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The Shivraj Singh govt’s decision to prevent MLAs from asking questions on sensitive issues is a disturbing development

Governments, public officials (and functionaries), and members of the judiciary should have no reservations about being asked questions, however uncomfortable they may be. Which is why all right thinking people, including politicians across parties, must protest the happenings in Madhya Pradesh. It could be the BJP trying to have its way today, but parties across the political spectrum are adept at adopting the playbook of power.

editorials Updated: Mar 22, 2018 19:27 IST
Hindustan Times
The Shivraj Singh Chouhan government in Madhya Pradesh has amended House rules to prevent legislators from speaking and asking questions on “sensitive issues”.(Mujeeb Faruqui/HT Photo)

The amendment of House rules by the Madhya Pradesh government to prevent legislators from speaking (and asking questions) about riots, and other so-called “sensitive issues” in the assembly is another effort by a government of the day to control the narrative.

The amended rules also give extraordinary power to the speaker of the House – considered a neutral person, although usually a member of the ruling party – and say a Cabinet’s confidence motion will have precedence over a no-confidence motion moved by the opposition parties.

The government in this case, is the Bharatiya Janata Party one led by Shivraj Singh Chouhan, and the amended rules have already been notified, although, following censure from opposition parties and the media, the administration has promised to reconsider them.

The changes run contrary to the spirit of representative democracy that India follows, at the Centre, and the states. People’s representatives – in this case, the legislators – are expected to ask uncomfortable questions and raise sensitive issues. That is their Constitution-directed duty, just as it is the government’s duty to answer these questions and address these issues. Taking away the power of legislators to do this will do nothing – apart, from, perhaps, controlling the narrative, which is probably the objective of such amendments in the first place. The questions and issues will remain.

This is a disturbing trend. And what’s more disturbing is that it is a trend at all.

Late last year, the Rajasthan government – again, a Bharatiya Janata Party one; headed by Vasundhara Raje – promulgated an ordinance Criminal Laws (Rajasthan Amendment) Ordinance 2017 that, among other things , prohibited journalists from reporting on allegations of wrongdoing (and corruption) against government employees and functionaries, judges, and magistrates unless the state had already sanctioned their prosecution. Rajasthan subsequently allowed the ordinance (which, according to news reports, was promulgated stealthily) to lapse.

While it is important for the media to ensure that their coverage is based on facts, backed by strong evidence, and not hearsay (especially when it comes to issues of wrongdoing and corruption), a blanket ban on coverage sends out the message that the state is interested in ensuring that people in some positions can do whatever they want, with impunity.

Governments, public officials (and functionaries), and members of the judiciary should have no reservations about being asked questions, however uncomfortable they may be. Which is why all right thinking people, including politicians across parties, must protest the happenings in Madhya Pradesh. It could be the BJP trying to have its way today, but parties across the political spectrum are adept at adopting the playbook of power.

First Published: Mar 22, 2018 19:27 IST