Sonia For A Dictator Modi!
The ongoing logjam in the Parliament, with the Congress-led opposition disrupting the proceedings in both the Houses, raises two fundamental points that seem to have been totally ignored by our political commentators. The first point pertains to a serious constitutional issue that will arise if the central government of the day is forced by the Parliament to remove a Chief Minister of a state without bringing the state concerned under President’s rule (central rule). The second point revolves around the dangerous implications of the opposition parties, dissatisfied with the decision of a Speaker, protesting against him or her outside the Parliament—in this case even in front of the Speaker Sumitra Mahajan’s official residence. What I want to highlight here is principles, not the personalities.
Without going into the merits or otherwise, let us assume that the Narendra Modi government sacks the Chief Ministers of Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh as demanded by the Congress party over their alleged indulgence in corruption (though no chargesheet has been framed against them by any court; nor for that matter have they been indicted by any statutory bodies such as Central Vigilance Commission, Comptroller and Auditor General and Lok Pal). Does that not mean dismissal of the two popularly elected governments by the Central government, a nefarious practice mastered by the Congress party that has virtually come to an end since 1995, with the consolidation of the trend of coalition governments at the Centre?
Of course, it could be argued that since in this case the Chief Ministers concerned happened to be from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which also happens to be the ruling party at the Centre, Prime Minister Modi can simply ask his party legislators in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh to elect new leaders for the Chief Ministership before replacing the two incumbents. Assuming that Modi will do as dictated by the Congress party, what will happen if the legislators are defiant and say that the incumbents have their full confidence? There are two possibilities: either the Prime Minister will quit for not being able to convince his party men or he will recommend the President to dismiss the two state governments enjoying overwhelming majority support in the legislatures and without causing any constitutional breakdowns (allegations of the Chief ministers being corrupt by the opposition, not indictment or conviction by any statutory body, do not mean breakdowns of the constitutional machineries). If this will be done, it is nothing but mockery of democracy.
Look at the situation from another angle. Suppose the “accused” Chief Ministers of Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh were not from the BJP. Would the Congress have demanded the Prime Minister to remove them? Or, to put the things differently, what will the Congress say if the ruling BJP members inside the Parliament allege that some Chief Ministers belonging to the Congress party are corrupt (and the Congress chief ministers in Assam, Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand face such allegations) and then demand that the Prime Minister must remove them?
Therefore, my contention is that the present imbroglio cannot be solved as per the Congress demands since these strike out against some vital federal principles. Matters concerning the Chief Ministers must be dealt with at the state level, not in the Parliament. The Congress has every right to protest in and outside the legislative assemblies of these two states and ensure the resignations of the Chief Ministers. Or, they can, if they are sure of the legal merits of their case, go to the Court or any other statutory authority to indict the Chief Ministers, thus compelling the BJP to remove them from the posts (though if one looks at the Congress record, the then Chief Minister of Delhi, Ms. Shiela Dixit, was not removed despite the Lok Pal indicting her—the then Congress-led central government dismissed the Lok Pal’s findings). The Congress has got every right to agitate in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh to demand the resignations of the Chief Ministers. But, instead of doing that in Jaipur and Bhopal, they are fighting the battle in Delhi. And that is unfortunate.
This brings me to the second point—the Congress behaviours after the Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan suspended for five days 25 Congress members for deliberately and defiantly not heeding to her request to allow the smooth proceedings in the House. This was not the first time that a Speaker had suspended agitating and unruly members in the Lok Sabha in independent India’s history. If recent history is any reference, in 1989, as many as 67 MPs were suspended for a week. In August 2013, the Speaker suspended 12 MPs suspended for five sittings. In September 2013, nine MPs were suspended for five sittings. In February 2014, the Speaker had 17 MPs suspended also for five sittings. In between, there were instances of the Speaker ordering the Marshall of the House to remove the obstructing members. And in all these cases, the central government was headed by none other than the Congress party and the Speaker belonged to the ruling party. If democracy was not murdered then, then how come “a partisan” Speaker has “murdered democracy” now? This question is for the Congress leaders to reply.
However, I have a more serious point to make. And that is the role and significance of the office of the Speaker or the Presiding Officer in Indian Parliament. Unlike the Speaker in Great Britain( whose parliamentary system has greatly influenced ours), who forgoes party affiliations after his or her selection, is elected unopposed in the subsequent general elections and goes automatically as a member to the House of Lords after quitting the office, the Indian Speaker remains always a party person. He or she needs party nomination to get elected for entering the House in the next election. However, despite this, the incumbent Speakers have acted with great sense of dignity, impartiality and decorum and have enjoyed the respect from all the political parties, even though his or decisions were not to their liking. And there has been a healthy convention on this all these years.
Let me quote here none other than G V Mavalankar, independent India’s first Speaker: “His (Speaker’s) authority is supreme in the House and there could be no challenge to his decisions and orders. In the whole set-up of parliamentary democracy, the Speaker is the only autocrat, meaning thereby that his exercise of authority requires no previous consultation or concurrence of anybody and the authority is unchallengeable”.
In their highly referred book, Practice and Procedure of Parliament, M N Kaul and S L Shakder write; “It is the right of the Speaker to interprete the Constitution and rules, so far as matters in or relating to the House are concerned, and no one, including the Government, can enter into any argument or controversy with the Speaker over such interpretation. His rulings constitute precedents by which subsequent Speakers, members and officers are guided….A member who protests against the ruling of the Speaker commits contempt of the House and the Speaker. The Speaker’s decision is equally binding whether given in the House or on a departmental file. He is not bound to give reasons for the decisions”.
Viewed thus, if one goes by the words and deeds of Congress President Sonia Gandhi and Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi, not to speak of other Congress leaders, then by demanding that Prime Minister Modi must remove the popularly elected Chief Ministers and take control of the proceedings in the Lok Sabha by ordering the Speaker what to do and what not to do (any demand that it is the responsibility of the Government to ensure smooth proceedings in the Parliament precisely means dictating to the Presiding Officers) and by instructing the Congress activists to demonstrate around the Speaker’s residence, the Congress is conveying a clear message. And that message, even though it sounds ironical, is that the Congress wants Modi to act like a dictator, not a democrat bound by statutory provisions and conventions.
After all, authoritarianism is in the DNA of the Congress, it is said. Do not you remember the Emergency in 1975 (for which the Congress has not tendered any official apology)?
By Prakash Nanda