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Mainstream, VOL LIII No 34 August 15, 2015

No Work, No Pay

Saturday 15 August 2015, by Kuldip Nayar

I was a member of the Rajya Sabha some 12 years ago. The Upper House would be disturbed over one matter or the other constantly. During my six-year tenure, I saw both the Congress and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) vying with one another in doing so, with no difference in passion or planning. On occasions, the parties tried to outdo each other.

I felt strongly that we, the Members, were wasting public funds to the disappointment of the already disillusioned people. So the question was: should we at all draw the daily allowances, particularly when we had not transacted any business? I wrote to the Chairman saying that I did not want any allowance when the House was adjourned without doing any work.

There cannot be any dispute over the contention of some Members that they were “working” because at the end of the day the Secretariat issues a bulletin to summarise the day’s proceedings. When there is no business transacted, it says so. The Chairman referred my request to the Law Ministry because there was no precedent to guide him in the matter. The Law Ministry upheld my plea. My daily allowance was deducted whenever no business was conducted in the House.

The Chairman informed the Business Committee of the House about the deduction of the allowance. None of the parties, including the Left, supported the idea and left it to the individual members to follow their desire. I forwarded the Law Ministry’s opinion to deduct the allowance to the then Lok Sabha Speaker, Somnath Chatterjee, who, I believe, placed my case before the Business Committee of the House. But it rejected it.

I wish the 25 Members, who were suspended by the Lok Sabha Speaker, Sumitra Mahajan, would write to her that they were not entitled to the daily allowances because they were not present in the House. If this were to become a practice, members would be less unruly and more disciplined. Ever since the proceedings in Parliament were telecast there is an improvement in the dress the MPs wear. Earlier, some came in night pajamas!

The reason why I have placed my example here before the public is the precedent that exists. MPs should introspect individually whether they are justified in drawing the daily allowances when they have not put in a spot of work. Yet, this does not provide an answer to the larger question: the working of Parliament. The Congress stance is that it would not allow the session to take place until Sushma Swaraj and the “corrupt” State Chief Ministers of Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh did not quit.

However weighty the Congress demand, there has to be a proper inquiry to substantiate the charges. The Congress demand for Sushma Swaraj’s resignation is not fair. The charge against her is, at best, the misuse of discretion to allow Lalit Modi, a fugitive from justice, to visit his wife, suffering from cancer, in Portugal. There is no money involved. It is unfair to make it a case of corruption.

The larger question is that of parliament’s session. The Congress defence that it was doing what the BJP had been doing is neither morally right nor intellectually proper. One wrong does not justify the other mistake. I am saddened by the otherwise courteous Sonia Gandhi. She is the one who is leading the cheer crowd and shouting slogans. The entire thinking and their action is juvenile.

In the same way, the sectarian reaction by a large section of the Muslim community to the hanging of Yakub Memon is astounding. He was tried by the different courts of law, including the Supreme Court of India. All of them found him guilty of master-minding the 1993 bomb blasts in which 287 people died at Mumbai.

Still my opinion is that the death sentence awarded to him should have been converted into imprisonment for life because, one, he had cooperated with the government, and, two, he had agreed to come to India from Nepal to face the trial. According to many reports, he had made such disclosures about Pakistan which the government could have never known on its own.

But this does not mean that he was not guilty. Even his ardent supporters have had not put forth this plea in their defence. All that they pressed was that he should not be hanged. The Court in its wisdom rejected this line of thinking. How can the verdict be interpreted as travesty of justice? In the past 22 years, the time consumed on the trial, the supporters of Memon used all avenues available to them to have him free. The Supreme Court met for the first time past midnight to hear the last-minute plea on his birthday and rejected it. It looks that the Supreme Court, too, was keen to give the culprit every opportunity to prove his non-involvement.

But to communalise the issue is regrettable. Those Muslims who have done so have given a handle to the Hindutva forces, which point out that the Muslims convert even a crime into a community issue. This once again proves how fragile is our secular polity. There is so much mistrust between the two communities that it ultimately dictates their attitude, even on minor things.

I must commend the Mumbai Police for handling the situation as any law and order problem would be tackled. It is an open secret that the police are influenced by the environment, which is becoming increasingly sectarian. People were generally divided on the basis of community to which they belonged. The police stood firm and did not allow passion to take over.

Examples which communalise the situation should not, however, lessen our faith in the idea of India—democratic and secular. The ethos of our national movement was pluralism. Some people who are trying to harm it are the ones who never participated in the freedom struggle. They cannot and should not be allowed to defeat the purpose of our freedom movement.

The author is a veteran journalist renowned not only in this country but also in our neighbouring states of Pakistan and Bangladesh where his columns are widely read. His website is www.kuldipnayar.com