A sad day in Madhya Pradesh Assembly
Posted July 27, 2009on:
July 20 was a black day in the Madhya Pradesh Assembly because a senior member of the Opposition was censured for demanding a discussion on the State’s steadily deteriorating law and order situation. What made it all the more horrid was that the member was censured at the prompting of the Speaker who is expected to at least pretend to be impartial when the issues directly related to the people are concerned.
Speaker Ishwardas Rohani had, in fact, surpassed his own biased behaviour which had become his hallmark during his first term as the Speaker, by prompting minister of parliamentary affairs Kailash Vijayvargiya to move a censure motion against Deputy Leader of the Opposition Chaudhari Rakesh Singh and allowing the motion to be adopted by voice vote. Rakesh Singh’s “crime” was that he wanted to know from the Speaker day and the time for a discussion on the law and order situation. The Opposition had been demanding a debate on the issue from the beginning of the session.
Provoked by Singh’s observation during Zero Hour that the ruling party was avoiding a discussion on the law and order situation, Speaker Rohani said that the Business Advisory Committee had already approved a discussion on the law and order situation under Rule 139 of the Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business of the House. But he would not say when this discussion would be allowed. This betrayed the Speaker’s mind because Rule 139 relates to “a matter of urgent public importance”. Rohani apparently had no compunction in delaying a discussion on the “matter of urgent public importance” indefinitely to help the ruling party.
As Rakesh Singh insisted on the day and time being fixed for a discussion, Rohani lost his temper and gestured to the minister of parliamentary affairs who was promptly on his feet with the censure motion against Rakesh Singh. Vijayvargiya was, through the intervention of other senior Congress leaders, agreeable in the afternoon session to express sorry to Rakesh Singh and withdraw the censure motion adopted against him but Rohani’s game of avoiding the unpleasant subject of law and order situation for the time being had succeeded.
Rohani was first elected Speaker, unanimously, in 2003. His manner of conducting the business of the House did not even show a semblance of impartiality. He was always impatient whenever an Opposition member raised an issue likely to embarrass the treasury benches. A constant grouse of the Opposition members had been that their notices of calling-attention or other motions touching upon the urgent problems of the people had either been delayed inordinately or not taken at all. This had led many times to unpleasant situations in the House and the Opposition members had not hesitated in levelling the charges of bias and partiality against the Speaker, something that might please the BJP leaders but did little honour to the institution of the Speaker.
An example will illustrate Rohani’s manner of conducting the business of the House. The Opposition wanted, two years ago, to raise in the Assembly what it had described as the attempts to saffronise education in Madhya Pradesh. Leader of the Opposition Jamuna Devi had brought to the House a copy of the textbook on social science for the Sixth Standard and alleged that the BJP’s election symbol “Kamal” was displayed in the book as the national flower. As the session started, CPI member Ram Lakhan Sharma stood up and said: “Speaker, Sir, we are very much aggrieved”. The Speaker, however, ignored him and other members from the Opposition benches as if they did not exist. This infuriated the Opposition members and they, Jamuna Devi included, trooped to the well of the House where they started shouting slogans. Rohani then asked them to go back to their seats and permitted the Leader of the Opposition to speak. As Jamuna Devi unfolded a sheet of paper, the Speaker ruled that the Leader of the Opposition could speak only extempore and that she would not be permitted to read from any paper.
(Rohani’s holier than thou attitude notwithstanding, the Madhya Pradesh government right away initiated steps to get the BJP symbol “Kamal” replaced by the national flower in the Social Science textbook for the Sixth Standard. It also “blacklisted” the publisher of the textbook and issued him a show cause notice seeking explanation for the “blunder”.)
Rohani’s warped sense of justice was reflected in the case of Harivallabh Shukla, who had contested and won on the Rashtriya Samata Dal ticket from Pohri constituency in the 2003 Assembly elections. A year later he contested the Lok Sabha election as the official BJP candidate against Jyotiraditya Scindia (Congress) from the Guna constituency – and lost.
Ramniwas Rawat, Congress MLA, moved a petition before the Speaker seeking disqualification of Shukla under the anti-defection law. Speaker Rohani allowed the matter to linger on for over two years, forcing the Congress, the main opposition party, to disrupt the House. Eventually, the Speaker gave his ruling and rejected Rawat’s petition. His ground: Shukla may have contested the Lok Sabha election on the BJP ticket but he neither joined the BJP nor resigned from his own Rashtriya Samata Dal.
Constantly aggrieved by Rohani’s partial attitude and short temper, the entire Opposition had submitted a motion of no-confidence in the Speaker during Rohani’s last term. Once a motion of no-confidence in the Speaker is submitted to the Assembly secretariat, the Speaker loses the authority, under the provisions of the Constitution and the relevant Rules of the Assembly, to preside over a session to take a decision on the motion. What did Rohani do? He abruptly adjourned the Assembly session sine die, nearly a week ahead of the schedule.