In an attempt to regain the position of the legitimate Opposition in Parliament, the BJP is trying to target what it considers the “two weakest links” in the constitutional chain of our democratic set up. While it keeps describing Manmohan Singh as India’s weakest Prime Minister ever, its oft-repeated strategy, in use once more, is to attack Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee, denigrate his office and wrongly depict him as a presiding officer who has been functioning in a partisan manner.
The unfortunate aspect is that former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who had stayed aloof from the matters that reflect poorly on Parliament and democratic institutions, has, this time round, joined his partymen in raising doubts over the functioning of the Speaker. On his part, Chatterjee, who offered to quit but was persuaded to stay on, has tried to urge the Opposition parties to forget the episode and look towards making Parliament a meaningful place for debate and discussion.
But the BJP has a well-thought agenda and is persisting with its latest tirade against a person whose contribution to Indian Parliament is second to none. In fact, soon after Vajpayee was conferred with the best parliamentarian award during PV Narasimha Rao’s tenure, it was Somnath Chatterjee who was selected for the same honour. Vajpayee has a distinguished record as a parliamentarian but has lost the Lok Sabha polls on a few occasions including his being trounced from Gwalior in 1984 and from Balrampur in 1962. Chatterjee lost only once in 1984 from Jadavpur.
Both have had distinguished careers as parliamentarians and have their own plus points. If Vajpayee was a great orator in his heyday, Chatterjee was the front ranking crusader from the Left benches. On issues of constitutional law and parliamentary procedures, Chatterjee, by virtue of his legal background, scores well over the former Prime Minister whose forte was to ensure that the Sangh agenda always found place on the floor of the House.
Therefore, it was very surprising that Vajpayee should have been swayed by colleagues to write a letter which does not bear the stamp of his statesmanship. Now, the confrontation may assume new proportions when Parliament meets again. The BJP is attacking Chatterjee since it knows that in the past two years, the CPI(M) has taken over the Opposition space.
The BJP, despite being a legitimate Opposition, has been reduced to either boycotting proceedings of the House or raising issues outside Parliament. The truth of the matter is that the BJP is still to come to terms with the 2004 verdict and has been indulging in wishful thinking. Soon after the UPA government was formed, the party predicted that the government will fall in September 2004. Now it is predicting the same for September 2006 hoping that the conflicts within the UPA or the Congress get so strong as to necessitate a Lok Sabha poll.
It’s engaged in the game of demoralising Chatterjee. He is among the better Speakers of the Lok Sabha and has dealt with coalitions both on the treasury benches and in the Opposition. If people well-versed with parliamentary affairs regard Shivraj Patil as the best Speaker in the last three decades, Somnath Chatterjee is not far behind.
The party needs to draw a lesson from Munshi Prem Chand’s Panch Parmeshwar to understand how the position itself forces a person to take impartial decisions. And if not others, then at least Vajpayee and LK Advani will fully understand that all parties should help evolve healthy practices in parliamentary democracies. For instance, in England, on whose model our system is based, the Speaker of the House of Commons is for life and no party contests any election against him as long as he is the Speaker. The BJP which has aligned with the CPM on two occasions, in 1977 and 1989 to prop up governments, must not try to impose ideological considerations on the issue of constitutional offices.
The attack on Manmohan Singh too smacks of political agenda. Singh is the country’s legitimate Prime Minister. To call him ‘weak’ is to insult the will of the people. He is also the first PM from a minority community and all Indians, including Sikhs, are proud of him. Singh has shown no signs of weakness in dealing with either the BJP or his opponents within the Congress. And if Congress leaders like Ajit Jogi and Natwar Singh have joined this bandwagon by implying that Singh is weak, it is because they have their own agenda. Incidentally, both Jogi and Natwar Singh are from the civil services and have been beneficiaries of Congress largesse to carve out a political career for themselves. Those who consider Natwar to be a great Jat leader must also know that in the last Rajasthan assembly polls, the Jats, for the first time, en bloc voted for the BJP.
Natwar’s flip-flop, of course, has surprised many in his party who have attributed his latest virtue to his close contacts with colleagues of Vajpayee who also has many flip-flops to his credit. What Natwar doesn’t realise is that every time he raves and rants, he causes acute embarrassment to his brother-in-law, Amarinder Singh, who is on the threshold of leading the Congress to perhaps another victory in Punjab’s assembly polls. Manmohan Singh as Prime Minister may well be a main talking point in that election.
Manmohan Singh is among the most eminent Prime Ministers. Any attempt to put him down is to denigrate the office he holds. He has Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s full support. Together they represent a formidable combination of good governance and positive politics. Between us.