The President of India does not usually speak on contemporary domestic political situations; nor is he expected to. When he does speak on any such issue, however, it becomes all the more important for all Indians – more so the political class and the executive – to pay due attention.
So when President Pranab Mukherjee decided to vent his mind on Thursday, one can assume that his reasons were quite compelling. In an open attack on the Opposition over the Parliamentary paralysis, he said 'the House is not a place for dharna' and disruption which amounts to "gagging of majority" by the minority.
When both Houses of Parliament have been rendered useless and turned into an extension of Jantar Mantar (a popular protest site in New Delhi), the reasons behind his attack are not incomprehensible. He is, after all, the Head of State and the custodian of the Indian Parliament.
It is to be noted here that Mukherjee is one of the most respected political leaders in the country, a living Encyclopaedia and a man who has seen all kinds of political weathers – in government, in organisation, and in the Opposition. It was thus only appropriate that he intervened; not through a diktat, but through his sage counsel, which included admonition of the political class.
After watching daily disruptions of both Houses of Parliament over the demonetisation issue, Mukherjee decided to speak up at a function in New Delhi. His message was tough and he did not mince his words in expressing his anguish.
"For demonstration, you can choose any other place. But for God's sake, do your job. You are meant to transact business. You are meant to devote your time for exercising the authority of members, particularly Lok Sabha members over money and finance...Disruption means you are hurt, you are gagging majority. Majority never participates in this disruption. Only minority comes to the well, shouts slogans, stops the proceedings and creates a situation in which the Chair has no option but to adjourn the House," Mukherjee said.
"Disruption is totally unacceptable in Parliamentary system. People send representatives to speak and not to sit on dharna and not to create any trouble on the floor," he added. He made it clear that his intent was non-partisan and that it was meant for all concerned: "Fact remains that this (disruption) has become a practice which should not be acceptable at all. Whatever be the differences, we have the opportunity to speak our mind, to speak freely and no court can interfere in what I say on the floor of the House."
Incidentally, the President chose to convey his feelings on a day when the Opposition parties, led by Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi, staged yet another dharna in front of the Gandhi statue in Parliament; before disrupting the proceedings in both Houses of Parliament. Just a day before, veteran BJP leader LK Advani had expressed his anguish over the continued disruptions in Parliament.
Exactly a year ago in December 2015, in the midst of a similar winter session of Parliament that was disrupted by the Opposition on a daily basis, the President had come spoken strongly against the paralysis. While delivering the keynote address in memory of former Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru in Kolkata, Mukherjee had said: “There are three D’s through which Parliament functions. These are debate, dissent and decision. I never heard of the fourth ‘D’, which is disruption…Parliamentary proceedings should not be disrupted by creating ruckus, there are several other places to do so.”
Disruptions, once considered an extreme measure of parliamentary protest, has over the years become a trend. It seems that the Opposition thinks that a debate would effectively extinguish the issue in a day or two, and that continued disruptions over days, weeks or even for the entire session can help reap political dividend and compel the media to cover their protests on prime time debates and in newspapers.
They are, however, unmindful of the fact that unless the public mood is aligned with their stance on a subject, it builds a negative public perception about the party or the parties which force the daily adjournments.
For the sake of democracy, one can only hope that Congress, Trinamool Congress, Bahujan Samaj Party, Samajwadi Party, the Left Front, as well as the ruling BJP listen to and address the concerns of the President.
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Updated Date: Dec 08, 2016 20:29:52 IST