Thursday, July 31, 2008

Speaker’s status: A response to criticism

My post on this has provoked a vibrant debate.
Let me respond to some major criticisms in this post.

1. The CPI(M)’s explanation of its withdrawal can be read here and here. The withdrawal did not mean that the party just wanted a trust vote. When it withdrew support, it clearly said publicly that it had no confidence in the Manmohan Singh Government, and through withdrawal it was marking a complete break with UPA. The trust vote demand was secondary, though important.

2. I don’t think the party failed to convey to Somnath its expectation directly and publicly. Directly it did convey through a number of informal channels. Publicly, the party avoided expressing the demand explicitly because the Speaker’s post is a Constitutional post, and therefore, short of removal, he can only resign. Publicly demanding him to resign would have caused him embarrassment, so the party tried informal channels to convey its request. By saying ‘it is for him to decide’, the party left the decision to him on when to quit as a matter of courtesy.

It is naïve to assume that the party included his name first, and sensing adverse public opinion, it refrained from issuing a whip to him. A whip could not have been issued to him at all because of Article 100 (1) which says the Speaker shall not vote in the first instance. So a whip, which is a common direction to all party MPs, could not have been issued to him. The fact that he was expelled for "seriously compromising the position of the party", shows that the party did expect him to resign, and conveyed this to him. How does it matter whether it is conveyed privately or publicly, for the purpose of determining whether he compromised the party's position?

3. I agree convention is not just a string of precedents. All parties must agree, and there ought to be a justification for it. That the Speaker belongs to the ruling party or coalition is certainly a convention, to which all parties had agreed over the period. I cannot recall any departure from this at any time before or after Independence. Now, the justification is obvious. Most of the House’s business is Government-initiated.

The Speaker, no doubt, has to be impartial in the conduct of the proceedings. But it does not mean that House can risk an adversarial Speaker, who creates hurdles at every stage, obstructs Government’s legislative agenda tacitly or explicitly because of his sympathies with the Opposition. In the case of equality of votes, envisaged in Article 100(1), can a Government risk an Opposition Speaker who can be expected to cause its downfall? What more justification one would require for a convention? More than a convention, it is a compulsion created by Article 100(1) to have a Speaker who supports the survival of the Government.

Even now, the Opposition threatens to move a no-confidence motion against the Government. During the voting, a tie is again a possibility; can the Government risk having a Speaker who belongs to the Opposition? No doubt, Government is itself not aggrieved about this, but I am only raising a theoretical possibility, to suggest that there is a justification for this convention.
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