Congress Rajya Sabha MP K. Keshava Rao's opposition of Kapil Sibal on the Educational Tribunal Bill has brought to the fore a key question: Should an MP simply follow the party line in Parliament or is he free to differ with it?
Rao on Tuesday had said in the Upper House that Sibal was a “first-class file pusher” whose thoughts "run faster than (his) deeds".
Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal and AICC general secretary Janardan Dwivedi brushed it off as "inner party democracy", saying MPs can air their views.
But a BJP leader said: "When a House discusses a bill, the MP represents his party, as it is the party that nominates its speakers. An MP should not oppose the party line in the House. But, in parliamentary committees, members are free to air their opinions. Similarly, during the Zero Hour, Question Hour... an MP can speak as an individual."
A party formulates policy after the debate within is over. Individual freedom of a party leader may be legitimately limited to the debate over policy on party fora. Once the decision is taken, disagreement can be seen as tantamount to indiscipline.
There is, however, another line of opinion. Last year, Vice-president Hamid Ansari had said that whips should be limited only to those bills and motions that threatened the survival of the government to enable MPs to air their views freely.
The point in favour of MPs' freedom is that they are not just party members but also public figures. Whips can create powerful lobbies within a party and order parliamentary majority through commands to MPs.
BJP spokesman Ravi Shankar Prasad struck a middle path: "It's a combination of individual freedom to express people's concern and acceptance of party line. But, at times conflict within a party may find expression through a ruling party MP's personal attacks on a minister."