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Mainstream, Vol XLVI, No 13

Reverse the Trend


Sunday 16 March 2008, by SC


The presiding officers of both the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha need to be commended for the measures they are taking to ensure that parliamentary proceedings are not disrupted by members raising issues that are not in the list of business. Such frequent disruptions have caused immense damage to the functioning of Parliament over the years and, as the Lok Sabha Speaker has time and again underscored, the real casualty in the process has been parliamentary democracy itself. Pulling up the errant members in the Lower House has had limited effect so far. However, the Rajya Sabha Chairman’s decision to refer the issue of disruption of the Upper House to the Committee of Privileges on the basis of a complaint made by those members who were prevented from raising important questions during Question Hour (and hence felt that their privileges were breached) is a novel and unique way of dissuading the elders from engaging in such a pastime. His other decision—of naming the members involved in such behaviour in the House’s records—has had greater impact; it led to the concerned members doing everything possible to get their names expunged from the records. That was eventually done but not before the party leaders expressed regret before the Chair for such conduct on the part of their members. Obviously the stringent move did register a measure of success.

On the wider political arena that attack by a political party on the national headquarters of another party in the Capital has been denounced by one and all. This is not the way to conduct politics in the country. This incident has resulted in some political leaders seeking a ban on demonstrations and protests before the offices of all political parties. That is an extreme proposal which cannot be accepted. In a democracy there is every right of citizens—organisations and parties included—to organise demonstrations before any government establishment or political party office. The only condition is that these demonstrations should be peaceful since violent protests have no place in a democratic set-up. In the past peaceful demonstrations were held before the BJP headquarters in the Capital in protest against the demolition of the Babri mosque in December 1992 and in the aftermath of the Gujarat carnage of February 2002. (Regrettably in one such demonstration, wholly peaceful, following the Gujarat riots, the BJP activists betrayed their high-handedness and sought to manhandle the demonstrators.) Likewise demonstrations have taken place before the CPM’s Central Committee office in New Delhi after the events of Singur and Nandigram. None can say those demonstrations were in violation of the country’s democratic ethos.

The BJP/RSS-CPM clash in New Delhi in the backdrop of the ongoing violence in Kannur was most unfortunate, just as the hostilities in Kannur (on the lines of the tragic developments in Nandigram) must be deprecated by all those who want to protect and preserve our democratic traditions. [One can also perceive a growing intolerance in our polity of late. The treatment meted out to Bangladeshi writer-in-exile Taslima Nasreen clearly illustrates this tendency. If this continues the face of the country would undergo a qualitative change for the worse in the days ahead.]

It is now precisely a year since horrendous incidents—punctuated by killings and gangrapes—rocked Nandigram on March 14, 2007. Whatever the ruling party and State Government leaders and spokesmen may claim, those incidents were a blot on the Left Front as a whole as well as the democratic culture of West Bengal. What is most shocking is the fact that the March events were followed by more serious attacks on the people of the area in November. As is more than transparent from an e-mail published in this issue, the situation has not in the least improved on this front till date.
We pride ourselves as the world’s largest democracy. Yet the undeniable truth is that democracy in today’s India is not only bruised and battered but is also being systematically undermined in an atmosphere of mounting intolerance. Unless concerted efforts are made to reverse this trend the worst sufferers will be our country and its people.

One only hopes this does not turn out to be a cry in the wilderness.

March 13 S.C.

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