A Sound Democracy

A learned colleague informs me that in ancient Greece democracy was described as the rule of the rabble. If the din and the attendant turmoil that marked the beginning of the 12th Lok Sabha was any indication, India is indeed on a fast track sprinting towards the bygone era of the primitive. We talk of national languages and this schedule and that. The only language that was audible yesterday was the language of booing and heckling. The new Speaker was at the same time sworn in and sworn at as the Opposition benches came alive in a frenzy of pandemonious outbursts that virtually brought down both the roof as well as the prestige of the august House.

Having conceded the race for Speakership as a lost battle, the Opposition obviously had decided to make the most of the opportunity as a dress rehearsal for the forthcoming sessions. With the House being bisected into irreconcilable halves, the business of the country could be transacted only if the multitudes of rabble-rousers who have managed to creep into Parliament decide to either abstain or walk out. It is well nigh impossible for the Lok Sabha to function if all 540 members decide to languish in its plush interiors and while away their time by shouting and flexing their muscles at the treasury benches with equal reciprocation.

For the young Yogi, whose baptism by fire by the incandescent opposition would have unnerved even the toughest of men, the ensuing ordeal as the head of the House portends to be an unenviable assignment. The electron of a Speaker, which had all along been a tame affair, has for the first time become an acrimonious bone of contention. The spine-chilling photo finish with which he ended up at the top slot had left him absolutely breathless and he was least prepared for the opposition onslaught that swept him off his feet. Beyond a few ‘arrey’s and ‘baitiye’s, the Speaker was not allowed to speak anything. He looked visibly relieved to adjourn into the safe confines of his chamber but still found it difficult to regain his voice and composure that he lost in the din of the House. The new Speaker, no doubt has a long way to go, starting from learning the nuances of the official language and getting familiar with the rules of Parliament to eliciting the attention, cooperation and more importantly the respect of the members. A tall order, indeed, for a novice.

The young sage’s election has been welcomed by a barrage of barbs from the Opposition that singularly point to an overwhelming feeling of irreverence to his stature and distrust about his future conduct. A much tempered BJP and a humbled Congress are all seething under the skin out of frustration about a fractured mandate. While the former is visibly upset about being there and yet having its hands tied, the latter obviously is getting impatient about being out of power for nearly two years now, something they can never come to terms with. Add to it, the ideological and political diversity that characterises the members and the parties that constitute the Lok Sabha and it would be clear as crystal that the hung Parliament will continue to hang precariously on any and every issue. It is indeed a veritable cauldron of confusion and conflict and the person whose duty it is to preside over the affairs is himself, wittingly or unwittingly the fore-runner for all the turbulence ahead.

Fairness and justice would be the major casualties if the Speaker does not watch out. That is, assuming that he may care for them. There would be no dearth for provocations to induce him into mistakes given the hostile attitude of the members and their confrontationist postures at the very beginning. Alternatively, the Speaker himself can voluntarily emulate his counterpart in the UP Assembly who has set precedents that could be termed as only unprecedented. This would be most unfortunate but not unlikely given the fact that he will have to depend heavily on his sponsors for support and counsel. In a way, the new Speaker’s apparent ignorance of anything parliamentary could either be a blissful blessing that can frustrate players who go by the book or just one in a disguise concealing a cunning mind that can scheme as adeptly as the Opposition. Much depends on the personality of the man, of which we know nothing, an ignorance shared by the entire ruling party, starting with the PM to the parivar. Quite a few incurable optimists have hoped that this Balayogi would combine the vibrancy of youth and the wisdom of a sage. We dread to think what would happen if the virtues were to get interchanged!

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Jawahar T R