India Intelligence Report

   Speaker Trouble


The Budget-session of the Parliament ended in a controversy about an admonishment motion on a former Lok Sabha Secretary-General for his disparaging remarks on the Speaker and the Opposition opposed the propriety of the motion and the motives for it. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) called the motion an “intolerance of criticism” and termed it an “assault on the freedom of the Press.”

To ensure that the Speaker and the Ruling coalition got their point, the 4 BJP members in the Privileges Committee resigned and alleged that the ruling coalition had "tampered with" the report of the committee. They objected that their dissenting view was not incorporated in the report and instead was “hurriedly” infused into the Parliamentary process and passed a resolution “without any discussion.” BJP Parliamentary Party Spokesman V.K. Malhotra accused the ruling coalition of trashing process and rules of engagement of the house. He alleged that the circulated document was changed, no discussion was allowed, and request for a meeting with the Speaker denied. The BJP has often characterized Speaker Somnath Chatterjee’s rule of the house as 'Tanashahi' (dictatorship). BJP charges Chatterjee of dictatorial behavior, cantankerous attitude towards the Judiciary, and nepotism when it comes to rulings.

Chatterjee had been on a collision course with the Supreme Court (SC) over the money-for question scam expulsions  The Speaker claims that since there is no specific law to govern Parliamentary expulsion, the British law enacted over 100 years ago will apply. He also points to a previous case where the SC had refused to interfere with a Speaker ruling. The important questions in this issue are whether the expelled MPs have rights to appeal, relief during the appeal process, and who the appellate authority will be.

In another incidence of departure from accepted norms of behavior, Chatterjee visited the Communist Party of India (M) office in Punjab—the CPI (M) is a front group of the Naxalite terrorist movement  in the nation. In a breach of etiquette he was also present in a function that involved Nepalese Maoist terrorists. He also apparently was present in a function that released a book on the “Office of Profit” issue in which he was one of the co-accused.

Regardless politics, there are too many issues that this debate brings up:

  • If senior leaders of the Government and nation continue to breach rules, how can we expect laypeople to follow the law?

  • If two important arms of the nation cannot collaborate at the national level (Legislature and Parliament), how can we expect collaborative behavior at the local level?

  • Should Parliament and its members consider themselves above reproach and criticism?

  • Should the Parliament be sending messages of intolerance and rights to curb right to free speech?