Veteran parliamentarian and former Lok Sabha Speaker, 84-year-old Somnath Chatterjee, is known for his frank views, which in his own words are not “always popular and palatable.”
Chatterjee, who spent four decades in Parliament and was elected to the Lok Sabha 10 times, feels he is lucky to be out of active politics since he would not have been able to survive in the current atmosphere. Excerpts of his interview with HT:
How do you view the falling standards in public discourse among the political class in the election season?
Politics appears to have become a freestyle boxing match, a shoddy game these days and looking at the kind of language being used in public meetings and TV debates, one gets a feeling that some leaders are trying to win a competition in abusive politics.
What could be the main reason behind this decline?
Media is giving too much prominence to the abusive language being spoken by some leaders. I am ready to say that media must also share the blame for making politics in this country non-serious. If TV channels and newspapers decide to ignore the nonsense being uttered with the sole intention of grabbing headlines, major part of the problem will be solved.
So politicians are not to be blamed for what they are doing?
I did not say that. My point is with the general elections barely five months away, serious issues affecting the people of the country are missing from the public discourse and the role media could have played in forcing the political parties to spell out their stands on price rise, unemployment, communal harmony and other related issues is not being done.
You seem to be always harsh on the media. Why is that?
It is not correct. I have the highest respect for the media and I have always fought for its independence and dignity, but some developments bother me. Have large sections of media not anointed a particular gentleman as the PM even before elections? Why is the media nowadays hesitant to discuss his past, particularly the role in communal riots?
How do you compare top leaders in 1970s with the present day leaders?
Where are those political principles and where are such leaders? Remember the sacrifices made by leaders then and the high standards they set in public life and speaking attracted the educated youth and citizens from all walks to join politics. Maybe, lack of media attention produced better leaders then.
You said politics has to be made honourable. How can it be done?
I am afraid there are no shortcuts. Political parties will have to decide whether they are ready to put an end to the politics of competitive abusiveness they seem to be specialising in now to score in the media. Parties should ponder as to why youth of the country shun politics and look for other alternative avenues to express their feelings. In the last days of my life I will be happy if politics is not looked down upon with, though I am not confident whether it would be possible.