fall-out of the move not being taken up will spill into the grass-root politics of Andhra.
The second most significant motion, which was not discussed, pertained to the removal of Dipak Misra, the Chief Justice of India. The Congress party, which was spearheading the matter in Rajya Sabha, apparently failed to reach a consensus on the issue. According to the grapevine, barring Kapil Sibal, a handful of other legal luminaries, who are party MPs, were not really convinced that such a move would serve any purpose, except affecting the power and pelf of the judiciary.
In the past, there have been three attempts to remove judges through the Parliament route. P.D. Dinakaran of the Sikkim High Court was in the eye of a storm and would have been “impeached” had he not resigned. Justice V. Ramaswami, who by Sibal was vociferously defended during the landmark proceedings, escaped the axe after sufficient votes that would have ensured his removal following the debate were not cast. However, the brunt was borne by Soumitra Sen of the Calcutta High Court who was targeted by the Upper House, and thus had his name smeared for alleged malpractices. The budget session has ended, yet it has indeed left an impact on the state of politics prevalent in the country. Members of both Houses need to find the path to resolve their differences so as to ensure the smooth functioning of Parliament.
Condemning each other is not the solution; a worthwhile debate, however inconvenient, is the only way forward. Between Us.