Thursday, June 04, 2009

Madam Speaker's election

The election of Meira Kumar as the Lok Sabha Speaker has led to a curious debate as to whether the Congress Party's decision is an exercise in tokenism or a recognition of talent.(talent or tokenism). Whatever the reason for the decision, there are clear expectations from the office that the Speaker ought to be neutral in her conduct of the House. I was disappointed after reading the synopsis and the debates of the Lok Sabha proceedings on the election of the Speaker, that no one, including the new Speaker, made any reference, let alone lip service, to the desirable convention that the Speaker, after election, quits the membership of the party, on whose ticket she was elected to the House. The Tenth Schedule to the Constitution gives such an option to the Speaker to do so. The previous Speaker, Somnath Chatterjee, clearly rued the fact that he did not do so, and went down in history as the only Speaker to have been expelled from his party later for other reasons. He wished that his successors revived the convention of Speaker quitting the party membership, on election to the office of the Speaker.

This is not to suggest that Meira Kumar may well prove to be a partisan Speaker, because she did not quit her party. She may well satisfy the Opposition, but had she formally quit her party, it would have certainly enhanced the prestige of her office. The first Speaker of the Lok Sabha, G.V.Mavlankar, failed to follow the precedent set by his predecessor before Independence, Vithalbhai Patel, by formally resigning from the party. The convention was revived by Sanjeeva Reddy when he became Speaker in 1967, but his successors did not follow the convention. Somnath Chatterjee's problems must have convinced Meira Kumar that she must revive it. But she missed that opportunity.

*Relevant links:
*Lok Sabha debate on the election of new Speaker, June 3, 2009.
*Synopsis of the Lok Sabha debate on the election of new Speaker, June 3, 2009.

*Relevant posts:
1.Conventions on Indian Speaker
2.The Speaker has spoken
3.The Status of Lok Sabha Speaker: some questions
4.Reforming the Parliament

1 comment:

Suresh said...

Venkatesan,

It is true that in the British system, the speaker severs all party connections once elected. However, it is understood that the speaker will not join any other party in the future. In effect, the individual elected speaker commits to not playing any further active role in politics.

To support this convention -- in effect, to induce the speaker to not join politics again -- there are some "supporting" conventions. For instance, the speaker once elected, continues to serve in that role in future parliaments so long as he/she is re-elected. The party of which the speaker was a member does not put up a candidate in the constituency where the speaker is seeking re-election. In recent years, the conservatives have gone further by not putting up a candidate against any speaker seeking re-election, even if the speaker was not from the Conservative party originally.

In India, we do not have any of these "supporting" conventions. As such, requiring a speaker to resign his party affiliation is asking a lot. Frankly, I don't think it's going to happen.

Neelam Sanjiva Reddy is a curious case. Yes, he resigned from his party on assuming the position of speaker in 1967 and would appear to have given up politics. However, he reentered politics again in 1975, became speaker of the Lok Sabha and then President in 1977. The fact that Sanjiva Reddy re-entered politics tells us that unless we evolve "supporting conventions" like the British, we are unlikely to witness speakers resigning their party affiliations.