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Lok Sabha jinx? No speaker re-elected in 20 years

Of the 16 Speakers who have presided over the Lok Sabha, Neelam Sanjeeva Reddy (who went on to be President) is the only one to have been twice elected to the chair. And only 10 managed to re-enter the house.

lok sabha elections Updated: May 02, 2019 08:13 IST
Saubhadra Chatterji
Saubhadra Chatterji
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Lok Sabha speaker,Lok Sabha Speaker,Sumitra Mahajan
Current Speaker Sumitra Mahajan, an eight-term parliamentarian, announced her decision to not fight the Lok Sabha polls after the BJP dragged its feet over her candidature from Indore.(PTI)

Call it the curse of the referee.

For two decades now, anyone who has served as the Speaker of the Lok Sabha hasn’t managed to re-enter the house.

It’s an interesting trend, although it is likely to be nothing more than a coincidence.

Some lost the subsequent poll; some others did not contest or were not fielded by parties; and one passed on.

The seat of the Lok Sabha Speaker is considered among the most prestigious posts in Parliament. The Speaker is the highest authority in the house and also the custodian of the Parliament building.

The people chosen as Speakers are usually senior parliamentarians who are respected across party lines.

Yet, none of the past four Speakers returned to the Lower House.

Indeed, of the 16 Speakers who have presided over the Lok Sabha, Neelam Sanjeeva Reddy (who went on to be President) is the only one to have been twice elected to the chair. And only 10 managed to re-enter the house.

Current Speaker Sumitra Mahajan, an eight-term parliamentarian, announced her decision to not fight the Lok Sabha polls after the BJP dragged its feet over her candidature from Indore. Mahajan, whose popularity cuts across parties, was unanimously elected to the post in June 2014. She is the second woman Speaker in the Lok Sabha’s 67 years. The first woman Speaker, Congress’s Meira Kumar, was Mahajan’s immediate predecessor. Kumar, an MP from Bihar’s Sasaram who is contesting this summer’s Lok Sabha election from the same constituency, is also the first Dalit woman to occupy the chair.

Just like Mahajan, she was seen as a mild-mannered but tough leader who ran the Lok Sabha efficiently. In the 2014 election, Kumar lost to BJP’s Chhedi Paswan as the BJP swept large parts of the Hindi belt .

Kumar’s daughter, artist Devangana Kumar, said that in 2014, swayed by Narendra Modi’s developmental agenda, “ Bihar voted in an unusual way in favour of the NDA and my mother lost. This time, she is contesting again and we are confident that she will emerge victorious.”

Before Kumar came the first Communist to hold the highest position in the Lok Sabha, the late Somnath Chatterjee. When he was elected Speaker in 2004, former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee reminded him in the House, “aap Bolpur se chun kar aaye hai. Lekin yahan aap ko kam bolna padega (You have been elected from Bolpur constituency but here you need to talk less).” But Chatterjee’s troubles started elsewhere. When the Left parties decided to pull the rug from under Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s feet, Chatterjee faced the party’s diktat that he too must resign and vote against the government as a party MP.

Chatterjee defied the party and was summarily expelled from Communist Party of India (Marxist). While Chatterjee had already indicated that he would not fight any more polls, the expulsion put an abrupt end to his long and cherished political career.

Chatterjee’s predecessor, the Shiv Sena’s Manohar Joshi, was one of the founder-members of his party and enjoyed an excellent rapport with Sena patriarch Balasaheb Thackeray. Joshi was previously chief minister of Maharashtra. He won the 1999 national polls, but was elected unanimously as the Speaker after the untimely and tragic death of GMC Balayogi in an air crash. Although he was a Sena veteran and had a long legislative career, Joshi lost the election in 2004 and didn’t return to the Lok Sabha.

India’s first Lok Sabha Speaker GS Mavalankar, elected in 1952, had passed away in 1956 and therefore possibility of any re-election didn’t arise. Another Speaker, KS Hegde, didn’t get re-elected. He was the Speaker of the first Lok Sabha after the emergency in 1977.

Commentator Shiv Vishwanathan said that it would be difficult to generalise why the last four Speakers had not re-entered the Lok Sabha, but proffered a possible reason : “Speakers transcend party’s boundaries and become more like statesmen. They are also not involved in day-to-day politics of his or her constituency.”

Vishwanathan added : “Once a Lok Sabha Speaker finishes his or her term, they should be given much more respect and importance than what they get now. They are the referees of the house. There should be a mechanism to involve them to improve the functioning of the house.”

First Published: May 02, 2019 08:10 IST

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