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Mainstream, Vol XLV No 34

Can We Fail Any Lower?

Sunday 10 August 2008, by Rajindar Sachar

The whole drama of the confidence-seeking vote in Parliament on the nuclear deal reminded me of what transpired during the 2000 US Presidential election between Gore and Bush. During the counting, the votes cast in the State of Florida had assumed decisiveness for victory. Gore wanted all the votes to be recounted as a short sample had shown that many invalid votes had been counted in favour of Bush, and a total recount will put Gore, as the winner. Bush naturally opposed. The matter landed in the Supreme Court. The matter was heard by all the nine judges of the US Supreme Court—five judges stopped further recounting (the other four dissenting) resulting in Bush being declared elected. It was shocking to the public—more so as later scrutiny of votes under public information revealed that had recounting been allowed, Bush would have lost. The disillusioned minority judges castigated thus:

It is confidence in the men and women who administer the judicial system that is the true backbone of the rule of law. Time will one day heal the wound to that confidence that will be inflicted by today’s decision. One thing, however, is certain. Although we may never know with complete certainty the identity of the winner of this year’s Presidential election, the identity of the loser is perfectly clear. It is the Nation’s confidence in the judge as an impartial guardian of the rule of law.

I believe that similarly watching the goings-on in Parliament the average person’s reaction would be the same with regard to the credibility and political morality of the politician—hardly anyone will believe that the voting has been influenced by any brilliant speeches or rational arguments in favour of or against the N-deal.

It is openly said that money power and all kinds of allurements have determined the decision of the legislators. What shivers run through one’s spine when one is told that the price of a legislator’s vote had gone upto Rs 25 crores coupled with the bizarre story of one crore currency notes being flaunted in Parliament as the alleged part of bribe money.

Such is the unabashed effrontery that neither of the major parties saw any embarrassment in wooing the leader of a small group with the promises of a Chief Ministership by one or a Central Cabinet post by the other when both these offices were denied to him by these very parties because he was involved in a murder case (though later acquitted) or involved in cases of corruption for selling his vote years back.

Though till the last all TV channels were showing a margin of one or two votes in favour of the government, the actual margin turned out to be of 19 votes (as predicted by the managers of the UPA). Still more surprising is that the BJP, which claims to be a disciplined party and rides on a moral pedestal, had eight of its members vote for the UPA. Other parties members also cross-voted. Can one honestly say that these worthies had sudden pangs of conscience—such an excuse if given even to children would invoke an immediate response: “Tell that to the marines.”

I am not saying whether these allegations are true or not—but does not the bizarre manner in which this debate and voting on such crucial matter took place, lead to the resultant loss of faith in the political system?

Of course, the Opposition, especially the Left, must share the blame for the situation developing thus. The main contours of the deal were always known—why is it that the Left did not make a crucial issue of it two years back when there was no doubt that apart from other pitfalls, the deal would make us a privy to any unilateral action the USA takes against Iran? It is not difficult to make a guess. The left was basking in the reflected glory of exclusive briefing being given by the highest in the government and also tamely tolerating the mock threatening gestures by the Left to withdraw its support. The gentlemanly silence by the Prime Minister made the arrogance by the Left unbearable as is now spelt out by the PM in his reference to the Left “They wanted me to behave like a bonded slave”. But the Left in its own dreamland chose to ignore the reality and continued with its arrogant posture till suddenly it fell flat when it found its closest ally, Mulayam Yadav, becaming its fiercest enemy. But by then it was too late—the result: an ugly loss.

In the wake of the shady deals witnessed, some are suggesting a change in the election law so that only national parties defined in terms of votes obtained at all-India basis (say five to seven per cent) should be allowed to contest Parliament seats. This would be undemocratic and would also be unconstitutional as violative of equably clause of Article 14. If this had been the law we would not have had stalwarts like Nath Pai,. Kamath, Madhu Dandwate, Chitta Basu and Madhu Limaye adorn and effectuate our Parliament proceedings. As it is, the BJP, a so called national party, has had the maximum defections.

The CPI-M has further wounded itself by expelling Somnath Chatterjee, the Speaker, from the party. It seems obvious that the Polit-Bureau of CPI-M does not appreciate the position of the Speaker; even if he does not resign from the party at the time of becoming a Speaker. We know he is one of oldest members of the CPI-M alive—and we also notice the irony that the decision-making comrades were possibly in kindergarten or nursery classes when Somnath Chattergee was an established leader of the CPI-M. The CPI-M has ignored the well-established position of a Speaker, even if he continues to be a formal member of the party— everybody has praise for his fair, non-political approach. The Speaker represents the whole House, as Pandit Nehru, while unveiling the portrait of Speaker Patel on March 8, 1958, said;

The Speaker represents the House. He represents the dignity of the House, the freedom of the House and because the House represents the freedom and liberty. Therefore, it is right that that should be an honoured position a free position and should be occupied always by men of outstanding ability and impartiality.

Would the Polit-Bureau, in deference to the public opinion, withdraw its expulsion order? Of course the unanimous advise to the Speaker is to carry on his duties as a Speaker for the full term. There is unanisity at his impartial functioning and raising the level of debate. But for him the proceedings of no confidence would have ended in a fiasco.

It is a matter of deep satisfaction that Somnath Chatterjee, heeding the advice of the public, has firmly stated that he does not intend to resign and will continue to discharge the duties of the Speaker.

The author, a former Chief Justice of the Delhi High Court, is a distinguished champion of human rights and civil liberties; he was also the President of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL).

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